Friday, February 5, 2010

The Road To H*ll Is Paved With Good Intentions

Teacher of the Peoples
Johann Valentin Haidt

I believe that, over the centuries, missionaries have done a great deal of good venturing into far away lands to help other folks, but I wonder also if they have not done an equal measure of unintentional mischief. In their quest to "civilize" the inhabitants of other countries, missionaries have spread diseases unknown to those countries, along with ideas that perhaps don't fit the culture. We have seen it in our own countries, where centuries later governments have had to formally apologize for the harm done in attemping to "convert" people from their own traditions and customs, many of which were more beautiful than our own. Something has been lost in these other civilizations, something that can never been regained. Something has been stolen from them.

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

The missionaries who went to Haiti to help the orphans there have been charged with kidnapping. The facts of the case are a bit murky, and I do think those folks had good intentions. However, I think they went about it in entirely the wrong way. There was a sense of arrogance in their mission. It seemed as though they felt those children would be better off if they were removed from Haiti, even though many of them still had parents who were alive. It may be true that they would be better off -- in the short term at least -- but in the long term I don't think they would be better off. As those children grew into adults they would wonder about their parents, and about the roots to their own culture. I believe they would wonder why they had been removed from it, much the same as many of the indigenous people in Canada, the US, Australia, and many other countries felt when they were removed from their families and placed in residential schools. Who are we to decide what is best for another culture?

I believe people should do all they can to aid folks who have suffered a misfortune such as the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the hurricane in New Orleans, the earthquake in Haiti. But I think it is time we stopped trying to change other people's culture, religion, philosophies or way or living. I know those missionaries in Haiti meant well, but they got caught doing something they shouldn't have been doing. Good intentions ... bad idea.


Blonde Bookworm! said...

Great post. I read about this earlier in the week and found it hard to believe these men and women had cruelty in their hearts; it seems as though it was more a miscommunication and as you put it, "arrogant" nature. If you are interested in the the "wrong" doings of missionaries, then I highly suggest the book "Things Fall Apart"by Chinua Achebe (anything by him for that matter). It is about christian missionaries who go into Africa and ultimately bring more pain and sorrow to the area - one of my all time favorite novels!!

PAT said...

Well written, Jo. My thoughts are as yours.

Land of shimp said...

This one is a sticky subject, isn't it? On the one hand, as the facts begin to come together about the leader of the group, it begins to look as if the poor woman is simply not well. She's had problems with behavior in the past that rather willfully ignored all rules and regulations. She disregarded, and led others in disregarding, rules she was warned about. No matter her intentions, the picture that is taking shape is one of a person who is very close to, if not actually, delusional.

Even her own parents say that she understood that she was not taking out orphans (which is an entirely different, problematic can of which she ignored warnings, also) but that "parents had given the children to her". Her intentions are mixed up with the picture emerging of a person who does not have a particularly keen grasp on reality. Who, no matter how well intentioned, was preying on the true desperation of the people of Haiti.

The good intent doesn't actually alter that much. The woman in charge does seem to honestly be in need of some mental health help (she's got a very troubling history), but the people with her? Ay yi yi, intent in this does not negate the arrogance of taking children from still living parents with a blatant disregard to both laws of the country, and then the simple fact that it is not right to approach truly desperate people, in the worst circumstances imaginable on the face of this Earth, and persuade them to relinquish their rights to their own children, essentially because they are understandably terrified.

No matter the intent, that's wrong. It's wrong in the faith system in which they claim to work, also. It's just...wrong. Even for actual orphans, trying to yank them out of their culture of origin "for their own good" is wrong-footed, and willfully delusional.

The history of mission work at least gets a bit of a "we forgive that in history" because whereas it is blatantly arrogant and condescending to try to impose beliefs, or cultural structures because "we know best for you" (whoever, or whatever that "we" may claim to represent). It's just more forgivable in times where cultural structure, identity and basic human rights were not understood. Arrogance based on ignorance, and the supposition of supremacy.

There are a lot of missions today that do good work. Missionaries that provide aid, many of whom are in Haiti right now, without that stain of a complete dismissal of the rights of a culture to be different from _______ . Where the missionaries seek to provide spiritual, medical, educational aid without the negation of the importance of the existing culture.

