Lecture 21: Overview: ca. 1500-2000
Course: Church History II
Lecture: Overview: ca. 1500-2000
Today I want to look at for the last time together at the expansion of the Christian church in the last 500 years or so that we’ve been talking about over the course as a whole.
Now, if we go back to about 500 years ago, to about 1500, that sort of time, or 1492, that kind of period – we find that the Christian world you could say consisted almost exclusively of Europe, and even then, not all of it. You had Western Europe, this colored area here, this sort of western bit which was what we would call today, Roman Catholic. And then you had in Eastern Europe, Russia and these Eastern countries, the Eastern Orthodox Church which was spread about as far as that. But you also had the Turks coming in and invading the south eastern corner of the Balkan States and even penetrating to the point of getting into Germany, getting to the borders of Germany at the time that Luther was preaching his reformation. This is one of the political factors that always has to be born in mind, that when Luther was proclaiming reformation in Germany, the Turks were at the gates of Vienna literally and threatening to invade the whole of Western Europe and take them over and thereby conquer this whole territory for Islam.
Then in the Middle Eastern countries you had Christian minorities dating from early times, from the early church, which survived more or less under Muslim rule. The strongest community then, as now, was in Egypt. You still get a fairly large Christian community there. But the only independent Christian country that was not European in 1500 was Ethiopia. Lost in Central Africa, little known outside the country, and Ethiopians themselves had very little idea what went on in the rest of the world. They really were cut off from almost everywhere. That’s the situation in about 1500.
Between then and say about 1800, the situation changed quite dramatically, but it changed mainly in the Western Hemisphere, and changed by colonization, settlement. The Spaniards and Portuguese first sailing west and conquering the vast empires that they conquered in what is now Latin America, brought with them their version of Christianity. Now I think I might have pointed this out a long time ago, Spanish Christianity was basically crusading. I mean it was an extension of the crusades because it was only in 1492 that Spain finally managed to conquer the last little bit of Arab Muslim territory down in Granada in the south and basically drive the Arabs out of Spain. For them, the discovery of the Americas and what have you was just an extension of this, and they employed pretty much the same methods in the Western Hemisphere as they were accustomed to doing against the Arabs, which was basically, convert and be baptized or else there won’t be much left of you.
This of course has to be nuanced with all kinds of other things. There was in fact in the Spanish Empire a struggle between the civil power and the church because of the whole problem of slavery. According to medieval Christian principles, you were not allowed to enslave anybody who was a Christian. One Christian could not enslave another Christian. This meant that if there were going to be slaves, they had to come from outside the Christian world. During the course of the Middle Ages slavery virtually died out for that reason. The supply of non-Christians was not very great. When I say non-Christians, I mean people who were not at least superficially in some Christian community. As Northern Europe and Eastern Europe got evangelized, they could no longer be used for forces of slave labor, because there was not much contact with other parts of the world except for the Arabs, and that was a whole other problem. Slavery basically declined to the point of disappearance in Europe, which is the way things have remained. Even in modern times, when European countries got into the slave trade, it was not in Europe. The British, and the Spanish and the French, they had slaves in their colonies but not, generally speaking in the mother country. And indeed, as time went on, that was made illegal. So, you have cases of this in the early 18th century, the question of whether an American planted from Virginia visiting London could bring his slaves with him, was an issue. Some said, well, yes, and some said, well, no. It was kind of debated back and forth because slavery was not allowed in England. So, were they allowed to bring the slaves to England or not. I think they came to some sort of compromise, that as long as they were there for only a couple of months it was okay. If you were doing a kind of semester abroad thing, you could bring your slave with you. But, if you were going to spend any length of time there, and some people did, people like Benjamin Franklin spent years in London, he lived more than 10 years, maybe even 20 years of his life in London. Somebody like that, couldn’t. There was a kind of time limit on it.
