The Missionary Position, Animal Fat and Slaves – The Human Rights Flip-Floppery of the 19th Century


As the 19th Century progressed, France had flicked back to a world where Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood were swearwords and America was building a Free World on the backs of countless slaves, and so we will turn back to the Empire; the greatest double-edged sword of humanitarian progress.
Having built the world’s largest Empire through extortion, conquest, thievery and arrogance, England began spreading the ideals of freedom, democracy and christian do-goodery across their colonies. London was growing wealthy again, and in doing so was turning into a liberal hub that was beginning to question its responsibilities toward the indigenous people of their territories.

The Christian Missionary movement was growing in popularity – it was becoming the obligation of upper-middle class English families to spread the word of the Bible to their supposedly heathen colonies. It is fairly safe to draw the conclusion that whenever Christians get all missionary, trouble and resentment often ensue.

Now to clarify my personal position on the ‘dangers of religion’ and to make the most of an opportunity to rant, I will go off topic slightly. Today’s new wave of trendy atheists will argue that Religion is the cause of all of the world’s problems, and wouldn’t we all be better off without it? But it seems fairly clear (to me at least) that their vitriolic denouncement of all faith and belief is as reprehensible as the words of any religious zealot. That moron who smoked the bible and the koran is surely no more or less offensive than that American family that pickets funerals of gay people and soldiers, or that Hook-handed muslim cleric who used to stand in Hyde Park Corner and condemn all Western society while claiming the dole, or those Buddhists who spit in your face when they see you eating a burger.

Oh, except that Buddhists don’t do that. Ever. Because they actually seem to get it. The cause for all the world’s problems can be traced simply, in my mind, to one person telling another person that their unmovable and unprovable belief is downright wrong. Whatever that belief may be. Buddhists will talk to you about their religion, but never dismiss yours, nor attempt to impose the peaceful teachings of the Buddha on a unlistening audience. That’s why everyone likes Buddhists, even if they can seem slightly Richard Geer-esque. Ultimately it is a question of respect, and that was never an overriding concern of the Christian Missionary movement that blossomed from 19th Century England, nor is it a concern of Richard Dawkins, sadly.

The Missionary movement was rarely successful; its effects ranged from complete ineffectiveness to downright genocide. Dr. Livingstone, described by Niall Ferguson in ‘Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World’ (another brilliantly written and priced Penguin Classic) as a ‘Victorian Superman,’ was the epitome of ‘the man on a Mission,’ disappearing in Africa for years at a time, bringing medicine and God to the plains. The results of his mission however was nothing short of farcical. African tribes would use his medical know-how and then literally turn their backs on his preachings. One tribe were witnessed putting on plays, pretending to be Livingstone singing psalms and preaching. These plays ‘would always be accompanied by howls of derisive laughter.’

Livingstone - A constant source of fun.

While Africans seemingly put little emphasis on the concept of religion, in India, one of England’s most important and profitable colonies,  on the other hand, complex monotheistic and polytheistic religions were deeply entrenched in every aspect of Indian life. And until the 19th Century, this was seen by the British as being not only essential to trade, but also to the well-being of all involved, so much so that missionaries had all but been banned from peddling their beliefs in such a profitable country. Robert Dundas, The President of The Board Of Control in India explained in 1808:

‘We are very far from being adverse to the introduction of Christianity in India…but nothing could be more unwise than any imprudent or injudicious attempt to induce it by means which should irritate and alarm their religious practice…Our paramount power imposes upon us the necessity to protect the native inhabitants in the free and undisturbed possession of their religious opinions.’

This was about to change due to a movement of protestant evangelicals led by Charles Grant, a born-again christian and born-again twit, who argued:

‘Is it not necessary to conclude that…our Asiatic territories…were given to us, not merely that we might draw an annual profit from them, but that we might diffuse among their inhabitants, long sunk in darkness, vice and misery, the light and the benign influences of Truth?’

