July 25, 2006

Missionaries teach materialism

‘P.O.V.’ on PBS: How Missionaries Spread the Word, and U.S. CapitalismAre evangelical missionaries good or bad? That’s the question in tonight’s PBS documentary, “The Tailenders.” The missionaries’ smugness and salesmanship tend to irritate other humanitarian workers, who typically see themselves as more respectful of the people they’re tending to. What’s more, the program implies, silencing the stomping beats of, say, the Solomon Islands in favor of pallid “Jesus Loves Me” singalongs seems just wrong.

But more disturbing than this, the documentary contends, is the psychological and spiritual danger that many progressives believe is wrought by missionaries, who swipe from indigenous people their happy, peaceful ways and stick them instead with the greed, selfishness, jealousy and wrecked natural landscapes known to be the key features of global industrial capitalism.

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