Slavery in the Spanish Empire
But anyhow, in the Spanish Empire, this became an issue, because when they conquered all these Indian tribes, what were they going to do. The planters and traders and people like that thought here we are, lots of slaves, and enslave them and make them work the land and so on; they could do the mining and all the rest of it. But the church was against this, because the church wanted to evangelize, and of course once they were baptized, that was it, theoretically they couldn’t be enslaved anymore. So, there was a tussle back and forth over this. In the end there was a kind of compromise, that the Indians could in effect be enslaved, be treated as indentured laborers and this sort of thing, although not technically. If they were baptized, they were technically free, but wouldn’t notice very much difference. In the end, Indians turned out to be not very good workers, they just couldn’t adapt, physically they were not strong enough and also they didn’t have the kind of mentality that would make good slaves. And so they turned to Africa. And that was the beginning of the African slave trade – bringing in African slaves who were much heartier and much more able to withstand the rigors of the climate and the work and so on, with the result that in some places, in the West Indies and so on the original native Indian population was eventually exterminated – places like Cuba and Haiti, and replaced by Africans. Which you still find now, to this day, a large black population in those places, but the native Indians have disappeared.
Portuguese spread Christianity
The Portuguese did similar things of course in Africa. They had some success in evangelizing along the west coast, particularly in places like Angola and the Congo Basin and so on. There were quite a number of conversions to Catholicism in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. In the 16th century, as they spread east, it took them longer to get to the Far East, but as they went down here, there were sort of converts along here and they crossed around here and went to India and then Southeast Asia over here and then up towards China and Japan. They endeavored to do what they could to spread Christianity at the same time with mixed success. In India they perhaps had a better time of it than almost anywhere else, because in India there were native Christians. There were Christians there who had been there from ancient times. Nobody really knows where they came from. How Christianity got to India is a bit of a mystery. It’s not something that people are that aware of even now.
Student: The Christians from India claimed Thomas.
Yes, that’s right. They claim that the Apostle Thomas went there. But, that’s not proved. It’s very hard to say where the Christians in India originally came from. It’s possible that there were Christians there in New Testament times. There’s no reason why the Apostle Thomas or someone like that could not have gone there, because India was trading with the Roman Empire, and Alexander the Great had gone to India. So, there is no real reason why they couldn’t have gone there. But whether they did in actual fact or not is not certain.
Portuguese Spread Christianity
However, when the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century, they were able to link up with these people. This gave them more of a base than they might have had elsewhere. The City of Goa in the West Coast of India south of Bombay became their great missionary center. From there they spread out through what is now Indonesia, Malaya and Malaysia and then into China and even into Japan, and in these places they managed to establish small Christian communities. Now, these didn’t survive terribly well for various reasons.
In Indonesia they had to struggle against expanding Islam, because this is the time when Islam made its great penetration into Southeast Asia. And as you perhaps know, a place like Indonesia is today something like 85% Muslim. It used to be higher, in fact, but there have been quite a lot of conversions to Christianity very recently, and this seems to have lowered the overall percentage of Muslims. But it became Muslim around this time. The Christian missionaries had a tough time of it there.
In China, they were welcomed to some extent initially, and indeed seemed to have a lot of success even reaching into the court circles in Peking, and they were quite well thought of for a long time. But, the Catholic missionaries to China made the mistake of adapting to Chinese culture to a degree which Rome disapproved of and eventually, they had the rug pulled out from under them by Rome. Rome said you simply cannot do this. Because what they were doing was trying to graft Christianity onto Chinese ancestor worship and basically saying the worship of your ancestors is not really any different from praying for the dead and venerating the Saints and this kind of thing, and trying to sort of synchretize these two things, and that didn’t go down very well. Sometime, I think it was 1700 or 1707, something like that were called the Chinese rites were suppressed by Rome. That was really quite a blow to the Catholic missions in China.
