The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries

Hi Ian,

How can you stand by when so many indigenous people and beautiful cultures have been trampled down by missionaries?



Hi Max

You are right – it’s been an appalling story.  Loss of life, land, culture, language, children taken away… Enforced by laws, guns. violence, poison, indoctrination, fear, fences.  I knwo there are soem heroic exceptions, but the city-based church offices often sided with the oppressors or gave up the fight too early.

At some points in history  the church got colonised and recruited to the cause of empire, even though Jesus himself was crucified by that sort of empire. It’s not ironic, its tragic.  And I am not standing by, though once I did. I got involved.

Recently I have been hearing stories from persons whose cultures were taken over and their stories are not so one-sided. Hear is one bit of research about that :

The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries  by Andrea Palpant Dilley [ posted 1/8/2014 12:07PM ]

For many of our contemporaries, no one sums up missionaries of an earlier era like Nathan Price. The patriarch in Barbara Kingsolver’s 1998 novel, The Poisonwood Bible, Price tries to baptize new Congolese Christians in a river filled with crocodiles. He proclaims Tata Jesus is bangala!, thinking he is saying, “Jesus is beloved.” In fact, the phrase means, “Jesus is poisonwood.” Despite being corrected many times, Price repeats the phrase until his death—Kingsolver’s none-too-subtle metaphor for the culturally insensitive folly of modern missions.

For some reason, no one has written a best-selling book about the real-life 19th-century missionary John Mackenzie. When white settlers in South Africa threatened to take over the natives’ land, Mackenzie helped his friend and political ally Khama III travel to Britain. There, Mackenzie and his colleagues held petition drives, translated for Khama and two other chiefs at political rallies, and even arranged a meeting with Queen Victoria. Ultimately their efforts convinced Britain to enact a land protection agreement. Without it, the nation of Botswana would likely not exist today.

The annals of Western Protestant missions include Nathan Prices, of course. But thanks to a quiet, persistent sociologist named Robert Woodberry, we now know for certain that they include many more John Mackenzies. In fact, the work of missionaries like Mackenzie turns out to be the single largest factor in ensuring the health of nations.

Fourteen years ago, Woodberry was a graduate student in sociology at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill (UNC). The son of J. Dudley Woodberry, a professor of Islamic studies and now a dean emeritus at Fuller Theological Seminary, started studying in UNC’s respected PhD program with one of its most influential figures, Christian Smith (now at the University of Notre Dame). But as Woodberry cast about for a fruitful line of research of his own, he grew discontented.

“Most of the research I studied was about American religion,” he says of early graduate school. “It wasn’t [my] passion, and it didn’t feel like a calling, something I could pour my life into.”

One afternoon he attended a required lecture that brought his vocational drift to a sudden end. The lecture was by Kenneth A. Bollen, a UNC–Chapel Hill professor and one of the leading experts on measuring and tracking the spread of global democracy. Bollen remarked that he kept finding a significant statistical link between democracy and Protestantism. Someone needed to study the reason for the link, he said.

Woodberry sat forward in his seat and thought, ‘That’s me. I’m the one’.

Soon he found himself descending into the UNC–Chapel Hill archives in search of old data on religion. “I found an atlas [from 1925] of every missionary station in the world, with tons of data,” says Woodberry with glee. He found data on the “number of schools, teachers, printing presses, hospitals, and doctors, and it referred in turn to earlier atlases. I thought, Wow, this is so huge. This is amazing. This is why God made me.”

Woodberry set out to track down the evidence for Bollen’s conjecture that Protestant religion and democracy were somehow related. He studied yellowed maps, spending months charting the longitude and latitude of former missionary stations. He traveled to Thailand and India to consult with local scholars, dug through archives in London, Edinburgh, and Serampore, India, and talked with church historians all over Europe, North America, Asia, and Africa.

For the rest of the article and its dangerous discoveries, go to


Hi Ian,

I meet some people who are deeply offended by God. I am sympathetic to the hurt that it implies. I expect God might be  also.

They don’t like to think they are dependent on anyone. They don’t like the judgemental ways that he goes about things. They might have read his books and seen him waging pitiless war. They might have seen a contemporary war and wondered what God was doing with all that omnipotent power that he/she/it would leave the innocent to suffer so. If he is so distant, why bother?

They may have been abused by one of God’s representatives, a father of the church or a father in their family – that would permanently traumatise their heart. They may not like to play a game where he can keep silent and they are supposed to guess what’s on his mind or that he is even there.

