Adding to the “reality-stranger-than-fiction” genre, Matthew Parris — who spent some of this childhood in Africa and part of his adult years as a conservative member of the British parliament — argues today in The Times (London) that the value of the work of Christian missionaries in Africa transcends their charitable/civic contributions, that their faith plays an equally critical role in advancing the prospects of tribal Africans. The money paragraph:
Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosophical/spiritual framework [of rural Africa]. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.
The first irony: Parris is, in his own words, a “confirmed atheist.”
The second irony: While Parris sees a Christianity practiced in rural Africa that spurs “a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world,” we too often see a Christianity practiced (predominantly but not exclusively) by southern-U.S. Protestants that leads to just the opposite: It discourages curiosity, questions, and debate — e.g., the “evolution deniers” — and promotes disengagement from the world, the cloistering of its adherents, who take solace in sneering at college-educated urbanites — e.g., certain rabid fans of Sarah Palin.