In Japan, they had initial success, again at the same sort of time in the 17th century, but Japanese society turned against foreigners in general. Foreigners were excluded. The Christians came under suspicion because of course they represented a foreign religion, and they were quite severely persecuted by the Japanese themselves, and officially wiped out. But one of the interesting things when Europeans went back there in the 19th century, they discovered that there were some families in the country which had retained some memory of their Christian past. They had certain family traditions about celebrating Christmas and Easter and this kind of thing, that they remembered, that had been handed down from one generation to the next. They had lost any sense of what it meant. Some vestige of Christianity had survived in that particular way. But that was about as far as anybody had got in the 16th 17th centuries
Protestants -North America
Protestants, in so far as they evangelized at all generally had much less success than Catholics. You can see this, for example, in North America because even in the 17th century, there was an attempt made to evangelize North American Indians, and there are examples of Bible translation into Iroquois, but on the whole the settlers were more successful in wiping the Indians out than they were in converting them to Christianity. You can say they weren’t really all that successful. It wasn’t that they didn’t try, but they didn’t really get all that far. Perhaps, that’s not the fairest assessment to make, because there were not very many North American Indians, they were not all that numerous, and a lot of them died of smallpox and diseases that they weren’t resistant to. So, it was difficult from that point of view as well.
Dutch Protestants in Indonesia
A fairer comparison would be in Asia, particularly in what is now Indonesia, because there the Dutch took over from the Portuguese. The Dutch defeated the Portuguese and chased them out and basically took over what is now Indonesia instead. This would be about 1650 or so. The question then became, would they have Protestant missions from Holland? There were some. There was an attempt made to evangelize to some degree, but it never really got very far. Indonesia was never effectively evangelized, at least not at that time. Apart from one or two areas where Protestant Churches were planted, on the whole you would have to say it didn’t work very well.
Modern Missionary Movement
The modern missionary movement, the missionary movement that we know about today, did not begin until the very end of the 18th century. And then it began against the wishes of the European countries which dominated the trade routes, in so far as they had empires, dominated what we now call the Third World. Someone like William Carey, and some of you who have studied William Carey, his life and biography, will know that William Carey had to fight his biggest battles not with the Indians, but his biggest trouble was not with the Indians, it was with the British. In other words with his own people who were there, because the British traders who were there did not want missionaries upsetting the apple cart. They didn’t like this sort of thing, because it would interfere with trade and get in the way of what they were doing and that was not in their interests at all.
So, the earliest expansion of mission work went against the interests of the colonial powers. This has to be understood because very often, perhaps less so now, but there was a time in the 1960’s and so on when it was very fashionable to identify missionary work and colonialism as if they were two sides of the same coin and condemn both of them in the same breath. There were times when missionaries and colonial administrators operated together that is true, but just to make a blanket condemnation and say the two things were part of the same overall movement is too simplistic. It is too simple annalysis of what was actually going on.
In fact, in Africa, over large parts of Africa, missionaries got there first. Very often, in the course of the 19th century, missionaries felt the impulse to go places. The most famous of course was David Livingstone who was quite an explorer of Central Africa. He went all over Central Africa before any colonial power got there. He just went through the tribal societies as they were. And the missionary work, as it started at that time, was only partially interested in what we would think of as colonialism. What tended to happen, and where the contacts came
French colonies limited
It was at the beginning, yes. It depends a lot on the country. I mean, the French, for example, remained opposed to missionary work for a long long time. And, this is one of the reasons why in Africa, for example, mission work in French speaking countries is much less developed, apart from Zaire or the Congo, that’s a sort of exception because it was under Belgium rule. But, in the former French colonies, there’s a lot less missionary work which went on, because they weren’t given the encouragement, they weren’t free to go there in the same way they were in the British colonies.