Regardless of intent, that woman was trying to work with that "We know best. We are better." level of condescension that also includes the almost predatory actions of trying to convince horribly traumatized people to do something, that had it succeeded, might have been irrevocable.

I really get the impulse to take mercy on this woman, and the people she was working with, and I hope that Haiti sees fit to do that. I'm not going to blame the country if they do not, though.

To put it another way, everyone knows how to feel about War Profiteers, right? Reprehensible to seek to in anyway exploit a conflict.

Land of shimp said...

What this woman did, and encouraged others to do, is the missionary equivalent of War Profiteering. No, she wasn't trying to benefit financially, but she took advantage of people who could still be reasonably considered to be in shock.

"She meant well." doesn't actually negate that at the root of that is some almost dastardly stuff. That this woman doesn't understand that? That her fellow workers could not see that? It may be forgivable, but it's also a very dangerous mindset.

And it isn't right. Her good intentions don't hold up to more than a momentary scrutiny. I hope Haiti sends her, and her group home, with the proviso that their passports be revoked, and they are required to undergo therapy.

Put yourself in the shoes of someone in Haiti, Jo. You've got a child, I've got a child. If when your daughter was young and your country had suffered a devastating event, from which there seemed no possible recovery, because of the circumstances after that event. Then someone came to you and said, "I will take your daughter to safety, and a better life!" how tempted would you be to do anything, anything at all to secure a better life for her? I'd be so tempted, but it would be a decision based in true desperation.

Even if this woman had only been trying to take orphans out of the country, that is still removing them from their culture without any regard for that culture, or the laws of that country.

But as the facts become clearer, she knew that wasn't what she was doing. She knew some of those children had living parents.

She's pretty guilty of some rather heinous stuff, when you remove the "But I'm sure she meant well."

I hope Haiti shows her some compassion, more than she was actually extending to those parents by coming to them in their darkest hour, and asking for their children.

PinkPanthress said...

To me they seem like religious fanatics who thought that they would be the only one to 'help' these children. They're creepy!

I agree with Land of Shimp above!

The Panorama said...

Good post, Jo. I agree with you there.

Charles Gramlich said...

I once wrote a story with that title. It's something I believe.

The Bug said...

I agree with Alane in that the more I hear about this the less I feel like the "missionaries" were doing something innocently. How in the world they thought it was right is beyond me!

Russell said...

There is a reason paperwork is required in such situations. These children may not have been orphans after all or, if they were, it is very possible relatives needed to be contacted, etc.

I have extreme dislike for self righteous people who believe they can disregard the rules (i.e. the necessary paperwork) and do whatever the hell they want.

It is clear these people assumed they could take matters into their own hands and disregard the procedures.

I do not feel sorry for them in the least. I do feel sorry for the children and people of Haiti -- but not for people like these missionaries who were engaged in self serving behavior.

Jo said...

Blonde Bookwork, that sounds like a great book. Thank you for recommending it. I'm going to locate it. It's a subject that interests me. And yes, most missionaries did bring more pain and sorrow than anything else.

Pat, thank you. :-)

Alane, "What this woman did, and encouraged others to do, is the missionary equivalent of War Profiteering." That is true. I didn't know she had emotional problems, but I do know she was aware she was doing the wrong thing. She should know it is not legal to give our children away, or to take them from someone else. I do notice the Haitian government did not release her or the other "missionaries", and they remain where they belong -- in jail. P.S. I always learn something from you. :-)

Pink Panthress, yes, they are creepy. That word describes them very, very well...!

The Panorama, thank you...! :-)

Charles, I believe it too.

The Bug, I believe they were taking advantage of a situation. I rarely trust "do-gooders".

Russell, yes...! What on earth gives people the right to think they can just take matters into their own hands? Self-righteous pretty much describes it...! I hope they are prosecuted.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Good post and if I may be a bit irreverent, AMEN.

I totally agree and have long been dismayed by the arrogance of missionaries who believe that their way is the only right way and everyone else is going straight to hell. Religions that proselytize impress me the same way. The only way to help people is on their own terms, respecting their culture and beliefs, not inflicting ones own on them. I've been watching this situation unfold with horror because these American missionaries seem to deeply, truly believe that they are doing good. And that is more dangerous than anything.

