The Sydney Morning Herald recently published an opinion article by Michael Jensen, titled ‘Like Jesus, US missionary accepted death as the price of reaching out’.
To be frank, I’m surprised that it was accepted by their editors.
It’s an appalling article, poorly articulated, badly argued and ends abruptly with conclusion implied.
Basically, it argues that missionary John Allen Chau was at worst, naive and reckless, but ultimately not wrong for trying to teach the isolated North Sentinelese about Christianity, however the tribe were wrong for causing his death.
The main premise employed by Jensen for his argument is that;
“…there is such a thing as a universal humanity. The Sentinelese are not wild animals. They are not game for us to slaughter, nor are they an ecosystem that needs to be preserved under a glass jar so we can study them. Neither are they aliens – however weird they may be to us.
“No – that unknown people, who speak an unknown language and worship unknown gods, are our brothers and sisters in being human. Which means that they, like us, have rights and responsibilities, from which they cannot simply be exempt. “Thou shalt not murder” applies to the Sentinelese as it applies to us.”
Jensen states that this was a declaration of something we believe to be true.
But let’s get something straight – Chau is a US citizen. Chau is also a Christian, as is Jensen.
In the US, there are prisoners on death row – people whose crimes have been deemed punishable by death by the state.
Even throughout the pages of the bible, it not only outlines under what terms it is acceptable to kill a fellow human being, but also the preferred method of killing for the specific crime.
“Thou shall not kill” as a commandment in the bible, is simply one more example of a contradiction in a book of endless contradictions.
Let’s also remember that along the southern US border, children were recently hit with tear gas for attempting to enter the country.
If a missionary attempted to cross the demilitarised zone to enter North Korea, waving a bible and badly mimicking Korean only to be shot, would Jensen hold the same view?
I doubt it. We have a better understanding of North Korea’s rules of entry.
In short, a state defines the terms of entry for foreign people.
Reports from fishermen and from Chau’s own journal show that the North Sentinelese fired numerous arrows at him prior to him eventually being fatally hit.
Given that the tribe had bows and arrows on hand would surely indicate that they are in wide use o the island and if in wide use, they must be skilled archers. It is unlikely that the previous shots missed due to poor accuracy, but because they were warning shots that Chau decided to ignore.
Jensen when compares the actions of the tribe to “traditional cultural practices like female genital mutilation or infanticide or suttee.”
Again, this incident is more akin to boarder control by locals than a “cultural practice”.
Moreover, Jensen refers to female genital mutilation without sufficient retrospect, given that the Abrahamic faiths, such as Christianity, define male genital mutilation – that is, circumcision – as symbolic of a covenant between their god and mankind. This is a “traditional cultural practice” as is being a missionary. Jensen would certainly prefer that we give a moral leave pass to these activities.
Jensen then rounds up his opinion by asking “how could we (the rest of the human race) possibly connect with the fragile Sentinelese culture without destroying it utterly and without obliterating their right to walk their own way on the part of the earth they call home?”
The answer is simple: we don’t.
The North Sentinelese have made it clear for a very long time that they are happy to remain isolated. What value is it to them for the outside world to force itself upon them?
Chau believed it was in the interest of their souls for them to be converted to Christianity – something he made clear could very likely lead to his death.
Jensen is less forthcoming in his vague opinion piece. Through his defence of Chau, I am drawn to the conclusion that he also thinks favourably about the tribe’s conversion to Christianity.
But the North Sentinelese do not want to engage with the rest of the world. They do not want our technology, our philosophies or our gods. They are independent and fiercely protective of that independence.
To intrude on that independence made thoroughly clear to the rest of the world is to show that we have learnt nothing from history.