I. colonialism and evangelism

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- a personal testimony by Ven. Piyasilo -

Since our prehistory, human beings have tried to conquer and dominate one another. With the rise of religion—which began as an attempt to understand forces beyond our control (such as pain, disease, and death)—people then try to conquer one an­other’s mind, but without understanding their own. Those religions and cults that in some way attempt to dominate others have one common historical feature: they were born amidst violence, and sadly continue to use emotionally violent and physically violent means of converting others, or punishing and getting rid of those “who are not with us”.
The idea is that if you are not with us, you are against us. There is no middle ground of walking humbly with one’s God, or simply walking at peace with oneself. When such a mental attitude domin­ates a society, its intolerance becomes destructive and stifles emotional and spiritual growth. Minds simply become mass-produced from the same mould; any misfit would be destroyed or, at best, mercifully margin­alized.
When such an evangelical attitude reaches a global dimen­sion, the disasters and pains are global and protracted. The early 21st century is characterized by suicide bombings and mass destruct­ion in the name of religion. Religious war and hatred, and evangel­ically motivated politics are still well and alive even today. Not surprisingly, such a legacy has deep roots.
When the European conquerors started coming to the East and the Americas around the 16th century, it was not for the good of the na­tives, but for "gospel, glory and gold". With the rise of population, power and knowledge in the West, the European adven­turers vied with one another to claim foreign lands and heathen peoples in the name of their Chris­tian rulers.
In the Americas, the natives were horribly unfortun­ate. One of the most tragic and das­tardly episodes of human history is perhaps the Spanish conquest of the Incas. In 1530 Francisco Pizarro landed with 200 men on the Peruvian coast. He had planned to make an easy conquest of the Inca empire as his coun­try­man Hernando Cortez had done—Cortez had seized the Aztec emperor Montezuma and this conquest in due course led to the annihila­tion of the Aztec civil­iz­a­tion.
When the Inca (ruler) Atahualpa and his es­cort appear­ed in the square of Cajamarca, they found it deserted, for Pizarro had con­cealed his men in some large buildings open­ing onto the square. In other words, once the Indians entered the square, they had no ave­nue of escape. At a signal from Pizarro his soldiers, supported by cavalry and artillery, rushed forward to kill hundreds of terrified Indians and take the Inca Atahualpa prisoner.
The chaos that led to panic amongst the In­dians was due to the following reasons: (a) the Indians were practically unarmed; (b) they had no chance at all against the Spanish firearms (the Indians did not have any such weapon then); and (c) they had never seen a horse (the initial sight of a man on a horse terrified them). The result of the fateful meet­ng was a glorious massacre. The only Span­iard hurt in the massacre that day was Pizarro himself who sustain­ed a minor wound on his hand received from one of his own men!
In an attempt to gain his freedom; Atahual­pa offer­ed to fill his spacious prison cell with gold as high as a man could reach. Pizarro accepted the offer; but when the room had been filled accordingly, he told the Inca that he was to remain in "protective custo­dy". Later on, however, Pizarro was convinc­ed that Atahualpa was organizing a resistance move­ment. After a farcical trial, a Spanish court found the Inca “guilty” of polygamy, idolatry, and the murder of his brother Hua­scar. Atahualpa was condemned by the court to be burnt at the stake; but the sentence was, out of Christian compassion, commuted to strangling when he accepted bapt­ism! [W H Prescott, "The Conquest of Peru", rev V W von Hagen, New Ameri­can Library, 1961:bk 3 chs 5-7; Encyclopaedia Bri­tannica Macro 10: 693c]
There is a very important reason that the sad story of the Incas opens this "answer to the evangelists.” The significance for this will be explained at the end of this pamph­let. One further comment however is in order here. The cruelty of the evangelists are not exclus­ive­ly reserved for the heathen; even their own kind who dare to think differently suffer a cruel fate. The classic case is that of the famous Italian scien­tist Galileo Galilei who was cruelly threatened with torture for believing in and writing that the sun was the centre of the solar system (while the Church believed that the earth was the centre). As a result of this infamous holy crime against free thought, the hub of scien­tific learning shifted to northern Europe where there was more tolerance.
Some evangelists may argue that they are not "Catholic" as those Spaniards were. Catholic or not, the above examples, illus­trate what evangelists with power are capable of. If the early Protestants (and most con­temporary evangelists) had enough power, they would have committed similar atrocities against non-believers and the local natives. Power tends to corrupt and, with the promise of "gospel, glory and gold", absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Indeed it is quite clear that the evils of colonialism are due to the biblical injunction to "go forth and multiply" and "have dominion over" others that one practically never meets a Christian who "turns the other cheek". One native African writer lamented that when the missionaries came, the missionaries had the Bible in their hand and the natives had their land. Then, one day, when the natives had the Bible in their hands, they discovered that their land was in the hands of the mission­aries!

