Following his very helpful review of Nigel Biggar’s Colonialism: a moral reckoning, John Root offers reflection on five paradoxes of European colonialism and its legacy.
In April 1964 I attended a selection conference for ordination in the Church of England. One of the selectors was a thoughtful, late middle-aged high churchman, who prior to his ordination had been a District Commissioner in the Sudan. I was a bright young student coming to the end of a degree where I was specialising in Colonial and Commonwealth history. (I was later to lecture part-time to degree level in the subject). Harold MacMillan had delivered his famous Wind of Change speech in South Africa a few years earlier, and the majority of Britain’s possessions in Africa had just become (or were about to be) independent.
I shared the optimism of the time that this was a positive, heart-warming, indeed proud, conclusion to Britain’s colonial rule. The ex-District Commissioner selector thought otherwise, and argued that our withdrawal was premature and likely to be disastrous. Certainly, Sudan’s post-independence history has been far more tragic than anyone then forecasted.
That courteous discussion all those years ago over lunch at a retreat house near Cheltenham is a far cry from contemporary debates over the legacy of Empire. Nigel Biggar’s Colonialism: a Moral Reckoning is a much more wide-ranging and in-depth continuation of that discussion, set against a considerably more negative evaluation of British colonialism than the ex-District Commissioner or I shared at the time. But Biggar has sought, as we did, to make a morally responsible assessment, rooted in the reality of historical events as they unfolded to agents at the time, rather than judging them against a never-existent and Utopian norm of a global network of independent, fully democratic nation states.
Marjory Perham, whose 1963 Reith Lectures ‘The Colonial Reckoning’ was formative for myself, and an obvious predecessor for Biggar’s book, spoke of the inadequacies of all attempts at such reckonings, as like using a tape measure to measure an elephant. Indeed the impact of the colonial expansion of western Europe is such a foundational and irreversible reality of the contemporary world that confidence in attempts to reckon with it are still distorted by too close an engagement with a hard-to-measure phenomenon.
So instead let me offer five paradoxes—as a participant white Christian—in attempting to come to terms with an historical sequence that has shaped everyone in the world.
1. European colonialism was both normal and unique.
‘From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live’ was Paul’s reflection to the Athenians on the ebb and flow and flux of peoples (Acts 17:26). As peoples from mainland Europe settled in Great Britain, they began to coalesce into political units that then sought for both protection, trade, settlement and domination to bring other parts of both the British Isles and what is now France under control. There was similar constant flux of both migration, trade and invasion across the vast Eurasian landmass, until in the sixteenth century maritime powers sought to trade not overland but by sea, and in so doing discovered lands, resources and people of which they had had no idea.
These fledgeling European settlements, conquests and then Empires followed long-established patterns by which peoples around the globe had sought to control the lands and economies of other peoples, if primarily for their own benefit but also through interactions and trade which could be mutually beneficial.
But the extension of western European power eventually metastasised (particularly by virtue of naval, military, financial and technological dominance) from another temporary extension of power into a supremacy that uniquely and permanently brought virtually the entire globe into one economic and political system. If these European empires eventually faded like all others, if the world map stopped being coloured red in large parts, nonetheless the legacy of those empires didn’t fade away. English became the nearest to a global language, the dollar the most powerful currency, north Atlantic universities the world’s dominant intellectual centres.
The impacts of previous empires were eventually dispersed. This imperial impact will never be reversed.
2. European colonialism was brutal and humanitarian.
‘Derby catched by Port Royal eating canes. Had him well flogged and pickled, then made Hector shit in his mouth’. Thus the Jamaican planter Thomas Thistlewood in 1756 (quoted in James Walvin Black Ivory p 239), whose diaries are full of similar and far more revolting incidents. Caribbean slavery may have been the worst, but by no means the only example of the cruelties that went along with colonial rule. Britain’s punishment of the Indian mutineers also stands out, as does the gratuitous cruelty of Belgian rule in the Congo. But oppression was by no means limited to the colonial stage. Infamously, Engels could think it possible to compare the suffering of Manchester cotton-mill operatives as being on a par with slaves in the Caribbean.
