Some Cultures Need to be Ruined
The Gospel (and Colonialism) took a much needed wrecking-ball to some cultural practices.
Daniel Everett is a celebrated linguist who started off as a missionary but eventually abandoned his Christian faith. His mini-bio in Robert Greene’s Mastery makes this drift sound noble. Everett realized that the Gospel would ruin the cultures he ministered to, and this led to a growing doubt about Christianity. In particular, Everett was afraid his work would ruin the Pirahã's concept of truth and how it affected their language.
But some cultures should be ruined. They are not all equal. While it is possible to "plunder the Egyptians," as Augustine put it, we should not look with longing and awe at the pots of meat back in Egypt, wishing to gorge ourselves.
That same Pirahã tribe forced alcohol down an infant's throat to kill it, an infant that Everett and his wife were attempting to nurse back to health. That was the Pirahã’s truth.
People also gripe about colonialism, but the British presence in India stopped some horrific cultural practices, like thugee, the ritualistic slaughter of travelers. And let’s not forget about suttee, where the widow of a dead man was burned alive on the same funeral pyre. There are many women who appreciated the fact that the British “ruined” the culture of India. We can look at the history of colonialism and point to both the abuses and the benefits, but to deny any benefits is to deny truth itself.
The Aztecs participated in horrific human sacrifice and enslaved the surrounding people. There is evidence of mass child sacrifice in Peru. We should not shed tears that these cultures were ruined. We should thank God for Cortez (and Cortez and the Aztecs certainly deserved each other.)
Some cultures, as they are right now, need to die (And if we're honest, we'll look at our own culture and agree with this.) They need to die, so they can be resurrected. The Gospel does not ruin cultures by leaving a smoking crater in its wake. It ruins so it can bring about a new birth. So it can create something new.
That doesn't mean everything should be the same, one big morass of indistinguishable humanity. The glories of the Chinese church, for example, will look very different from the glories of the Western church. Those pilgrims will travel the same path, but they might go a different speed, notice different things along the way, manifest strengths that we had never thought about, sing songs that leave a different taste on the tongue. Their language and culture will be part of the rich tapestry of nations that God brings streaming to the Celestial City.