The Flip-flop was on the other foot, and things were about to get miserable in India. It started with a triumph of humanity when in 1829 the British banned the shocking and cruel act of sati, where a Hindu woman would be burned alive on the funeral pyre of her husband. Between 1813 and 1825, 7,941 women died in this way in the area of Bengal. This was not the only violent ritual England banned, each a commendable attempt to protect the unprotected within Indian society, but each added straws to the proverbial camel’s back of Indian resentment toward the British caused by a merciless march to Anglicise India.

It was when England pushed too far with its Christianising, and started to act in ways that were no longer justified by protecting Indian citizens from cruel and violent practices but were done more with a total dismissal of and disrespect toward Indian values, that the camel’s back broke.

Changes to the military uniform in 1857 that introduced new turbans ordained with what appeared to be cow or pig hide (Cows being deeply sacred in Hindu religion, pigs affording the same importance with muslims) began to trigger deep anger and resentment. When new bullets (that needed to have the ends bitten off before use) were issued to the sepoy militia, rumours broke out that they had been greased in animal fat,  – Britain’s refusal to dismiss the notion that this fat could have come from cows or pigs signalled the true end of religious harmony in India. And when mixed with the political instability of various regions and the now overbearing British rule, the result was almost inevitable

The India Mutiny began. Except it wasn’t a mutiny, it was a civil war that led to acts of genocide from both sides. 85 Indian soldiers at Meerut refused to bite the bullets, and were imprisoned for mutiny; a slap in the face for religious tolerance, and a move that led to the mutineers and local mobs in and around Meerut killing any European they could find. Sieges of British outposts began, that ended in the deaths of hundreds of Brits.

Stories of the murder of English men, women and children were instantly told in London and cries for retribution were fast and powerful. Rumours of rape added fuel to the fire and before long The Times newspaper (a previously liberal rag) demanded ‘every tree and gable-end in the place should have its burden in the shape of a mutineers corpse.’ A religious war had begun, a crusade against what one Baptist preacher described as a religion of ‘bestiality, infanticide and murder…a mass of the rankest filth that imagination ever conceived… morality must put it down. The sword must be taken out of its sheath, to cut off our fellow subjects by their thousands.’

And thousands it was. One Banyan tree in Cawnpore bore the burden of 150 mutineers’ corpses. All because one group of people refused to accept what others believed, and tried to force them to forego their faith. Hinttity Hint Hint Dawkins.

Smug Twat

But, those pesky missionaries were also responsible for one of the greatest humanitarian triumphs in history. Particularly our old friend Dr. Livingstone. You see, once Livingstone began to realise the futility of his attempts to Christianise ‘savage Africa,’ he began to realise they weren’t so savage. And he fell in love with the continent. It wasn’t long before he began to see one of the biggest crimes against humanity for what it was, and he started a new campaign to change the beliefs of the English. And this time, thankfully, he succeeded in turning an entire nation against the ‘trade of hell.’

When the British first arrived in Sierra Leone in 1562, they didn’t hesitate in setting up their own export business; that of exporting free labour to their colonies in the ruthless relocation of African nationals. The slave trade built the Empire, and finally its moral implications were becoming of grave concern. In 1807 however, the slave trade was abolished; a delightfully ironic justice saw slavers sent to the penal colonies in Australia. By 1833, slavery had been banned in all British colonies, due entirely to public pressure back in England – Governments were responding to the wishes of the people, and it doing so set the most incredible precedent, people power was established in a country that had previously been so indifferent to it.

But still, slavery continued; particularly in The U.S. of A. and South America. Millions of slaves were still being transported, and this became Livingstone’s final crusade. ‘The strangest disease I have seen in this country seems really to be broken-heartedness, and it attacks free men who have been captured and made slaves.’

The British Navy became the policemen of the seas, capturing slave-ships and returning the human cargo home. Schools were set up in West Africa to provide education and opportunity to liberated slaves, and slavers were publicly recognised as the villains they were. But the slave trade continued, and Livingstone died with the trade still swinging (albeit less successfully.)

But Livingstone’s passionate work in Africa paved the way for African leaders to repel the slavers from their countries, and wean themselves from the economic dependence they had on selling their own people, and his words joined the growing international chorus in its condemnation of such a horrendous idea. Slowly, but surely, the slave trade was eradicated from the world.

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