Concern for the well being and right to life of the individual has intensified with remarkable speed over the past century. National mourning over the death of each British soldier in Afghanistan contrasts starkly with national readiness to accept deaths in the thousands in one day’s battle on the Somme only a century earlier.
European Empires, not least the British, were also marked by a stream of moral accountability for the exercise of power. If, in the Caribbean, absolute power often corrupted absolutely, there were countervailing tendencies to call the exercise of colonial power to account. The Abolitionist movement of the early nineteenth century was of a piece with a wider, often evangelical, movement, notably the Report of the Select Committee on Aborigines of 1837, instigated by the evangelical Fowell Buxton, which was set up to
consider what measures ought to be adopted with regard to the native inhabitants of countries where British settlements are made, and to the neighbouring tribes, in order to secure to them the due observance of justice and the protection of their rights; to promote the spread of civilization among them, and to lead them to the peaceful and voluntary reception of the Christian religion.
If, on the one hand, moral scruples could be severely pressured and undermined by political and financial opportunism, on the other hand the sense of moral accountability and humanitarian concern was never extinguished and led to Britain’s Empire always being under pressure to give a moral account of itself.
3. European colonialism both humiliated and weakened, and enlarged and prospered colonies.
As Europeans travelled more widely they had to give an account of how peoples differed from each other. Their conceptual starting point was that humans were descended from common ancestors no more than 6,000 years previously, therefore with a strong presumption of an inherent commonality. The anthropological tools for comprehending difference naturally didn’t exist until the encounters were well under way; only the encounters with the unexpected and inexplicable could generate the tools.
One result was rabid expressions of superiority. James Walvin describes the propaganda of late 18th c planters: ‘leaving the British readership with a set of caricatured images which went well beyond most previously published material. It was extremist literature, and it was published on a massive scale’ (in ‘Questioning Slavery’, p 85). Further, by the late nineteenth century, partly due to the impact of ‘scientific racism’, and partly due to the jarring conflicts of the Indian Mutiny and the Jamaican Morant Bay Rebellion, Europeans could polarise into more aggressive and separatist forms of racial arrogance
Yet European rule was only possible by substantial co-operation with indigenous peoples. Whilst this involved a clear imbalance of power, it also increasingly demanded mutual understanding , an entering into each other’s world. Timothy Brook describes the early interactions in the Far East:
Rather than complete transformation or deadly conflict, there was negotiation and borrowing; rather than triumph and loss, give and take; rather than the transformation of cultures, their interaction. . . It was a time not for executing grand designs, but for improvising’ (in ‘Vermeer’s Hat: the 17thcentury and the Dawn of the Global World’, p21).
European attempts to understand the ‘other’ can not be merely dismissed as tools to facilitate exploitation. It also stemmed from an increasing understanding of the historical depth, complexity and subtlety of other cultures. Nor was the appropriation of western culture, and especially faith, mere servility. Lamin Sanneh has pointed out how Christianity’s impulse to translate the scriptures into indigenous languages gave formal shape—dictionaries, grammars—that enabled local cultures to operate on an international level and become part of the global literary and academic community. Whilst in his ‘Empire: The British Imperial Experience’ (1996), Denis Judd wrongly judged that post-independence ‘it soon became apparent how shallow in many cases the conversion [to Christianity] had been’ (p 417), in fact subsequently, African Christianity’s ability, indeed demand, to hold its own on the world stage has become highly contentious.
Similarly, the leading role played by novelists writing from within post-colonial contexts—as evidenced in literary prizes—has underlined that embracing European cultural forms has had a dynamic and invigorating effect. On another level, the rise to prominence of Indian CEOs in several top Silicon Valley companies is the consequence of traditional Indian mathematical capability merging with western mathematical developments. In all these ways the offensiveness of European racial arrogance has been in conflict with and increasingly over-ridden by shared involvement in the colonial shaped global culture.
