Wednesday, January 26, 2005
I've always had a problem with faith based relief missions. Christian (replace with any religion, although Christianity and Islam seem to be the main ones here) based relief groups enter a country that has just been devastated by a natural disaster or war, and then start giving out food and other supplies with a bible slipped in for good measure.
You see the problem here is that relief should JUST be relief, with no strings, pandering, alternative motives, qualifiers, or what ever. These victims are on the verge of ruin, and highly vulnerable, thus making good targets as religious converts. However, what many faith based relief missions tend to forget, is that these people already have a belief system. Thus this type of "I'll give you water if you promise to read my bible" behaviour usually results in anger and hostility as opposed to relief and hope. And, as might be expected, there's the (new) phenomenon of relief actually being denied until conversion has taken place.
I'm not sure if this is entirely different than large aid packages bearing the "Made in the USA" stamp. In the case of Iraq, the irony of having "Made in the USA" stamped on the bombs that cause the devastation leading to the need for relief packages, also stamped with "Made in the USA", is likely not lost on the people.
People's suffering should not be an opportunity to take advantage of their vulnerabilities for political, religious, or monetary gain. Straight and simple. After all, isn't this what "radical Islam" has been doin?
Right on, dude! Unfortunately, the conversion industry is not subject to any ethical boundaries as for those obsessed with saving the heathen souls from burning in the fires of hell, there can be no such imposition of "limits". However, this phenomenon is not manifest just in the time of disaster relief, in fact, this is industry-standard practice in the religion business. Here in South-East Asia, the term "rice-christian" has become part of our culture as the poorest and most vulnerable sections of the society are forced to convert into christianity literally for a bowl of rice.
I don't want to go into a theological debate here, but the problem is that because those aid agencies are Christian, they are fundamentally obliged to spread the word of God. It would go against their very morals not
to preach to everyone they came across, so the only solution would be to ask them to withdraw from aid activities altogether, which I think would make things much, much worse. If there were enough secular aid agencies to take their place, this wouldn't be a problem, but there isn't enough aid to go around as it is, so we really need all the help we can get from anyone willing to devote their money and time to helping those in need.
Fortunately I think most Christian aid agencies should understand the importance of human rights (such as freedom of religion), and anyone who refuses to give to the hungry just because they won't read the bible has no right to call themselves a true Christian, who should first & foremost unconditionally help anyone in need - any preaching should be secondary.
Regarding your comment about taking advantage of people in vulnerable states - the Christian aid workers handing out bibles aren't doing it for 'gain' as such, they're doing it because they genuinely believe that they are saving
them (from damnation). From a secular person's perspective, yes, it may look like they're taking advantage of someone in a vulnerable state. But from a Christian's perspective, the aid workers are just spreading the Good News (about Jesus dying for their sins, etc) and it's not just the third world country residents that need 'saving', it's everyone, from the richest in America to the poorest in India. In the end, the conversion is up to the individual - if they decide to stick to their old belief system, that's fine, but if they hear what the missionaries have to say and decide that sounds better for them, that's even better (for the missionaries). Either way, they should get the aid that they need.
Don't worry, I'm no missionary, but I personally know how these people (especially born-again Christians) think, and I just thought it might be good to present a different point of view. By the way, religious debate aside, I really enjoy reading all your posts about technology and business - keep up the fantastic work! =)
I agree with what you're saying to a degree, and I can understand the reason why religious relief workers need to preach the bible.
However, I still don't see that as an excuse for the type of behaviour in the link. Granted, this is likely a minority situation. Still, it seems insidious that there is a qualifier to help people who are in suffering.
You mention that a great number of aid agencies are actually faith based, and this is true...but I would argue with your conclusions about the motivations for providing this aid. I think that organized religion cannot survive unless it grows and indoctrinates more people. Essentially it's an enterprise. My suspicion is that you see so many faith based aid agencies because, for them, these types of events are an ideal opportunity to recruit new members (furthermore, funding from other sources is usually more spread out and disparate, and thus less noticable as a single entity). I don't want to mince words however. Most of these organizations provide much needed support for areas of the world in need, I just find that mixing in the ugly face of religion kind of spoils the pie, if you know what I mean.
Why can't this be done simply as human beings helping human beings, with out a qualifier or prerequisite, regadless of their belief system? Wouldn't this be the next step in the social evolution of humanity?
I also believe activities such as these destroy and fundamentally undermine the existing cultures and traditions of the societies they try to help leading to further resentment and eventual backlash.