Why join a church when that has such a patchy record in kindness and atrocities? Why read a bible that does the same? Why repent when what I need to know is what I am good for? Why turn off sexual desire when it is one of the very few unambiguously beautiful things I can honestly give myself to, and you said it was god-given anyway? Why are they asked to pray when few prayers for help are actually answered? Why the big call to place their trust in a God who seems to make it up as he goes along?

Some say he looks like Jesus, some say he is the Koran, and others that he is nothingness itself. Some don’t like the male-language, some want experience and not more mountains of words, some just wish the whole complex confused and nasty business would just go away and talk to itself.

Lastly, why in church do you sing such terrible songs?

Any answers?


Hi Max

Nope, no answers. I am trusting God for a whole lot of things. I dont find him to be absent. One big thing – I dont think God sets us up to say a prayer and get magic puddings. I know there are answers, serendipities, the odd miracle I have seen, synchronicities, coincidences, guidance, ‘nudges’, the kindness of strangers, the ridiculous right thing at the right time, things that are just ‘meant to be’. I also know I am a ‘sent one’ – sent into the world to love my neighbour and that there are terrible things that should not be the way they are. I have seen people change, but speaking personally not as much as I would have liked. For that shortfall, regrettable understandable, heinous and selfish, I am sorry.  For the mask which I easily wear I am sorry. For a church that covers its arse rather than risk the way of Jesus, I am sorry. But I could be saying the same about doctors, police, politicians, teachers, banks, businesses, trade unions, etc… It flashed on me once, an epiphany some might say, that the reason so much suffering goes unaddressed is because God keeps telling people to go and deal with it, but they wont go.

SO, though it is an imperfect vehicle for a treacherous journey, I am a part of  church, and in my lifestyle choices the best thing I can do is be a follower of Jesus, getting out of myself moderately often, doing the right thing occasionally. As a consequence it still surprises me that as I look backwards across the church’s histories it is a better world than the slippery slope near to my right and to my left…. That is not meant to be offensive or to put it onto you, I am just saying what I experience here.


One page for a mountain of resources


Thought you would like this in your bookmarks. If you want good info on religion and science,  best not to get it from the media. They are so ignorant or they act so dumb to be popular.  I have just set up this one handy page for a mountain of resources, websites written by practitioners and authors on science and faith, especially Muslim and Christian. In fact if you cruise around the tabs at the top you will see a whole mountain range of stuff on religious topics, written by those involved in it:



Hildegard of Bingen, Germany, 1098-1179, pioneer woman of faith and science

Hildegard of Bingen, Germany, 1098-1179

also known as Saint Hildegard, and Sibyl of the Rhine, was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath.[1]

She founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165. One of her works as a composer, the Ordo Virtutum, is an early example of liturgical drama and arguably the oldest surviving morality play.[2]

She wrote theological, botanical and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, and poems, with miniature illuminations.[3] Hildegard corresponded with popes, German emperors and other notable figures such as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux,

From an early age she experienced heavenly visions. Hildegard says that she first saw "The Shade of the Living Light" at the age of three, and by the age of five she began to understand that she was experiencing visions[16] and recognized that it was a gift that she could not explain to others.

"When I was forty-two years and seven months old, Heaven was opened and a fiery light of exceeding brilliance came and permeated my whole brain, and inflamed my whole heart and my whole breast, not like a burning but like a warming flame, as the sun warms anything its rays touch."

In her first theological text, Scivias ("Know the Ways"), Hildegard describes her struggle within:

But I, though I saw and heard these things, refused to write for a long time through doubt and bad opinion and the diversity of human words, not with stubbornness but in the exercise of humility, until, laid low by the scourge of God, I fell upon a bed of sickness; then, compelled at last by many illnesses, and by the witness of a certain noble maiden of good conduct [the nun Richardis von Stade] and of that man whom I had secretly sought and found, as mentioned above, I set my hand to the writing. While I was doing it, I sensed, as I mentioned before, the deep profundity of scriptural exposition; and, raising myself from illness by the strength I received, I brought this work to a close – though just barely – in ten years. (…) And I spoke and wrote these things not by the invention of my heart or that of any other person, but as by the secret mysteries of God I heard and received them in the heavenly places. And again I heard a voice from Heaven saying to me, ‘Cry out therefore, and write thus!’[21]

Hildegard’s works include three great volumes of visionary theology;[24] a variety of musical compositions for use in liturgy, as well as the musical morality play Ordo Virtutum; one of the largest bodies of letters (nearly 400) to survive from the Middle Ages, addressed to correspondents ranging from Popes to Emperors to abbots and abbesses, and including records of many of the sermons she preached in the 1160s and 1170’s;[25] two volumes of material on natural medicine and cures;[26] an invented language called the Lingua ignota ("unknown language");[27] and various minor works, including a gospel commentary and two works of hagiography.[28]