European economic activity also had contradictory results. Indigenous peoples disappeared with the spread of European power. The Caribs of the eastern Caribbean did so; controversially, as discussed two weeks ago, so did the aboriginals of Tasmania. Others have been driven to struggle in remote inhospitable areas. (Not just through the advent of Europeans—the orang asli (ancient people) of Malaya were driven into the peninsula highlands by the incursion of Malays). Peoples who have been traditionally hunters and gatherers have had their way of life made unviable as land has been possessed and given over to agricultural or forestry production by western development. There are clear examples of ways of life disrupted and peoples demoralised through the inexorable spread of western policies of economic development.
Yet alongside this the introduction of European technology has improved local agriculture and food supplies, notably through the green revolution. Europe’s global reach meant that cash crops could be beneficially transferred from part of the world to another. The spread of European owned plantations—for example in tea, cocoa or palm oil—did lead to peasant subsistence farmers being ousted by plantation labourers working for a pittance, but long term it made possible income generation for national economies
4. European Colonialism has made possible a great future and a disastrous future.
The more European colonialism has become embedded into the fabric of the modern world, the more extreme seem to be the consequences. From one perspective it seems outrageous that anyone should have a bad word to say against it. Even the most virulent critics of colonialism are doing so from a context of unparalleled physical comfort and intellectual freedom. Overwhelmingly they are well fed, well clothed, well housed. If operating in a western society they have exceptional academic resources to pursue their studies and considerable academic freedom. Of whatever ethnicity we are materially privileged way beyond the dreams of our forbears.
On a global level the number of people in extreme poverty has dropped from 2 billion in 1990 to 650 million today (though the situation may have gone into reverse in the immediate past). According to the economist Oded Galor (in ‘The journey of Humanity’) the average wealth of humankind has increased fourteen-fold over the past 200 years; and life expectancy has doubled from an average since time immemorial of 25 to 40 years. So for the proportion of British people to be proud of the empire to drop from a half to a fifth between 2014-2019, suggests the sulky churlishness of an adolescent refusing to appreciate the innumerable benefits of the world they live in. Clearly those benefits have not been evenly distributed, but not only has the West benefitted, both India and China, home to over a third of the world’s population have seen massive increases of people living in relative comfort.
Yet from another perspective, the tiny fraction of people who have emanated from Europe and now settled around the globe, have unleashed devastating and possibly terminal threats on the population of the rest of the world. Packing away nuclear weapons of mass destruction seems an unlikely prospect. Humanity may well never be free of the spectre of a whirlwind of mass nuclear destruction which will far outweigh the gains in scientific understanding and industrial productivity which have marked the past 400 years. The war in Ukraine has underlined how quickly the conjunction of a few unwelcome throws of the dice could be devastating for humanity.
Even less down to chance are the probable consequences of global warming wrecking harvests, making settlements uninhabitable, generating uncontrollable population flows. Already it is the poorest areas of the world, the recipients of European colonial expansion, that are most severely damaged by climate change. The dominance of European-led globalisation could lead to catastrophic collapse from a prosperous, relatively peaceful global society to a world of hunger immiseration and conflict.
5. European colonialism can make us optimists or pessimists.
If you discuss colonialism you will inevitably find yourself in bad company. If you defend it, there will be no shortage of nationalists springing to the defence of Britain’s colonial record and chalking it up as a win in an artificially constructed culture war, disregarding the shameful legacy of enslavement, brutality, expoloitation and racial arrogance. If you speak negatively of colonialism you are giving comfort to those who would traduce Europe’s record, and—despite the massive improvements listed in the section above—write it off as nothing more than a catalogue of disgrace and shame.
Instead, to quote a favourite Dylanism, ‘the wheel’s still in spin’. As of this moment, surely the reckoning must be that after half a millennium in which western Europeans and their descendants have come increasingly to the fore, the world is in a considerably better place in terms of popular well-being, notwithstanding the vast pockets of immiseration which still exist.
‘Counter-factual’ historical imaginings can easily delude, nonetheless whilst we can easily imagine how European expansion could well have produced a better world in many ways, perhaps we do better to think of how the sudden upsurge of European economic and military power could have led to immeasurably greater brutality, exploitation and continuing, deepening oppression, of which indeed we have seen occasional glimpses but no permanent establishment. The Holocaust indicated the appalling depths to which some expressions of European power could sink. China’s current policies, where Xinjiang is but the worst example, show the brutality of national aggrandisement when unconstrained by moral principles. The outcomes of hegemonic European colonial expansion could have been inconceivably disastrous for the globe. That they have not been should make us quietly grateful. Our nineteenth century forefathers in faith would have attributed it to divine providence. I am not sure they would be wrong.
