I wonder if ignorance about this tradition of evangelism is the reason why a book like Dambisa Moyo’s “Dead Aid”, is received with such shock in some quarters of academia. I take it she is strongly in favor of weaning developing nations from foreign aid, partly on the grounds that it is inherently corrupting, often getting skimmed to line the pockets of local government officials.
It’s interesting that she was a student of Jeffrey Sachs.
“They were, mostly, serenely and perfectly confident that Protestant Christianity as understood in 19th century America was the one true faith.” Re-reading some of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novels — “Poganuc People,” “The Minister’s Wooing” — I think they were right!
A tie-in to this avenue of investigation might be a history of American medical aid, and how the rest of the world has benefitted from our scientific talent and, and our concomitant impulse to spread the fruits of our investment in medical research globally. “The Billion Dollar Molecule” is a great popular account of how medical research is seeded and funded, with some history of the rise of the biomedical and pharmaceutical industry in the U.S. It’s an amazing story, with a lot of fascinating nuggets. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in England, but it was the geniuses at Merck, some of them immigrants, who figured out how to mass produce it. That mass production-aspect of medicine is one of the distinguishing features of American medical science, and parallels some of Walter’s history in Gold and Gold.
This is a wonderful topic and insightful post.
It’s very helpful to be reminded of the sense of mission and certainty that animated these propagators of Christian civilization, and to recognize that this same sense of dogmatic certainty was passed on to successors who turned to the social sciences rather than sacred scripture as the main source of their authority.
When Jeffrey Sachs lectures Sarah Palin about global warming and energy policy, we see more than a hint of the condescension toward the unenlightened that was passed down from the Protestant establishment. When President Obama defends his health care reform policies against the nenlightened critics, we get another glimpse.
It’s also essential to remind ourselves of the immense if often highly refined arrogance that fueled the Victorian era colonial project, and that this cultural arrogance never vanished, but was merely transferred to new venues. I increasingly see the condescension of our current liberal elites toward everyday Americans as directly paralleling the sense of cultural superiority that propelled the mission to civilize dark-skinned savages.
Well, arrogance is never good, but going too far in the other direction just gets you nihilism. Thus you can’t make blanket assertions of superiority, but you can argue for it, with an appropriate sense that you may be wrong, even though there is little reason to think you are.
The real question is, what are those arguments? One especially important set of issues for the developing world are questions of individual vs. community rights. So much of American society is built on individualism (one man one vote, the pioneer spirit, civil disobedience, etc) in comparison to the collectivism common in the developing world, that knowing the extent to which it is necessary for a well-functioning modern society to give the individual primacy becomes a very important determinant for gauging how hard we should push those we would help in our, not unambiguously good, direction.
And that’s just one example. It takes massive probity to work this stuff out, but getting it right is crucial: we’re all on this rock together.
Mao, forcing the Chinese to learn one language helps Missionaries there. It made it possible to put the Bible in one Language the entire nation can read. Making the Gospel spread faster as it heads back to its roots in the Middle East.
You got my curiosity engaged. I will check out Marsden’s “Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism.”
“They were, mostly, serenely and perfectly confident that Protestant Christianity as understood in 19th century America was the one true faith, that the superiority of American civil institutions to all other forms of government and social organization was due to American Protestantism, and that it was the plain duty of the American people to spread both their enlightened social ideas and the religion which made them possible to the rest of the world as quickly as possible.”
Change 19th to 21st and it’s still true. This describes many major evangelicals today. So I’m not sure what you mean by “ours” and “we”.
“a single Protestant establishment” – in the 19th century, it makes more sense to use “the” instead of “a single Protestant”, especially when describing differences among elites.
“These missionaries in other words were more the spiritual ancestors of contemporary secular ‘missionaries’ like Jeffrey Sachs and Human Rights Watch than of evangelists like Billy Graham.” I don’t think the 19th century missionaries would agree. They would see their development efforts inextricably integrated into their Christian missionary work. Without the Christian impulse, they wouldn’t be building schools and hospitals! They would surely call Sachs “godless” and denigrate his efforts, even if he achieved the same developmental goals. These goals would still be seen as secondary to saving souls.
“We still basically believe that Americans have a mission to transform the world.” Who are calling “we” Kimosabe? Supporters of the Iraq War? This statement is a textbook example of a sweeping generalization, and one that projects your own view onto millions of other people who don’t share it to boot. “We” and “our” are littered throughout this post like plastic bags in trees. It’s easy to ignore them, but when you actually look at them, they are very ugly.
“building our world order and world consciousness is one of the most vital tasks for the next generation of scholars.” So you’re an Illuminati and a Marxist?
An accessible way into this important topic is John Hersey’s _The Call_, a novel based on his father’s experiences as a missionary in China from the early 1900s up to his deportation by the communists. A great read, a great portrait of China undergoing vast changes, and a great window on the struggles of one American to define his mission.
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Gospel: good news
I agree with those 19th century missionaries. Our country is what it is because we are driven to share good stuff, sell good stuff, give good stuff. And that operating that way will increase the global goodness resulting in more for us, personally and corporately.
Our definition of “good” shifts around and is even self-contradictory at any given time.
I believe the main driving force of modern foreign missions is that they were and are serving as citizen’s of God and His Kingdom. Since 1812 the emphasis was to bring God’s message of His Son, Jesus Christ. That’s why they set up hospitals and schools. This article brings up some interesting points. I’m not sure the mission agencies were sending doctors to China to promote Americanism. I am an avid reader of mission stories and books. The photo above of the man with the baby is Dr. Bob Pierce. It’s spelled incorrectly on the cursor note. This photo is from the cover of his biography, “Man of Vision.”
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