Attention in recent decades to women of the medieval Church has led to a great deal of popular interest in Hildegard, particularly her music. This is one of the largest repertoires among medieval composers. Viriditas or ‘greenness’ is an earthly expression of the heavenly as the power of life is an image that appears frequently in Hildegard’s works.[47]

Hildegard also wrote Physica, a text on the natural sciences, as well as Causae et Curae. Hildegard of Bingen was well known for her healing powers involving practical application of tinctures, herbs, and precious stones.[50] In both texts Hildegard describes the natural world around her, including the cosmos, animals, plants, stones, and minerals.

She combined these elements with a theological notion ultimately derived from Genesis: all things put on earth are for the use of humans.[51] She is particularly interested in the healing properties of plants, animals, and stones, though she also questions God’s effect on man’s health.[52] One example of her healing powers was curing the blind with the use of Rhine water.[53]

The acceptance of public preaching by a woman, even a well-connected abbess and acknowledged prophet, does not fit the stereotype of this time. Her preaching was not limited to the monasteries; she preached publicly in 1160 in Germany. (New York: Routledge, 2001, 9). She conducted four preaching tours throughout Germany, speaking to both clergy and laity in chapter houses and in public, mainly denouncing clerical corruption and calling for reform.[60]

Hildegard was one of the first persons for whom the Roman canonization process was officially applied. She is officially a Doctor of the Church.[68] , "perennially relevant" and "an authentic teacher of theology and a profound scholar of natural science and music."[70] In space, the minor planet 898 Hildegard is named for her.[81]

Below are some quotes that illustrate her ecological thinking, health science and spirituality:

With nature’s help, humankind can set into creation all that is necessary and life sustaining.

All living creatures are sparks from the radiation of God’s brilliance, and these sparks emerge from God like the rays of the sun. If God did not give off these sparks, how would the divine flame become fully visible?

O Highest Wisdom, who circles the great circle, who envisions the whole world as one living path, you have three wings. One soars above the sky, another moistens the ground with sweat, while a third flies everywhere at once. O Wisdom, we sing your praise.

The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. This Word manifests itself in every creature.

Holy persons draw to themselves all that is earthly…The earth is at the same time mother, She is mother of all that is natural, mother of all that is human. She is the mother of all, for contained in her are the seeds of all.

The truly holy person welcomes all that is earthly.

Glance at the sun. See the moon and the stars. Gaze at the beauty of earth’s greenings. Now, think. What delight God gives to humankind with all these things. . . . All nature is at the disposal of humankind. We are to work with it. For without it we cannot survive.

The air belches out the filthy uncleanliness of the peoples. The earth should not be injured! The earth must not be destroyed!

Humankind, full of all creative possibilities, is God’s work. Humankind alone is called to assist God. Humankind is called to co-create. With nature’s help, humankind can set into creation all that is necessary and life-sustaining.

God has arranged all things in the world in consideration of everything else.

All of creation God gives to humankind to use. If this privilege is misused, God’s justice permits creation to punish humanity.

Whenever the blood vessels come into contact with body fluids which have been shocked in such a manner, then they also reach the vessels of the ears and now and then affect the hearing capability, because often a person earns health or sickness with hearing; similarly, the person is overjoyed with happiness, but with misfortune falls into deep sorrow.

Overeating, or a diet saturated with fat or raw foods, can damage the heart muscle. In addition to heart pain, such excesses can cause fatigue, mood changes, possible loss of weight, and sometimes loss of consciousness.

Maria Agnesi 1718-1799, Italy, pioneer woman and science and faith

Maria Gaetana Agnesi 1718-1799, Italy

was an Italian mathematician and philosopher. She is credited with writing the first book discussing both differential and integral calculus and was an honorary member of the faculty at the University of Bologna.[2] She devoted the last four decades of her life to studying theology (especially patristics) and to serving the poor.

Maria was recognized as a child prodigy very early; she could speak both Italian and French at five years of age. By her eleventh birthday she had

acquired Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, German, and Latin in addition to French and Italian, and was referred to as the "Seven-Tongued Orator".[6] When she was nine years old, she composed and delivered an hour-long speech in Latin to some of the most distinguished intellectuals of the day. The subject was women’s right to be educated. By fourteen, she was studying ballistics and geometry.[6] When she was fifteen, her father began to regularly gather in his house a circle of the most learned men in Bologna.

