The Christian churches and their missionaries played very important roles in the campaign to ban indigenous spiritual practices and replace them with Christian ones. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (‘TRC’) described the process this way:
“The Christian Churches not only provided the moral justification for the colonization of other peoples’ lands, but they also dispatched missionaries to the colonized nations in order to convert ‘the heathen.’ From the fifteenth century on, the Indigenous peoples of the world were the objects of a strategy of spiritual and cultural conquest that had its origins in Europe. While they often worked in isolation and under difficult conditions, missionaries were representatives of worldwide organizations that enjoyed the backing of influential individuals in some of the most powerful nations of the world, and which to amass considerable experience transforming different cultures. Residential schools figured prominently in missionary work, not only in Canada, but also around the world.”
As a result I do not think it is an exaggeration to describe these religious organizations as predatory. That is precisely what they were—predatory religions. Their prey was indigenous people around the world. The TRC explained their workings as follows:
“Christian missionaries played a complex, but central role in the European colonial project. Their presence helped justify the extension of empires, since they were visibly spreading the word of God to the heathen. If their efforts were unsuccessful, the missionaries might conclude that those who refused the Christian message could not expect the protection of the Christian church or the law, thus clearing the way for their destruction. Although the missionaries often attempted to soften the impact of imperialism, they were also committed to making the greatest changes in the culture and psychology of colonized. They might, for example, seek to have traders give fair prices and to have governments officials provide relief in times of need, but they also worked to undermine relationships to the land, language, religion, family, educational practices, morality, and social customs.”
The missionaries disparaged indigenous spirituality with complete contempt. Later I intend to show how mistaken they were. The people of the New World had a new religion that the people from the old world could not fathom because it was so foreign to their assumptions. They also saw such spirituality as a competitor. They believed that the goal of cultural transformation could not be obtained without stamping out all indigenous religion and culture. As a result it is hardly surprising that they worked tirelessly to separate children from their parents, families, and communities. In the circumstances I think the word “predatory” is entirely justified.
As Blaise Pascal so well put it: “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”