British colonies – local customs
In Africa, the British colonies didn’t get going until much later on a large scale. It was the end of the 19th century by which time there was a much more favorable approach to mission work generally. But earlier, in the 18th century, in India, for example the British authorities were not at all favorable to this. They didn’t want this kind of interference. I suppose because they felt that they would be upsetting the local customs. One of the things you don’t often realize about colonialism, particularly British colonialism and particularly in its more developed phase, is it was not interested in social reform in the countries where it went, on the whole. To some degree, yes. For example in India, a widow would have to throw herself on her husband’s pyre, the famous custom of sati, where a woman would commit suicide when her husband died by throwing herself on the pyre and dying with him – this was banned. To that extent social reform was imposed. But when it came to things, for example, upsetting the local tribal situation, of course that was always tied in with some religion or other, because every tribe would have its religion, whatever it was, there would be some kind of religious set up. They never did this. Wherever you went whether it was in Nigeria or Central Africa, or India or wherever it is, as far as possible they tried to rule through the local elite. So if you were the chief of some tribe or other, you were left being the chief of some tribe or other. On the whole, they tried to leave these things in place, without disturbing the system. Once you have that policy, because religion is part of the social structure, you’re not going to do a lot to disturb it. You’re going to try to leave those things alone as much as possible. Now it didn’t always work for various reasons. Sometimes they couldn’t do that. But in so far as it could be done, it was done.
One of the things that’s happened in countries since they’ve got their independence in recent years is that the newly independent governments of these countries very often have had to dismantle the traditional tribal structures in so far as they are able to do that; they are not always able to do it very well. Somewhere like India, for example, the Maharajahs and all these people, they were kind of kicked out, not by the British, but by the Indian government which took over after Independence. The same is true in places like Uganda. They had their tribal kings and so on in colonial times. And it was only later that this was wiped away. They were sort of kicked out because it was felt to be a barrier to development in these places. So, there is a lot of things that people don’t always understand about this period. It wasn’t as interfering with what local people would do as you might imagine.
Missionary schools hospitals
Of course missionaries generally were interested obviously not just in converting people to Christianity, but also in building schools, hospitals, and this kind of thing. They did this without government support or interference of any kind. And, again you find in a lot of countries, like Kenya and those countries, it was only after independence that the government took over the schools, took over the hospitals from the missionaries, from the churches -at that time to try to create some system of national schooling, of medical care, or of something like this. But previously it had been very much the church’s thing. And the colonial governments, they might have something to do with it, but not as much as one might imagine. There was a lot more laissez faire in these things than might appear on the surface at that time.
Government follows missionaries
So, the connections were not always as close as you might think. But, of course, what tended to happen was if a missionary organization went into an area and this particular area was not under any kind of settled government, then of course the presence of missionaries there could either be used as an excuse by some European country to go in and protect its own people of the missionaries might be seen as calling on their own government to protect them. What actually happened in fact is sometimes hard to say, but there was a kind of connection like that in a lot of these places.
This happened even in the United States. For example there is the famous case of the Whitman’s, you know, Marcus Whitman and his wife who traipsed off to Oregon and set up missionary work among the Indians in Oregon, this is about 1840 something when this area was not clearly a part of the United States. It was sort of there, but in dispute and so on. Basically, the question of whether they were missionaries going to evangelize the Indians or whether they were settlers going to claim this area for the United States depends to a large extent on your point of view. Of course, in the end, the American government followed them into that territory and claimed it. It’s hard to say what was going on in this case. I don’t think you can say that the people who went as missionaries initially were deliberately going there in order to produce this kind of result. I don’t think they were secret agents of the government. But of course, they were operating at a time in the 19th century when a large part of the world did not have what we would call government today. Take Oregon as an example. I mean there was no government in the modern sense there at all. They were just bringing this to that place, and bringing as they saw it a sort of settled, organized, civilized society to a territory which didn’t have it. And they didn’t feel, in the way that we might feel today, that they were invading somebody else’s land. The idea that these native tribes owned this land didn’t settle in very deeply in people’s minds in those days. Is it right or is it wrong. Judged by the standards of our time, we would say this was very wrong. But judged by the standards of their time, this was okay. That’s what they did in those circumstances.
