Sunday, November 25, 2018

Just Don't Do This

Just about every American knows how annoying it is to have Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses show up at their door and try to tell them the "good news" about Jesus. For those of us who are non-Christians, the annoyance factor is even higher. Now imagine you're a non-Christian member of an isolated tribe living on a protected island with an essentially unlimited supply of arrows. A missionary shows up trying to preach to you, and you shoot a couple arrows at him and break his canoe to keep him away. Then, he comes back anyway.

Is it any surprise that the American missionary who did exactly that to the people of North Sentinel Island is no longer alive? In a way you have to admire the persistence of the aforementioned missionary, John Chau. On the other hand, he should have been smart enough to leave when it became clear that he was not wanted. Chau is now believed to be dead, and the authorities are trying to work out a way to safely retrieve his body.

The island, North Sentinel Island, is inhabited by the Sentinelese, who are protected under Indian law. Just more than a dozen people are officially thought to live on the remote island in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago. The island is a protected area, and people are not allowed to go within 5 nautical miles of it, after previous incidents of aggressive behavior toward outsiders were observed. In 2006, two local fishermen were killed by the tribes. Pathak said the American missionary had asked one of his local friends, an electronic engineer, to arrange a boat and find some fishermen who could take him to the island. The contact found a boat and the fishermen, along with a water sports expert, to help with the expedition. All seven locals who facilitated the trip have been arrested.

"According to the fishermen, they used a wooden boat fitted with motors to travel to the island on November 15," Pathak said. "The boat stopped 500-700 meters (1,640 - 2,300 feet) away from the island and (the American missionary) used a canoe to reach the shore of the island. He came back later that day with arrow injuries. On the 16th, the (tribespeople) broke his canoe. "So he came back to the boat swimming. He did not come back on the 17th; the fishermen later saw the tribespeople dragging his body around." The police haven't independently verified that he is dead, but based on what the fishermen have told them believe that he was killed. "We have a team out in the waters for reconnaissance and to strategize how to recover his body. The team consists of coastal guards, officials from tribal welfare department, forest department officers and police officials."

I'm not posting this to make light of this tragic series of events. In fact, the tragedy of it might very well run both ways. The Sentinelese have been isolated from the rest of the world for so long that they likely lack resistance to many diseases Chau could have carried. It's not clear that his presence on the island has started any sort of outbreak, but it remains a real possibility that if one starts it could wipe out most of the island's population. It also is pretty inexplicable how Chau expected this to go. He didn't speak the language, so he had no way to communicate with the Sentinelese. Did he expect to miraculously gain the gift of tongues or something the moment his canoe landed?

That whole "lack of any rational consideration" is an extreme example of a problem non-Christians have to deal with all the time. You can show up at my door and tell me the story of Jesus until you're blue in the face and I'm not going to join your church. I know the story of Jesus - I've read the entire Bible twice and I know it better that any proselytizer I've met. But Christianity with its smug univalent theology is not for me, and there's really no way to talk me into it. I just want to be left alone. So did the Sentinelese.

Christians who complain about how they're discriminated against and oppressed and so forth really don't get what should be a simple idea. I don't think there's anything wrong with someone practicing Christianity. The problem comes in when Christians insist that I have to listen to them proselytize and preach at me with no complaints, or worse still write their beliefs into law in order to force everyone to do as they say or face criminal penalties. Then, when we object on the grounds that we're not Christian and don't want to be, we're "oppressing" them. But really, we just want them to mind their own business.

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