The exercise of European-developed technological and military prowess can still, of course, be an unmitigated, irreversible disaster for humankind. But I think a wiser, but always fearfully incomplete, defence against such possible disaster is a sober, chastened thankfulness for what European Christianity has given to the world, and continuing commitment to humane, thoughtful, incremental improvement.
John Root was a curate in Harlesden, led an estate church plant in Hackney, planted two Asian language congregations in Wembley, before enjoying retirement ministry in Tottenham.
This article was first published at John’s substack here.
109 thoughts on “Was European colonialism a good thing or a bad thing?”
Adapt the Monty Python scene “What have the Romans ever done for us?” to the British Empire?
My thought exactly.
The history European Colonialism presents a mixed picture, because we live in a fallen world.
Hence, the very first public words of Jesus’ ministry in Mark’s Gospel are :
“The time predicted has come. The Kingdom of God is coming soon. Repent and believe that Gospel about the Kingdom.” (Mark 1:15).
Compare Daniel 7:17, 18, 22, 27 (Ferrar Fenton’s Translation) :
“Those four great beasts which you have seen are four great empires which will be established on the earth. The saints of the Most High will afterwards take the Empire and possess it forever, and forever and ever …The time came for the saints to possess the empire …The empire and dominion and grandeur of the empire under the whole heavens will be given to the Holy People of the Most High. All nations will serve and obey them.”
W. Charles Allen, in ‘The Dictionary of Christ and the Apostles’, writes his article on Matthew’s Gospel (Vol. II, pp. 144-45) :
” The Kingdom – the central subject of Christ’s doctrine… With this He began His ministry (4:17), and wherever he went he taught this as a good news (4:23) …In view of the needs of this new Israel of Christ’s disciples …it is natural that a large part of the teaching recorded in the Gospel should concern the qualifications required in those who hoped to enter the Kingdom when it came …[Thus the parables] convey some lesson about the nature of the Kingdom and the preparation for it…[however].. There is nothing nothing here or elsewhere in this Gospel to suggest that the scene of the Kingdom is other than the present world renewed, restored and purified.”
Some of us believe that the four empires in Daniel 7 are four empires that lead up to the bodily return in power to this world of the Lord Jesus Christ – and not merely a recapitulation of the four empires that lead up to His First Coming which took place at Bethlehem. There are striking parallels between the two sets, but the beasts cannot be a recapitulation of the statue because Daniel was told that all four beasts were in the future yet the head of the statue had already risen – it was Babylon, where Daniel was living in exile. Of the four end-time empires, Daniel sees the first as a lion with eagle’s wings which get torn off. I take this to be the British lion and Empire, and the Declaration of Independence of the American eagle on July 4th, 1776. Next, the bear is a traditional symbol of Russia, whose communist empire collapsed in the last decade of the 20th century. The final empire is Antichrist’s, and it has the worst features of all the others. The third empire, a four-headed, four-winged leopard (moving fast) is to come between the present and Antichrist. China? An Islamic bloc?
Thank you, Anton.
Your views may be right. I think a lot of genuine biblical prophecy is Divinely designed to be only clearly understood with hindsight. Do you think, by any chance, that there may be a future application of Ezekiel 38-39 to the modern state of Israel ?
The parable of the dry bones could very well refer to the rise in believers in Jesus Christ/Messiah Yeshua among Jews in the Holy Land since 1948, when almost none remained (most took the British offer of ship to Liverpool in ‘Operation Mercy’ as the British Mandate ended). Since then there has been an exponential increase and now almost 1% of Jews in the Land believe in Him. Not a large number but far more than for 2000 years. And rising, as exponentials do…
I have a book in my ‘archives’, published in 1831, entitled :
“An Inquiry after Prophetic Truth relative to the Restoration of the Jews and the Millennium..” ;
by the Baptist Minister, Joseph Tyso (1774-1852).