In any case, I think what can be said, whatever view you take of this, is that in the course of the 19th century, say from about 1800 to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the world was more or less evangelized. There were exceptions. There were places which were not touched. But, on the whole you can say that the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, below the Sahara, by about 1914, had some kind of missionary presence, a Christian Church, and African people joining it, becoming Christians in large numbers. That has continued to the present time. You had a flourishing Protestant Christianity in India.
You had flourishing Protestant Christianity in China, which again is an interesting case, because China was never under Western colonial rule. And yet, the Christian Church spread there and in fact the missionary activity was extremely high in China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was almost a chosen mission field for a lot of people. And the fact that it wasn’t under Western political control didn’t seem to make any difference at all to the spread of missions. So, there’s an example of how Christianity was able to spread in a place without the backing of Western Colonial government. The two things were not necessarily connected with each other.
China is also a very good example of what could go wrong in Christian missionary work, because in the 1860’s there was a Chinese in the back country who started having visions and fancied himself as the brother of Jesus Christ. And started the famous Taiping rebellion against the Chinese government in the name of what he imagined was Christianity. This rebellion lasted for several years and in fact eventually it had to be put down with the help of Western troops. I mean there were British and French were sort of … by the Chinese government to go in there and put these rebels down, which was kind of an interesting thing, because they were supposedly Christians. Of course they were heretical Christian, but still there was this kind of side to it. And that gives you an example of the kind of thing which can happen.
But, I think it is also a reminder to us that considering the enormous expansion of missionary work in the 19th century actually remarkably little syncretism. It happened of course. Taiping is an example of this in China. You also get examples of it in Africa. You get examples of it in Japan and places like Korea and so on. The Moonies in Korea are an example of this. I think if you look at the broad picture, across the world as a whole, what was remarkable was that there was so little of it. That Christianity managed to go to other countries and convert people more or less purely. That is to say, the temptation to establish some kind of mixed religion, combining whatever religion they were previously with the new Christianity was to a remarkable degree resisted. Now, this is not to say that it didn’t happen. Nor is it to say that there are not survivals of say witchcraft and so on, but you could equally well argue that in our society there are survivals of witchcraft. People read horoscopes, and don’t walk under ladders and avoid black cats and celebrate Halloween. It’s hardly surprising if you go to Africa and find there are some people there practicing sort of witchcraft of one kind or another when they’ve only been Christians maybe 3 or 4 generations. Whereas in the west there are people who have been supposedly Christian 1500 years or more, there is still this kind of residue lying around underneath. When you look at it like that, the remarkable thing is that Christianity has transferred itself to different cultures, not just Africa or India, but south eastern China and so on, without loosing its own self consciousness. This is a sign of genuine conversion. That people really have come to know Christ is the first thing, and also secondly that Christianity is capable of reaching out beyond its Western origins.
Christianity and Westernization
Now this again is something which is very controversial, because you say Christianity is a Western religion and where Christianity goes, westernization follows behind. The answer to that has to be yes, and no. It’s not as simple s that. It’s true that Christianity is a Western religion in origin, perhaps not in origin, but in terms of the missionary movement of modern times it went from Europe and North America to Africa, to Asia and so on. There is no doubt about that. All you have to do is go to any city in say Africa or India or something and look at the Christian churches there, especially the older ones, and you see immediately they’ve been transplanted from Europe. You get these gothic cathedrals in places like Nairobi and you think to yourself, who built them? And you know it had to be people from Europe or America because that’s the kind of thing they built. In that sense, you can say, yes it is.
In another sense, Western Civilization is the product of centuries of Christianity, and so it’s only natural that if Christianity spreads then the kind of civilization which Christianity has helped to create will also spread.
For example, attitudes toward education – in order to be a Christian, particularly in order to be a Protestant, you can’t really be a Protestant Christian unless you know how to read. If you are supposed to read the Bible and you don’t know how to read, what are you going to do? You basically have to translate the Bible into the language of the people you go to. You then have to teach them how to read it. This inevitably means you have schools, you have education. It follows naturally.