Her father remarried twice after Maria’s mother died, and Maria Agnesi ended up the eldest of 23 children, including her half-siblings. In addition to her performances and lessons, her responsibility was to teach her siblings. This task kept her from her own goal of entering a convent. Although her father refused to grant this wish, he agreed to let her live from that time on in an almost conventual semi-retirement, avoiding all interactions with society and devoting herself entirely to the study of mathematics.[6]

During that time, Maria studied both differential and integral calculus. Fellow philosophers thought she was extremely beautiful and her family was recognized as one of the wealthiest in Milan. Maria became a professor at the University of Bologna.

The most valuable result of her labours was the Instituzioni analitiche ad uso della gioventù italiana, which was published in Milan in 1748 and "was regarded as the best introduction extant to the works of Euler." [7] In the work, she worked on integrating mathematical analysis with algebra,[6] with an analysis of finite quantities followed by the analysis of infinitesimals. It was in French translation 1775, English translation 1801.[8] The work was dedicated to Empress Maria Theresa, who thanked Agnesi with the gift of a diamond ring, a personal letter, and a diamond and crystal case. Many others praised her work, including Pope Benedict XIV, who wrote her a complimentary letter and sent her a gold wreath and a gold medal.[6]

In 1750, on the illness of her father, she was appointed by Pope Benedict XIV to the chair of mathematics and natural philosophy and physics at Bologna, though she never served.[6] She was the second woman ever to be granted professorship at a university, Laura Bassi being the first.[12] After the death of her father in 1752 she carried out a long-cherished purpose by giving herself to the study of theology, and especially of the Fathers and devoted herself to the poor, homeless, and sick, giving away the gifts she had received and begging for money to continue her work with the poor. In 1783, she founded and became the director of the Opera Pia Trivulzi, a home for Milan’s elderly, where she lived as the nuns of the institution did.[6] Asteroid 16765 Agnesi (1996) is named for her.

Elena Piscopia, Italian, 1646-1684, pioneer woman of science and faith

Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, Italian, 1646-1684,

Theology, philosophy, mathematics, languages and music, First woman to be awarded a doctorate

Born into Venetian aristocracy, Elena Piscopia shone at an early age. Her birthplace Venice had been a major centre of the Renaissance and Piscopia carried on the tradition started by her male predecessors, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, of being a polymath.

Her enlightened father, provided her with the best learning opportunities available at the time and advocating her cause in the male-dominated corridors of academia. From early on, she exhibited extraordinary reasoning powers. She learned Latin, Greek, music, theology, and mathematics. She eventually added Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldaic, and also French, English, and Spanish. She studied philosophy, and astronomy. Musically talented, by the time she was 17 years old she could sing, compose, and play such instruments as the violin, harp, and harpsichord.

Her achievements attracted the attention of many, including clerics, royals, and scientists. Many came to Venice to meet and speak with her.

Elena herself wanted to enter the Benedictine Order. She secretly practiced the disciplines of the Order and turned down marriage proposals, spending time serving the sick and the poor. But her father refused permission for her to enter the Order, and had her apply instead to the University of Padua.

Although some other women had studied science and math at the university level in Italy in her time, Elena Piscopia was the first to apply in theology. She studied there from 1672-1678, and in 1678, she received her master’s and doctorate of philosophy degrees. She spoke for an hour in classical Latin, explaining difficult passages selected at random from the works of Aristotle.

The young prodigy’s performance amazed and awed her examiners and she breezed through to gain her doctorate, in 1678, at the age of 32.The ceremony awarding her these degrees had to be held in the cathedral to accommodate the crowd that came to see her receive them.

Elena Piscopia became a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Padua, where she served until her early death in 1684. Passionate about learning and helping the poor, she rejected numerous suitors to focus on these pursuits. In fact, she devoted the last years of her life exclusively to study and charity.

Her achievement did not immediately open doors for many others, though. No other woman earned a doctorate at the University of Padua until the late twentieth century



Walter Thirring, eminent Austrian quantum physicist, authored Cosmic Impressions, Templeton Press, Philadelphia and London, in 2007, and in that book he sums up his feelings about the scientific discoveries made by modern cosmology:

In the last decades, new worlds have been unveiled that our great teachers wouldn’t have even dreamed of. The panorama of cosmic evolution now enables deep insights into the blueprint of creation…. Human beings recognize the blueprints, and understand the language of the Creator…. These realizations do not make science the enemy of religion, but glorify the book of Genesis in the Bible.