The Bible Couldn’t Save Chau From The Sentinelese: Media Myth-Making And  Mindless Evangelism

The Bible Couldn’t Save Chau From The Sentinelese: Media Myth-Making And  Mindless EvangelismChristian missionary John Allen Chau. (@hollywoodcurry/Twitter)
Snapshot
  • If missionaries can’t leave a small tribe of a handful of people alone, what hope is there that they will leave millions of non-Christians alone and let the world retain its wonderful diversity in matters spiritual?

One doesn’t know whether to have admiration or disgust for John Allen Chau, the 27-year-old US Christian missionary, who went to North Sentinel Island in the Andamans to convert the natives, who are hostile to contact with the outside world. He was killed on 17 November by an arrow shot at him by one of the Sentinelese, who do not number more than a few hundred.

One could admire the extreme sense of courage shown by Chau, who went in a kayak to befriend the hostile Sentinelese with gifts, but can one really admire this kind of fanatical religious belief that prompts him to make every effort, even risk his life, “to establish the kingdom of Jesus on the island”? In notes he left behind on his kayak, he wrote: “I am scared. If you want me to get actually shot or even kissed with (sic) an arrow, then so be it. I don’t want to die. Would it be wiser to leave and let someone else to continue? No, I don’t think so.”

There is little doubt that Chau was motivated by the same sense of aggressive martyrdom that Christianity has been known for in the past – a martyrdom that allows others to use one person’s sacrifice of his life to weaponise the word of god as revealed in the Bible. The only difference between the Chau type of martyrs and jihadists on a suicide mission is that the Chaus only seek to kill themselves, while the latter seek to kill others too in the process.

In the end, both the Abrahamic faiths are predatory imperialists, using different methods to achieve the same end: conversion of the whole world to their way of thinking, never mind what this does to the diversity that has kept humans alive and capable of survival for several thousand years so far.

If one wanted to understand what the Sentinelese brought by way of diversity, any anthropologist, using satellite photos and sounds, could easily have discovered all he needed to know about these people. But it needs an expansionist religious bigot to think this diversity needs to be erased by spreading the Bible to people who had no need for it.

Chau’s death brings out both the best and worst aspects of evangelical martyrdom, and as Hindus, who are surely the targets for such extreme tactics, one cannot but critique the worst aspects of this kind of “selfless narrowmindedness”. True faith requires humility, and a sense that there are some things more sacred than just spreading what one believes at any cost, but Chau did not exhibit any such humility. In self-sacrifice for a cause, what one can never be rationally sure of is nothing but use of the devil’s method to serve your idea of god. Surely, the rationalists of the Dabholkar kind should have something to say about this irrationality.

A dangerous aspect of this whole effort at myth-making about Chau’s “sacrifice” is the way the media is playing into the hands of evangelists. The Telegraph in Kolkata headlined the story “How Bible saved Chau from first arrow blitz”. The Times of India in Mumbai headlined the story “Bible saved him from an arrow, he fell to another.” The Times of UK’s headline said: “If I’m shot by an arrow, then so be it, wrote missionary John Allen Chau before death,” and the Christian news channel Fox News said it thus: “American missionary wrote ‘God, I don’t want to die’ before being killed by remote tribe on Indian island.”

The stories which said that the Bible protected Chau refer to an arrow shot by a Sentinelese boy which missed its mark and hit a Bible Chau had on him. Another arrow found its mark, thus proving that the Bible did not save Chau in the end.

When the media is complicit in creating such myths, who can stop blind faith and mindless conversion tactics? If missionaries can’t leave a small tribe of a handful of people alone, what hope is there that they will leave millions of non-Christians alone and let the world retain its wonderful diversity in matters spiritual?

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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