livingissues: untangling some tough issues of the 20th century

home our project our people links
our themes » Stories

Africa needs missionaries (and not for the pot)

Posted by Richard D North in Food / Rights / Society on 27 December 2008

Why we posted this: The idea that Africa needs missionaries is surprising to a generation brought up to believe that indigenous cultures are always preferable to “white” interference. But the case is made tellingly in this piece. 

The original story:
“Africa needs missionaries”
Matthew Parris
The Times
27 December 2008

Summary of the stories:
Matthew Parris has been re-visiting the Africa of his youth. To his surprise and even consternation (he being an atheist) he finds himself believing that Africans do better if they believe in a Christian god. Nothing else, he thinks, so readily overcomes superstition. What’s more, Christianity matters because it respects individuals rather than groups or tribes.

livingissues comment:
This is an interesting line of argument for several reasons.

(1) It overcomes a basic judgement (a prejudice if you like) that nothing good that was European or Western or white ever went to Africa.

(2) It reinforces a judgement (a prejudice if you like) that Africa needs a transformation of culture even more than it needs hardware. What’s more the change that’s needed is in personal attitiudes.

(3) It reminds modern people that Christianity is a religion of personal liberation and as such was the surprising underpinning of the renaissance and even the Enlightenment.

(4) Parris doesn’t stress, but it’s worth adding, that Africa has been slow to develop a middle class. One could argue that the bossy, assertive people who built modern Western civilisation were mostly not very powerful and not always rich either. They built societies rather than became “Big Men”. Africa needs their sort and their kind of thinking. Christianity may well be the African route to creating such people.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a comment