Then of course, there is the position of women in society. Now, you may think women are suppressed and looked down upon… Of course the position of women in society will change because of the Christian attitude towards women as being equal to men, contrasted with say Islam. Just compare with that and immediately you see something very different. So this is inevitably going to have its influence.
I suppose if you compare with Islam, that is a fairly good comparison, you see something quite different. Whereas Christians wanted to translate the Bible into the language of whoever they went to because we believe it is possible to read the word of God in any language, I mean it can be translated into any language, Muslims do not believe this. If you want to become a good Muslim, you have to learn Arabic. Like the Book of Mormon, it is untranslatable. Joseph had very similar notions on this score. The Koran is regarded as having come down from heaven in Arabic, given to Mohammed and so if you become a Muslim, you almost in a way have to become Arab to a large extent. You see this for example; people who are converted to Islam end up giving themselves Arab names, like Muhammad Ali who sounds as if he could have come from Mecca. This is something that Christianity has never done.
When people say Christianity went to such and such a place and destroyed the local culture because it was a Western Imperialist movement, even if there is some truth in that, I’m not saying that it is totally untrue; you have to compare it with say what Islam would do in a similar circumstance. To become Muslim would mean taking on much more of Arab culture and to a much deeper level than Christianity would ever impose on anybody. It would be a different thing.
Now, it’s also possible, and there are examples of places which have become Western without becoming Christian. The best example of this is Japan. Japan is a country which has westernized in its economic and social aspects without becoming Christian, which is a sort of counter-example that the two things do not necessarily go together. Japan is a very funny example because what you get there is you get the superficial aspects of Western Christianity, like celebration of Christmas. Christmas is a holiday celebrated in Japan, even though most people don’t know what it means. All they know is it’s a time of year when businesses go into the black because they sell more that time of the year than any other time, and so Japanese Christmas has all this sort of tinsel and Christmas trees and all that kind of thing, but none of the religion. It’s rather like what American Christmas is becoming. American Christmas has become that way because the government has pushed it. You are not allowed to have religious symbols. Any mention of religion around Christmas and you could be fined or thrown in jail. Whereas in Japan, this has happened naturally. They just don’t know about it. They’ve kind of taken the outside shell. It’s very interesting that this has happened from a sociological point of view. In one way it’s very worrying because we don’t trust the Japanese. No one is going to say that. It’s very politically incorrect to say so. The truth of the matter is, most of us are much happier with the French and the Germans and Italians … I’m saying that somehow you recognize that they share a similar value system, from their centuries of Christian heritage and so on. And you kind of know where you are with people like that, whereas with the Japanese you really have no idea. This showed itself very clearly during the Second World War. If you had a choice of which prisoner of war camp you wanted to be in, a German one or a Japanese one, the German prisoner of war camp was a hell of an experience compared to the Japanese one. If you had to choose between the Russians and the Chinese, you would choose the Russians, because deep down inside, however much you might dislike Russians, you know that they share a system which ultimately is based on Christianity and you’re not sure about the Chinese. They may or they may not. But you don’t know what is going to happen.
In a sense you can say that black Africa, because it has been Christianized, is actually closer to us and to our way of thinking than say India is, because India has not been Christianized. You can go to an African country and feel that most people will share your way of thinking about the world even though they may be very different in a lot of other ways. Their general attitudes toward life would be similar to yours, because of their Christian connection, whereas if you go to someplace like India you really don’t know what you are going to find. You might find people who are very nice. I’m not saying they are not very nice people. But then you discover for example, that they just let cows wander up and down the street and into the house and everywhere because they believe in sacred cows.
