If the Gospel is anti-colonial, why have Christians been so complicit in colonialism?
I have argued that the Gospel is inherently anti-colonial. Combine that with the non-violence Jesus taught, practiced and expect us to follow (which thoroughly undercuts the main tool colonial empires employ), the repeated calls for Israel to provide justice for the marginalized, the poor, the downtrodden and the weak (which are often those who are victimized by colonial enterprises), it is unthinkable that a follower of Jesus would support colonialism.
However, history is filled with examples of Christians actively supporting and even providing spiritual sanction and backing to colonialism. Perhaps this can be most clearly seen in the Western European colonialism.
The expansion of European powers across the world was not just sanctioned but supported by Christians. It has been a thoroughly Christian enterprise from Columbus to present day. Both Protestant and Catholics were instrumental in driving colonialism forward. For example, Christians provided theological backing to the enslavement of Africans and the theft of land in both Africa and the Americas. This assuaged any sense of guilt or remorse some may have had.
It appears while Jesus would not colonize you, Christians certainly will. How did this come to be?
The Caricature of the Gospel at the foundation of Christianity
The simple reason for this is that the Gospel many Christians follow and many people are familiar with is wrong.
The standard Christian Gospel says that humans are bad and sinners. God condemns all sinners to Hell unless their sins are forgiven. In the old days people made sacrifices to make up for their sins and appease God but then Jesus, the Son of God, came and died once and for all for humanity’s sins. Now if someone prays to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, then they are forgiven of their sins and after they die they will go to Heaven, to enjoy paradise with God, instead of Hell where everyone else will go to be tortured and endure punishment forever.
While some Christian sects articulate it differently, or are incredibly obsessed with various other aspects of Christian practice or theology, when pressed and distilled, this is the Gospel at the heart of their faith.
Two major problems with this Gospel
While this Gospel is widespread and goes back centuries, there are two major problems with this Gospel.
First, this “Gospel” is not in the Bible.
As I have said previously, one simply does not find Jews looking for a Messiah that would bring individual salvation apart from temple sacrifices. In fact the Bible says very little about Heaven and Hell and the Jewish conception of the afterlife is very different from the one envisioned in this “Gospel.”
The Bible verses that are commonly used to support this Gospel only appear to provide support if one already understands the words in play according to this “Gospel.” In other words, you already have to come in assuming this “Gospel” is true in order for the scriptures to support it.
The widespread historic nature of this “Gospel” is due to the fact that when something grows widely believed, it is rarely examined or criticized. New members follow the herd and those born into the faith know nothing else. Those who question too much quickly find themselves ostracized socially or even officially by the Church.
Second, this “Gospel” is very thin.
This “Gospel” is primarily (only?) about assuring one’s final destination by praying a prayer and/or getting baptized. One’s personal salvation, and the personal salvation of others is to be a Christians primary concern and it is apparently God’s primary concern as well.
This thin focus allows the rest of your life (how you actually live, how you relate to other people, how you relate to the land, how you engage in politics, how you handle money, etc.) to be run according to one of hundreds of competing ideologies in our world. Instead of following the Way of Jesus in these matters or consulting the rest of scriptures which do touch on many of these topics, safely assured of their personal salvation, Christians who believe in this “Gospel” can pretty much do whatever they want. Because this ‘Gospel” is so thin, it is easily co-opted and used for a variety of purposes, including colonial ones.
Historically speaking the result is that this caricature of the Gospel has dominated Christianity for some time, and this in turn has allowed Christianity to be dominated by a variety of interests, including those diametrically opposed to the will of the God of Israel as clearly expressed in scriptures many times.
A Co-opted Gospel Turned Colonial Engine
For centuries this caricature of the Gospel has been spreading and it has been spreading hand in hand with Western European culture. For centuries Christianity and Western culture have been heavily involved with one another and the result is the lines what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be a Western European have been blurred. Christians have assumed many aspects of Western European culture are Christianity.
Practically what this means is that Western European missionaries, to Africa, Asia and the Americas have been spreading not just this caricature of the Gospel but Western European culture as well. Where the Gospel goes, so does Western dress, Western relationships to the land, Western languages, Western ideas of governance, Western ideas of family, etc. In this way those that receive the Gospel also experience their culture being replaced by Western culture, sometimes overtly sometimes covertly. Colonialism came through the Church where it did not come through the State, but usually it came through both.