The idea that the Jews had to be restored to Palestine, before the second Advent of Christ, apparently goes back to Puritan times.
Yes indeed, a few German protestants took that view but the Puritans were the first mass movement of believers to accept it, starting with Francis Kett, a Cambridge-educated clergyman who in 1585 published an eschatological book, <The Glorious and Beautiful Garland of Man’s Glorification Containing the Godly Mystery of Heavenly Jerusalem. Unfortunately he later ceased to be Trinitarian. The next Puritan whose writing asserted a return of the Jews to their ancient land is Thomas Draxe, also educated in Cambridge. He wrote in 1615 that
Jews shall towards the end of the world be temporally restored into their own country, rebuild Jerusalem, and have a… flourishing church
This view suffused his earlier writings. Thomas Brightman, who had died in 1607, four years after Queen Elizabeth, wrote a book in Latin late in her reign which treated the subject systematically and, in English translation, influenced later Puritans. In 1611 the King James Bible (dedicated to Elizabeth’s successor) was published.
Giles Fletcher, who had been Queen Elizabeth’s ambassador to Russia, saw in scripture the inclusion of Israel’s lost tribes in the restoration to the land, and he speculated on who they might be, and where. The next notable predictor of a Jewish return is Sir Henry Finch (d. 1625), who wrote the main text on English jurisprudence prior to Blackstone a century later.
Thanks for that, Anton. Fascinating. You’ve done some great research.
I recommend Douglas Culver’s book “Albion and Ariel” (Peter Lang publishers, New York, 1995), a scholarly study of the early Puritan Zionists; and Nahum Sokolow, “The History of Zionism 1600-1918” (Longmans, London, 1919), chapter VIII (in vol. 1 of 2), titled “Puritan Friends of the Jews”.
Thanks, for the book titles, Anton. I’ve been checking up on the names you supplied last time – Kett, Draxe, Brightman, Fletcher and Finch. I find the origins of Christian Zionism fascinating, if only as part of an exercise in the history of Christian interpretation of Biblical prophecy.
Even those who dogmatically claim that the restoration of the state of Israel in 1948 had absolutely nothing to do with Biblical prophecy, must presumably admit that Israel (according to Zechariah 12-14), still has a part to play in the end times (unless these chapters are allegorized).
Indeed John, you have to be spectacularly blind to deny that Isaiah 11:11-12, speaking of a *second* return, ie not the return from Babylon but from all quarters, does not speak of the last 130 years.
Daniel’s Prophesies Dan 12:9 And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.,,, Until He who is worthy to open any seals I think.
Daniel 12:9-10, in the NIV, reads :
“Go your way, Daniel, because the words are rolled up and sealed until the time of the end. Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.”
Jesus makes mention of ‘the prophet Daniel’ in Matt. 24:15; and Jesus may have made possible chronological use of the Book of Daniel to make His initial Messianic proclamation (as in the Amplified Version) :
“The [appointed period of] time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand ..”
I just looked at the comments and saw that I had arrived at some sort of grotesque satanic funny farm. (The piece by John Root was good – comments below the line degenerated).
Ad hominems, again, Jock.
John – you call it ad hominems – I call it calling a shovel a shovel. With some things, one has to recognise that one is dealing with satanic forces that are doing an awful lot of harm – and to point this out.
Further to the prophetic, concerning “the man of sin;”
2 Th 1:7 And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,
2 Th 2:3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
2 Th 2:6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.
2 Th 2:8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:
What do you understand by the term “satanic”?
Alan – well, in this context, I mean that Satan finds a way pervert the understanding of Scripture – and presents something that is seductive and attractive. Now, there is nothing to suggest that Caiaphas (John 11:49-50) was basing his prophecies on Scripture, but in John 11 we do see a very evil person, seduced by Satan, who had been able to convince himself that his Satanic prophecy was ‘straight goods’ and that he was acting in line with his calling by God to position of high priest when he advocated that it would be a good idea if Jesus were killed. I do believe that Caiaphas was a sincere religious man; at the same time, thoroughly evil and headed for the eternal fire.