Cloudia said...

Brilliant post that cuts to the quick of the matter, Jo.

Aloha, Friend!

Comfort Spiral

DUTA said...

"Who are we to decide what is best for another culture?" - great question Jo.
I dislike arrogance, patronizing, colonialism, missionarism.

Country Girl said...

I definitely agree with you on this one, Jo. From everything I've read and heard, they seemed a little fanatic. And that woman in charge seems to think the laws don't apply to her.

Alicia said...

I feel the same way Jo. I applaud them for being there and for trying to help but unfortunately they made some bad decisions and now there's going to be heck to pay.

Katy said...

As a Christian in the Southern US, I run into fundamentalist wackos on a simi regular basis. They are arrogant and scary.

I would venture to say that these types of "missionaries" are also directly responsible for the propseded gay hate legistration in Uganda.

TC said...

Great post, remember the Crusades? I don't really know all the details but how well off will those children be in a Haitian orphanage IF that is where they stay? On the other hand kidnapping kids isn't right.

Marcos Vinicius Gomes said...

I always thought that missionaries - from any religion or group - have to respect the culture and traditions of local people. And I have seen that this is something hard to occur...

Bad Little Woman said...

Missionaries's mission is to convert people and they will do it, like it or not. We would be hypocrites if we don't admit that we live according our beliefs too.
When the Jesuits came to Americas, there weren't countries just lands and more lands. Many cities were founded by Jesuits. The Jesuits put on the paper many indigenous languages and thanks to them we can learn some of them. Many Jesuits lost their life in their missions, many were eaten by cannibals and in the end, they were expelled from the "countries" and returned to Europe because they were in the way of the colonizers who wanted to enslave the native people. "Something has been lost in these other civilizations, something that can never been regained. Something has been stolen from them."
It's obvious that something has been lost. There was a genocide in Americas, what do you expect? In my country there were more than 5 millions indigenous 5 centuries ago. Today there are 400 thousand indigenous from 227 different ethnic groups.
Nations were murdered, languages were lost in the name of European interests.
It's not something new. The Roman Empire did the same thing, they had no respect for other cultures. Other Empires did the same thing in the past, cultures were lost, people died, the world changed.
People feel so sorry for the indigenous people but if they had to choose between a trip to Paris and a trip to some indigenous community where they would learn more about their culture they won't think twice: Paris. See? The more things change the more they stay the same.
The irony today is the fact that Americas is more Eurocentrist than Europe. Indigenous people are more marginalized than ever.
Haiti is located in a dangerous earthquake area. It's not the first time a natural disaster happens and it won't be the last time. It's hard to tell what is right or wrong when you see kids having to eat near thousands of dead bodies without any perspective.
It's very easy to judge when we are not in someone's shoes.

susie said...

I don't agree with taking kids from their parents in times like these. I also don't agree with breaking the laws to do it. Or with the arrogance that says that you are above the law.

As to whether or not the kids would be better off, no one really knows. If they're orphans, they would probably be better off being adopted by a loving family and living somewhere else. I mean, lets face it, parents move their kids around when it is beneficial to the family. They don't stay poor because they want to.

As for Good Intentions, they always have unintended consequences that hurt someone. It's human nature to not look past stage one.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I think that the key to all this is as you have mentioned, "arrogance". An arrogance that blinds us from really asking if we are acting to help those we seek to help or perhaps help only to assuage our own ego and reinforce our worldview. It is not as uncommon as we would like to think, this arrogance.

The antidote to this is always to offer help to others but first respecting them as equals and treating them as partners or brothers instead of just aid recipients.

In defence of missionaries, those that went with a heart of a servant instead of the attitude of a superior, many have done great works of charity. There are many. I'll just mention Mother Theresa.

Tom Bailey said...

I do not read much of the news but when I read this I thought about the challenge it will be to decide their punishment. I would not want to have to decide what to do in this situation and feel for the person put in charge of making a tough choice.

Best regards,
Tom Bailey

Rabbi Lars Shalom said...


Jo said...