The worst expression of colonialism, both political and religious, is denoted by the term WASP—"White Anglo-Saxon Protestant". Thanks to the independ­ence of our nation and the security of our Constitu­tion, we today are not only free to choose and prac­tise our own religion (or none), but we are also not so easily harassed by the evangelists.
When an evangelist lacks political power, he uses the weapon of subterfuge or fear. Some evangelists befriend others, especially those in universities and colleges, and under the guise of “surveys” and “dis­cussions,” subtly apply their hidden agenda, trying to the “superiority” of the faith above all others.

As regards the use of fear, a classic case in point is that of John Wesley, the 19th century found­er of Methodism. In his conversion tech­nique, Wes­ley would first of all create high emotional tension in his potential converts. He found it easy to convince large audiences of his time that a failure to achieve salva­tion would necessarily condemn them to hell­fire for ever and ever.
Wesley learned in time that to capture an audience he had first to gauge its intellectual and emotional capacity. For the simple folk, his favourite approach was the subject of death and judgment on which he would preach with fire. It is reported that John Nel­son (one of Wesley's most able lieuten­ants) was converted in this manner:
"As soon as he [Wesley] went upon his stand, he strok­ed back his hair, and turned his face towards me where I stood, and I thought fixed his eyes upon me. His countenance struck such an awful dread upon me, before I heard him speak, that it made my heart beat like the pendulum of a clock; and when he did speak, I thought his whole discourse was aimed at me.” [Recorded by R A Knox, "Enthusi­asm: A Chapter in Religious History," OUP, 1950]
Indeed, so effective was Wesley's method that some members of his audience would be "trembling, weeping and swooning away, till every appearance of life was gone, and the extremities of the body assumed the coldness of a corpse. At one meeting not less than a thousand persons fell to the ground apparent­ly without sense or motion”. (A witness ac­count by R A Knox, op cit).
Knox says further: "When attacked by the jerks, the victims of enthusiasm sometimes leaped like frogs and. exhibited every grot­esque and hideous contor­tion of the face and limbs. The barks consisted in getting down on all fours, growling, snapping the teeth, and barking like dogs.... These last [who barked like dogs] were particularly gifted in pro­phecies, trances, dreams, rhapsodies, visions of angels, of heaven, and of the holy city”. [Quoted by W Sargant, "Battle for the Mind," Pan Books, 1959: 115]
The best way to avoid conversion, possess­ion and similar conditions is to avoid get­ting emotionally involved in the proceedings or give a cold shoulder to any advance from an evangelist. I remember an eye­witness account of an en­counter with a charismatic group that "spoke in tongues." Some of the schoolboys, lured to the meeting refused to parti­cipate. Indeed, they found the proceeding so bizarre and amusing, that they could not help giggling.
The uninvolved behaviour of the schoolboys dis­tract­­ed the whole proceeding—indeed no one was con­vert­ed pr “heal­ed” that day. The in­furiated pas­tor’s threat of "The devil's everywhere and he can take any form!" and his cajoling of "Believe!" only tickled them fur­ther until they had to be thrown out!
Too fierce an anger or contempt for the evangelists is also unhealthy. For if one goes on condemning them, there may come a time when one feels very guilty about it all, and like Saul on the road to Damas­cus, one’s guilt would transmogrify into hallu­ci­n­atory "visions" which may compel one to join them after all. In the 1970s, a well known Melaka (Malay­sia) Buddhist temple, a couple of active Sunday School members used to fend off every evangelist advance with adolescent enthusi­asm. But both of them were converted during their spell of studies overseas and became active evangel­ists. The contri­butory factor here, however, was that the Buddhist group they were involv­ed in did not put proper Buddhist instructions or prac­tice on a high priority.
On the bright side, we have the example of an inter-religious forum (in Singapore), chaired by a Buddh­ist monk. Most of the major religions were represented. The various evangelists spoke fierily of their faiths almost with the hell­fire tone of Wesley's. When the monk’s turn came, he spoke so calmly and happily that the audience was actually shaken by the con­trast—from the fire of insecure religiosity and trium­phal­ism to the inner peace of spirituality expressed! The population of the campus Buddhist society which sponsored the forum doubled after that event!