In the current context, there seems to be more than a hint in some of the comments in this thread of Scripture being used for prognostication (the book of Deuteronomy tells us that prognostication is an abomination and we’re encouraged not to do that). God, of course, needs a helping hand to fulfill the prophecies of Scripture, so we can turn a blind eye to odd major atrocity or two perpetrated by the British empire which helped to bring some of them about,
Christian love :
” … is ever ready to believe the best of every person ” (1 Cor. 13:7a; ‘Amplified Bible, Classic Edition);
and Christians are not to misrepresent (cf. James 4:11a).
John – which is exactly what I am doing; at the same time being fully aware that I should call a shovel a shovel.
But your ‘shovel’, Jock, is not a shovel.
You confound the Historical view of Biblical prophecy with occult practice – thereby condemning most Christians who have ever lived.
John – I don’t confound anything at all. There are those who note that much of history corresponds to things prophesied in Scripture – that is quite all right (just as long as the correspondence between the event and the prophecy that is supposed to fulfill isn’t too fanciful).
At the same time, you must have noticed that there is something much darker and much more sinister going on – people think that Scripture has prophesied some future event – and then they do their best to give God a helping hand in bringing it about.
The prophecy will (of course) be fulfilled, but in the way that the prophecies in Macbeth were fulfilled. Macbeth gave the whole thing a good push in the right direction – and was somewhat disappointed with the outcome.
This is quite clear (for example) with USA/UK foreign policy, there is a perception that Scripture has made certain prophecies about nations that will rise, other nations that will be crushed, etc …. Foreign policy that looks as if it might give these prophecies a good push in the right direction gets support from the twisted and satanic side of the so-called `Christian’ community and basic Christian ethics and morality (based, for example, on what Jesus teaches us in the parable of the Good Samaritan) go out of the window.
It is very clear that this is happening.
(Apologies for the late comment)
I suspect that Caiaphas was not thinking that he was interpreting Scripture, nor that he was prophesying. Rather, his was a political statement. He saw that Jesus was one who by his words and actions threatened the uneasy stability of the relationship with Rome. Better that an innocent, if blasphemous, man should die than war should break out with the occupying forces.
John, as is his characteristic, draws attention to this, as a true word spoken by one with no loyalty to truth. Pilate’s refusal to change the inscription on the cross is another example. The chief priests’ “we have no king but Caesar” was probably similarly politically motivated, but revealed the truth.
I think you’re right, David.
Caiaphas had no idea that he was prophesying. John describes Caiaphas’ words in John 11:49-50, as ‘prophesying’ because they were true in much greater depth that Caiaphas realized, and because they were prompted by Divine providence; cf. Acts 2:23 :
“This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”
As a white African, Christian and a (conflicted) child of Empire, I have to say that I find this whole discussion incredibly helpful. Thank you.
‘Lamin Sanneh has pointed out how Christianity’s impulse to translate the scriptures into indigenous languages gave formal shape—dictionaries, grammars—that enabled local cultures to operate on an international level and become part of the global literary and academic community.’ Yes, indeed, but this was hardly a result of European colonialism. Else why did Australia fare so badly?
By “satanic” I understand any spirit that is a pathological hatred of the life and purpose of our Lord Jesus
Which is of course the purport of the meeting in question. However the “prophetic” word Caiaphas spoke I do not believe was of satanic origins
“He did not speak it of himself”. As it was an artifice to stir up the council against Christ, he spoke it of himself, or of the devil rather; but as it was an oracle, declaring it the purpose and design of God by the death of Christ to save God’s spiritual Israel from sin and wrath, he did not speak it of himself, for he knew nothing of the matter, he meant not so, neither did his heart think so, for nothing was in his heart but to destroy and cut off Jesus
Prophesying is a vast subject “The spirit of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy”
God can and often does make wicked men instruments to serve his own purposes, even contrary to their own intentions See 1 KINGS 22:19
And he said,” Hear thou therefore the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left.
22:20 And the LORD said, “Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramothgilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner.
22:21 And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the LORD, and said, I will persuade him.
22:22 And the LORD said unto him, “Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said,
” Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so.
22:23 Now therefore, behold, the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the LORD hath spoken evil concerning thee.