The Delia Lama who was here the other day, there was a report on him and it said: The Delia Lama never does anything without consulting his oracle. His oracle goes into a trance and when the oracle comes out of the trance then he tells the Delia Lama what’s what and the Delia Lama does what he is told. It was pointed out that if the Delia Lama was ever to go back to Tibet and take over an Independent Tibet and become ruler of Independent Tibet, this was not the way you run a modern country. He is a reminder to us of a very different way of thinking.
Separation of Church and State
With Islam you see the same thing, even when Islam is secularized, because secularization is a concept which doesn’t mean anything outside of a Christian society. In Christian society there is such a thing as the church. There is such a thing as a state. Therefore you can have separation of church and state, because it is a meaningful idea. You have a church over here with its organization; you have the state over here with its organization. The two organizations act independently. That’s what separation of church and state is supposed to mean. Basically that is what happens most of the time.
But in an Islamic society, the trouble is there is a state, but there is no church. There is no such thing as a Muslim church. If you are a Muslim, you are part of the Muslim society, but Islam does not have a church organization in the sense that we do. Therefore to promote Islam means among other things introducing Islamic law into the society. You cannot have an Islamic state without having Islamic law. Introducing Islamic law means persecuting people who are not Muslim. Now a Muslim of course won’t look at it like that, because as far as they’re concerned, you have Islamic law and this is the law of the land, and people who don’t accept it, well what are they doing here? This is Islam. You can go, you can go somewhere else. There is really no room for you. They might permit Jews and Christians to exist in a kind of second class status. You are allowed to be there. But logically, the more Islamic you are, the less tolerant of other religions you are going to be because you simply cannot regard them as equal to you. You might be nice to them on a personal basis, but you’re not going to give them equality in the state, because you can only give equality in the state to people of a different religion if religion is not part of the state. This was true in Europe until the state was secularized Jews did not have civil rights. They couldn’t because in a Christian state you could not give civil rights to Jews, it didn’t make sense.
The same in an Islamic country. You got somewhere like Sudan for example, in Africa, which is a very good case, Sudan is something like 60% or 70% Muslim, but there is a strong Christian minority, especially in the south, but these people are not given equal rights, nor is there any possibility that they ever will be. They are busily fighting for their independence, but people like to forget about it because they say it’s sort of in the middle of Africa, we don’t care. Christians are very severely persecuted in Sudan and had been for years, this is not a new thing; it’s been going on for a long time. And the world generally doesn’t do much about it or even know much about it…
This is a great danger here. In this country people are only waking up to the danger of Islam. It’s taken a long time. I buy books about cults and sects and things and one of them is Islam, it gets sort of lumped in with Jehovah’s Witnesses or something like this. And I think this is very dangerous because Jehovah’s Witnesses however much of a nuisance they might be are really just a passing phase, they might last a few hundred years, but they are not going to last forever, and nor do they really affect anything very deeply. But Islam is a different thing altogether. It disturbs me… I did a course in Arabic here at Sanford a couple of years ago, and here at Sanford we had these Arabs who came and taught it. They weren’t interested in teaching Arabic. They just wanted to proselytize. They were trying to convert us to Islam. We used to get these hour long lectures on the virtues of polygamy... Eventually we weren’t learning any Arabic, so I complained to the authorities. What they told me was: they had got these people here free of charge because the local mosque had offered to supply Arabic teachers to Sanford free of charge and they hired them. I said, “Do you realize they are here to proselytize?” …
It’s hard to say why but you do feel it. It’s important to realize this. That here you are dealing with something which is very deep. It affects every aspect of society. This is the great battle that we have to fight I think in the next 100 years. Preaching the Christian gospel has become more necessary now than it ever was before, because you could say that in the 19th century it didn’t really matter whether people in northern Nigeria let’s say were Muslim or not, because they just lived the way they lived and didn’t really bother anybody else, but today, the more we become a global village, the more dangerous this is, because what goes on there could affect anything anywhere. You can no longer be indifferent to what happens in Saudi Arabia or something like this. This could affect us. So therefore, the question of the religion of these places becomes a matter of survival a lot of the time. Imagine if Iran got some nuclear weapon or something. And then you have Ayatollah something or other coming along, and he has a vision that he’s got to wipe out the unbelievers. That’s it. We are all gone. It’s not beyond the bound of possibility, because these people believe this.