In the 1960s the hippies arose in the West in protest against the establishment. The hippies were a coun­ter-culture of long-haired young people who indulged in marijuana and hallucinogenic drugs, rock music, and communal life-styles. This social explosion that fragmented the younger genera­tions of the West was a react­ion against social uniformity dictated by Indus­trialization—and the rule of the Church in their private lives. But the roots of the hippies, one might say, go way back to the Rena­scance, short of the introduction of Christianity into the West.
Renascence is the name for a rich cultural period in European history tasting from the 14th to the 17th centuries. It was a period of universal learning for the scholars, and great discoveries of new lands and wealth for the powerful—it was the birth of Western imperialism. Yet for the truth-seeker then, it was, con­sciously or unconsciously, a turn­ing point away from the Church which vehe­mently denounced any­thing—even Science—If it were perceived as going against the Bible. If the coffin of Christianity was made during the Renascence, its nails were hammer­ed tight in during the Age of Science.
While the Renascence widely opened the doors of knowledge to the West, it also led to the Industrial Revolution in Britain. British imperialism fed its factories and mills with Malayan rubber, Indian spices and Kenyan copper. When the popularity of Chinese tea incurred a heavy deficit on the British, they dumped opium in China to get Chinese silver (which later led to the Opium Wars). Indeed, at the height Western imperialism—concurrent with the Victorian period of Brit­ish history—Christianity was already deeply entrenched in most of Western society. But it was also the age of the duel between Religion and Science.
Scientific progress and industrial advance­ment led to higher standards of living, a booming population and urbanization—which made the world "smaller". The improved commu­nication system and mass media further re­duced the "size" of world with radio, motion pictures, television, national magazines, re­cord com­panies and universal advertising.
The result of this new wealth was a growing cultural uniformity throughout the country that wiped out ethnic and regional differ­ences and concentrated on the creation and preservation of "high culture"—literature, the fine arts, classical music and opera, philosophy and social thought—to a small, educated elite. The Church too had become very wealthy, though less powerful, but none­theless determined to win souls.
Invoking its ancient roots in the mediaeval univer­si­ties and armed with these modern soc­ial expres­sions (printing, music, etc), the Church casts its net of missionary school education on foreign shores. What better way to evan­gelize the heathens than to teach them West­ern languages and culture, and Christian morals. Indeed the missionaries were so successful that their influence practically reached the high­est levels of power right down to the priva­cy of the converts’ homes with their "mission­ary position"!
One of the greatest Asian tragedies is the mission school. Those who think highly of missionary edu­cation fail to realize that all the good things that it offers—language, morals, health and culture—are just as good, if not, better given in our own verna­cular. At least, we excel in what is really ours and are free to choose to learn whatever else we wish to. It is interesting to note that the average person who goes to a Chinese school (or any vernacular school for that matter) is generally more rooted in his or her own culture and more disciplined than the average mission school graduate.
I had two childhood Chinese friends: one came from a family that regularly attends the Wesley church; the other attended a convent. The Wesley Church friend went on to marry an English girl and migrated to England. The convent girl, on the other hand, was in the habit of claiming that the mother superior (head nun) at her convent school was "better than my own mother," which might well be in some ways, but the statement was made in contempt. She later convert­ed and married a Scot.
I am not against mixed marriages out of love; but the point here is that the mis­sion school is the main cause of our culture shock, generation gap, not to say, family fragmentation. There was a time when missionary school students had to study Latin, Bible Knowledge and attend chapel—over and above secular subjects. The pupils' own reli­gion and culture were almost com­pletely neglect­ed.
The true purpose traditional mission school system is not to so much to educate its students, as it is to put into them an agenda of evangelical or colonial values. Had the mission schools been truly success­ful we would have lost much if not all of our culture and religious freedom.
The same applies to Christian “social work” and “world vision”: the idea is to make sheep and fishes of men (and women and children) to be herded and harvested for the evangelist’s dining table. An evan­gelical “people-helper” does not real­ly help anyone (not even themselves), insofar as their real aim is to skew their helpees’ minds to be­come like their. When the blind lead the blind, they grow in confidence, thinking they would not fall into any ditches (when they are actually already rutted in big ditch them­selves!) There is no true uncondi­tion­al love in a Bible-thumping evangelist: it is real­ly a selfish zest (conscious or uncon­scious) motiv­at­ed by the desire to dominate. He has creat­ed God in his own image.