. The death of Christ, which Caiaphas was now projecting, proved the ruin of that interest in the nation of which he intended it should be the security and establishment, for it brought wrath upon them to the uttermost; but it proved the advancement of that interest of which he hoped it would have been the ruin, for Christ, being lifted up from the earth, drew all men unto him. It is a great thing that is here prophesied: That Jesus should die, die for others, not only for their good, but in their stead, dies for that nation,
The evangelist enlarges upon this word of Caiaphas (v. 52), not for that nation only, thought itself the darling but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.
, The persons Christ died for: Not for the nation of the Jews only (it would have been comparatively but a light thing for the Son of God to go through so vast an undertaking only to restore the preserved of Jacob, and the outcasts of Israel); no, he must be salvation to the ends of the earth, He must die for the children of God that were scattered abroad.
Some understand it of the children of God that were then in being, scattered abroad in the Gentile world, devout men of every nation (Acts ii. 5), that feared God (Acts x. 2), and worshipped him (Acts xvii. 4), proselytes of the gate, who served the God of Abraham, but submitted not to the ceremonial law of Moses, persons that had a savour of natural religion, but were dispersed in the nations, had no solemn assemblies of their own, nor any peculiar profession to unite in or distinguish themselves by recourse, and under which they might enlist themselves.
Others take it with those all that belong to the election of grace, who are called the children of God, though not yet born, because they are predestinated to the adoption of children, Eph. i. 5. Now these are scattered abroad in several places of the earth, out of all kindreds and tongues (Rev. vii. 9), and in several ages of the world, to the end of time; there are those that fear him throughout all generations, to all these he had an eye in the atonement he made by his blood; as he prayed, so he died, for all that should believe on him.
I agree, Conjectures concerning prophesies should be judged with great care
Words of prophecy in the mouth are no infallible evidence of a principle of grace in the heart. Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? will be rejected as a frivolous plea.
Concerning the British and European Empires
…we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written,
“There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.
1 John 5:19
And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.
Carnal policy, which steers only by secular considerations, while it thinks to save all by employing sin, ruins all at last.
Alan – I’d pretty much agree with most of that – the 1 Kings 22 passage was on my mind. But I would go further than you with the satanic element. Those who are ‘taken in’ (i.e. the prophets prophesying lies who believe it to be the truth) are those who are subject to the ‘powerful delusions’ of 2 Thessalonians 2:11 (and all that that implies about them in the verses prior to 2:11).
I’d pretty much agree with your take on (earthly) imperial powers – it follows my own view. Earthly governments are steered by secular considerations, usually connected with power and money – and within this framework, Christians should do what they can to spread the Word – all the time being fully aware of what we are dealing with.
Alan – There is not infrequently a difference between a Bible prophecy, per se, and an interpretation or conjecture concerning a Bible prophecy. A classic case concerns the prophecy of the Book of Revelation, chapter one, verse 3 – where all interpretations/conjectures must be tentatively held with great care.
“The Holocaust indicated the appalling depths to which some expressions of European power could sink. China’s current policies, where Xinjiang is but the worst example, show the brutality of national aggrandisement when unconstrained by moral principles. the outcomes of hegemonic European colonial expansion could have been inconceivably disastrous for the globe. That they have not been should make us quietly grateful.”
By ‘us’, I hope John Root doesn’t include black people who still endure the legacy of Western assumptions about inherent white superiority.
If gauge of European moral depravity is the six million Jews who were slaughtered in the Holocaust, then that’s dwarfed by the 17 million Africans (official UN estimate) who were killed by European brutality through the Transatlantic slave trade.
The fact that John Root thinks that we should be quietly grateful that the colonialism that perpetrated such barbarity didn’t plumb the depths of Nazi depravity speaks volumes about Western assumptions about the relative worth of black lives.
And, no, it doesn’t mean that I hold 21st century white people responsible for the sins of their ancestors. Instead, I hold those trying to rehabilitate the image of colonialism responsible for being woefully economic with the truth.