Just the other day there was a thing I heard on the radio in the Gaza Strip, these terrorist bombers who are bombing Israelis. Now I have a lot of sympathy for this because I dislike Israelis. I’m not anti-Jewish, but I dislike Israelis, because Israelis are the most arrogant, annoying people. Have you ever been to Israel? They are dreadful. They’ll push you, they’ll scream at you; they have no sense of politeness. Israelis are famous for their rudeness. I have a lot of sympathy for Arab terrorists in Israel, but only up to a point.
They were interviewing some of these people and they said; why were they terrorists? Why were they attacking the Israelis? And they said, because of their Muslim faith, and they believed that to become a living grenade and to die was to go to Paradise, they are young men of 24 or something like this, and they would go to Paradise and be waited on by 72 virgins. This was a powerful attraction. Can you imagine what shopping would be like? This was actually motivating these people. This is something we’ve got to take seriously.
Because for us our evangelism and our preaching, and the spreading of the mission of the Christian church, if we don’t get to these people and preach the Christian gospel to them and show them that there’s a better way – I mean alright they are going to blow themselves up in this way, there’s not much you can do about that, but you’re going to have this kind of mentality which will destroy world peace. You cannot have a long-term world peace if this is the way it’s going to be. And in this respect these people are much more dangerous than say Mexican peasants making their way into California. They’re a nuisance perhaps, but that’s not the same thing because basically they will integrate eventually and they will become part of the majority culture and it will be okay after a couple of generations. Because again you are dealing with people who deep down inside have a similar moral and spiritual outlook on life. But with people like that who are fundamentally different and who do not recognize your value system at all, there is no point of contact with it, these people are definitely a long-term danger.
This is why we have to really hope and pray that the stories about conversions in China are true. We won’t know until China opens up how true they are. Some people say there are 15 million Chinese Christians, and some people say there are 100 million Chinese Christians and some people say there are 3 million. So, we don’t really know. We have to hope and pray that as many people there get converted to Christianity as possible, because whether we like it or not, China is going to be a major world power in the next 100 – 200 years. And if it’s not Christianized, even superficially we’re in trouble. Big trouble. Because their whole way of thinking is different. Who knows what they are capable of?
In China, communism is a complete nonsense. It depends what you mean by communism. If you mean the philosophy of Karl Marx, forget it. There’s not a single communist in China.
But what calls itself communism is really a kind of elite. It’s a kind of Mandarin class. It works as it did in Russia as a kind of mafia at the top. That may be a factor working for stability. When that collapses, as it will, probably as in Russia because too many people get too old and there is no retirement policy. If that happens there is a sort of implosion as there was in the Soviet Union. The question then is what comes then -what is at the basis of the society. And what you find at the basis, Confucianism and a sense of honor. What could then surface with a value system like that? And China with its very long tradition of Xenophobia – there’s nobody more racist than a Chinese.
Or Japan. I was just pointing out at lunchtime today that Japan is the only industrial country in the world which has no immigrant problem. All the other industrialized countries, the G7, the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany they all have immigration from Third World countries, and to some degree problems with this. How many immigrants does Japan have? None. Why not? Japan is a very rich country. If the United States were geographically in the same position as Japan, it would be teeming with Indonesians and Filipinos and goodness knows what coming north for jobs. You go to Japan, and you will not see one of these people. You have to say to yourself, what is going on here? These people are not welcome, because the structure of this society does not allow for this. And so despite the westernization, the fact that this is supposedly a democracy and all the rest of it – this is superficial. It doesn’t actually penetrate into the depths of the national soul, the national character. Therefore it is something to be afraid of in the long-term. Unless you can penetrate the soul and really bring the gospel to bear on this kind of thing, we’re in trouble.