Any free thinking person who has some ex­perience of Christianity, would at some point at least, realize that "brainwashing" is an essential tool of the reli­gion. As long as people have to "believe," all seems well for the evangelists. The general idea is to "realize" that one is utterly evil "for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". Then the way out is offered: "believe and be saved".
This pattern of conversion reflects a great sense of psychological insecurity because it involves fear. It is like the local school bully who threatens smaller kids with vi­olence if they do not “contribute" some poc­ket money to him. Indeed, in joining a reli­gion, one in a way, invests one's whole being in it. But the dividends of this strange re­ligious business is a great feeling, albeit conscious or unconscious, of inferiority—an inferiority complex. Hence, the desire to domin­ate others.
The statement that "most Christians feel inferior and insecure" may sound rather strange; for one often notices that an evangelist looks modern and self-confident. But one should not be deceived by looks. The act­ions of the evangelists are very revealing to the astute observer. Despite their faith, in­fluence and affluence, most Christians still feel that other reli­gions are stronger and are eternally plagued by the problem of cults and sectarianism. We will come to this point again soon.
Many of our local people have the miscon­ception that to be Christian is to be "mod­ern"—whatever the term means. This atti­tude is the result of not under­stand­ing one's local history—especially the Colonial Pe­riod when foreigners (especially the evangelists) ruled our homelands.
When we say that "Christianity is modern," we must remember what made it modern and what “modern” means. For Christianity is not the cause of what is said to be "modern"—if by the term one means speaking an international language, being well-dressed for church, saccharin sweet fellowship and, social work; in other words, a high standard of living.
But we forget that it was only after the State was separated from the Church that modern Science, Technology and social philo­sophies paved the road to what we today see as "modern" in the Western way of life. In­deed Christianity, we have seen, for centur­ies has been hindering free development of knowledge and where they are involved in edu­cation, especially the mission school, pupils are almost always blinkered so that they see only the Church's view of the world.
Many local people have the misconception that Christianity is not only modern but has no problem. The Buddhists, they say, are of­ten poor, uneducat­ed and selfish. The Chris­tians are weal­thy, well-school­­ed and kind to one another, they argue. It almost sounds as if they are saying that Buddhism is the cause of poverty, ignorance and selfishness! Of course, these critics are neither Buddhist nor sympathetic to Buddhism.
These critics forget that these "wealthy, well-school­­ed, kind" Christians they are talking about are enjoying the legacy of the colonial past. It is only in the recent past, with our country's inde­pend­ence, local educa­tion and religious freedom that we are able to begin picking up the pieces to start orga­nizing ourselves so that we can study our own religion and discover our own culture.
We have to begin by helping ourselves so that we can in due course help others—if they need and want our help, that is. Above all, one must never forget that Christians, too, have problems like any other religions—lack of commitment of the conger­ga­tion, sectarianism, internal politics, self-right­eous­­ness, fanatic­ism, etc.
A real life example will illustrate the "vampire effect" and inferiority complex. This experience was related by a Western friend of mine. He was taking a walk in Petaling Jaya (a township in Selangor, Malaysia) one day when a young boy ran up to him and proudly announced "I'm a Christian!" The Westerner was dumbfounded for a moment and then repli­ed: "I'm a Buddhist!"
The main point here however is that the attitude that "Christianity is modern" re­flects one's own feeling of inferiority to a religion well-publicized by public gospel rallies, colourful Christmas celebra­tions and Western movies. This is the "opium of the masses": one feels inferior because one fails to see the wealth of what is good in oneself.
Indeed one is unable to see what is good in one­self because one as been uprooted by the evangelists through mission school education and the mass media. This is called the "vampire effect" because once one gets bitten by evangelist bug one keeps going back to it especially in times of crisis.
The evangelist will sooner or later an­nounce that his saviour died for mankind, or if we are to believe the biblical accounts—Jesus was crucified by the Romans. Most po­tential converts are not impressed by this statement which they neither understand nor accept. But religious conversion is like joining a club —one has sooner or later to accept all the rules of the game. It does not matter where one begins, the evangelists argue—the end justifies the means!
One is far from wrong if one says that the evangel­ists celebrates the death of Christ; indeed, it is a glorification of failure. It would be more meaningful to say that a cer­tain local soldier died for the country if he had defended the land. But to say the "Christ died for you" amounts to saying that death is better than life.
Just because a charismatic person says that black is white does not mean he is right. Words have dif­ferent mean­ings to different people, and we have to ask ourselves what do those words really mean to us. It is all right to think differ­ently.
A beautiful analogy of "the cow and the sheep" illustrates the gist of the argument here. A sheep lamented to a cow one day about how unpopular a sheep is: "People are always talking about your kind eyes, your gentleness and your usefulness. They say you provide milk, cream, buttermilk, butter and ghee. The early monks use your fermented urine as medicine. Even your dung is useful as wall plaster and fuel. But I give more—I provide mutton and wool, and give up my life for it! Still nobody likes me! Why is this?"
The cow thought for a while and then repli­es:

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