Susan, "The only way to help people is on their own terms, respecting their culture and beliefs, not inflicting ones own on them." Yes, yes, yes!!! You would think people would have learned that by now. Goodness!

Cloudia, thank you! Aloha. :-)

Duta, colonialism, oh goodness yes. Don't even get me started! I thought the world had gotten past that by now...!

Kate, yes, fanatic is definitely the word. And she has now crossed over into being a criminal.

Alicia, yes, I think the best way to help people is to help them help themselves.

Katy, yes...! I agree. And they impose their ideas on everyone else. They are "right" and everyone else is "wrong". It's arrogant.

TC, I think those fundamentalist missionaries were opportunists. Perhaps they meant well, but I believe they knew they were doing the wrong thing.

Marcos, yes, I think most folks have learned by now that we can't just march into someone else's country and take over. It's a form of invasion.

Bad Little Woman, very intersting comment. "Nations were murdered, languages were lost in the name of European interests." I agree, and as I said, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." That's where we have to be decisive about what are good intentions, and what are selfish. If those folks really wanted to help, I believe they should have stayed there and lent a hand to the people who are suffering, instead of kidnapping their children.

Susie, I'm not sure what those folks did was out of arrogance or ignorance. Probably a combination of both, but I'm glad they got caught. The children belong with their parents, in their own surroundings.

LGS, "The antidote to this is always to offer help to others but first respecting them as equals and treating them as partners or brothers instead of just aid recipients." Yes! I totally agree. Missionaries should remember they are guests in those folks countries. And yes, Mother Teresa is a good example of someone who respected the culture of the land in which she lived.

Tom, that will be the tricky part -- deciding their punishment. I suppose there will have to be a trial first. Hopefully they will have learned their lesson.

Rabbi, hello...! :-)

Mia said...

Unintentional mischief? Christians have tortured and murdered millions of people in the quest for power. Genocide isn't accidental.

Did you censor the word hell?

Wolynski said...

You're being too kind. Missionaries always were the "PR arm" of colonialists and are no better than Jehovah's Witnesses knocking on your door.

Helping people for an ulterior motive (my definition of missionaries) isn't helping at all. Just because someone doesn't read the Bible, they need help?

A human kind of human said...

Hi Jo, I know I am a couple of days late with my comment and I do hope that you, and some of those who have commented, will still read this. This comment is not so much aimed at your post, but at some of the comments on the post.

I am sure that many of those who lashed out at missionaries in general, spoke without thinking or without doing proper research. Generalisation is a very dangerous practice, in all situations. I do not even know the details of this particular story and this comment is not about it in any case. I am coming out in defence of missionaries.

It is true that way back in history, fanatical missionaries came to Africa to convert the locals, put them in western clothing and used them as labourers. I am not defending them, but the modern day missionaries.

Living in Africa, although it is in South Africa, which is fairly developed, I can assure you that missionaries and missions are more often than not, the only support that thousands of Africans have. Missions are often the only source of health care and education and in some instances, feeding schemes in many parts of Africa. I have recently blogged about the Rwandan genocide and one of the things that came to light during that tragic event was that when the genocide started, and a number of UN personnel were killed, the UN packed up and left, yet the missionaries stayed, facing death, and continued helping the victims of the genocide. This is just one example.

Even in my own country I can take you to places where feeding schemes and health care are provided by missions only. Right through the struggle for freedom in my country, the missionaries and missions were always in there supporting the fight for recognition of millions of people.

So please people, do not generalise. For every one missionary that has a personal agenda, there are thousands that render a compasionate service to the poorest of the poor people of this earth.

Nishant said...

Africa and ultimately bring more pain and sorrow to the area - one of my all time favorite novels!!

Work from home India

Paula Slade said...

Jo, I totally agree with you! Who are we to say that ours is a better way of life? I've always believed in the "Star Trek Philosophy" - Help when needed, but with an eye on non-interference.

Holly said...

Tough subject that you handled well - I really don't want to believe this group was deliberately trafficing -- but I do have to wonder why there wasn't more care taken to ensure the proper paperwork was in hand. If something like this happened in the states, suspect a lot of people would be saying that they broke the law and should stay in jail.