Just on the statistics and for the sake of accuracy David, the UN states 15 million ‘victims’ (not 17m) by which I think they don’t mean deaths but those taken into slavery – still very much victims – from Africa to the US, Brazil and Caribbean. (Not including the victims of Arab slavery taken from Africa until the late 19th century). Other sources seems to put the figure closer to 13m. Of these the consensus seems to be that up to 2m died on the passage. This doesn’t include those who then died prematurely as a result of disease, malnutrition and ill treatment once landed, of course, but I think 17m ‘killed’ isn’t correct. The number of slaves shipped wasn’t even that high.
Thanks for taking up the discussion. In reply, the following points:
1. Yes, ‘us’ is Western Europeans.
2. My article didn’t for a moment deny the evil of transatlantic slavery. It showed a brutal and arrogant disregard for black lives.
3. But western colonialism was a vast and mixed phenomena, and, yes, despite the evils rehabilitating its image is important. Because a) colonialism – one group of people ruling over another group – has been a worldwide feature down through the history of all continents. To use the term in a simple, pejorative sense is to force a 20th century development of human rights and national self-determination onto very different contexts. b) The upshot of uniquely powerful western colonialism is that you and I now live with both unparalleled material comfort and far greater personal freedoms and access to information than the world has ever known.That is partly because it had an ethical capacity for self-criticism, change and reform.At the least that requires the sort of moral reckoning that Nigel Biggar undertakes rather than dismissing such a widespread, global practice as entirely, irredeemably evil.
“…. That is partly because it had an ethical capacity for self-criticism, change and reform.”
Do you think that is mainly down to the influence of Christianity in these colonial empires John?
Yes, Chris. Obviously in the abolition of slave trade & slavery, but also in the Royal Commission of 1837 that I mentioned and in some of the reforms in India and Indian education at that time. However my (limited) impression is that in the later 19th c attitudes hardened into a more rigid racism.
I would suggest that the (horrific) Slave Trade and the (horrific) Holocaust are different because of their motivation. The deaths were not the reason for the Slave Trade. They were probably seen as an enconomic inconvenience. In the Holocaust, the deaths were the point of the whole exercise. The Slave Trade is perhaps the worst example of a carelessness about human life. The Holocaust was about the deliberate termination of ‘undesirable’ human lives.
There is more to this David B. David Shepherd has been more than “economical” with his use of statistics: He directly compares in numerical terms 6 million holocaust victims against that of 11million Africans, while ignoring the following:
(1) Those 6 million were out of a world population of 15 million Jews.
(2) Israel was (and is) a nation. Africa was(and is) a continent. David S, how would you feel if the nation of your birth was directly compared with a continent in terms of its “numerical” sufferings?
(3)Furthermore how can you make a quantitative and qualitative comparison between a nation which lost *3 million* of its citizens in a *six year period* with a *contintent* which lost *11million* in – 400 years?
(4) You claim “not to hold 21 century white people guilty for the sins of their ancestors”. How then do you regard contemporary Arabs in relation to their ancestors who, through their involvement in slavery,committed acts of barbarity more than matching European whites? Or is this too politically sensitive an issue?
(5) Why, when Christian Missionary organisations are flooding British churches (among others) regarding the persecution, torture and death of Christians in many African countries, is there a virtual closing of ranks in the secular press. Is it because, while we must expose and eliminate the historical oppression of the white ‘race’ ,we must censor anything remotely suggest that one religious institution (or part of it) might be persecuting another? Or worse – that *we* see slavery and oppression as fundamentally and everwhelmingly the by-products of Western civilisation?
(1 – 3) Firstly, if you have an issue with comparing British colonisation of continents with Nazi extermination of European Jewry, then you should take it up with John Root who initiated that comparison by writing: “The Holocaust [perpetrated against the Jewish race] indicated the appalling depths to which some expressions of European power could sink…the outcomes of hegemonic European colonial expansion [perpetrated against non-white races] could have been inconceivably disastrous for the globe. That they have not been should make us quietly grateful.”
I’ve just adhered to John’s basis for comparison, which is race, rather than like-for-like geographical expanses. As I said, if you have an issue with that, then take it up with him.
Anyhow, my comment wasn’t focused on the comparison itself, but, instead, I took exception to the suggestion that for colonialism to be more favourable than the Holocaust should make us “quietly grateful”. Surely, it is perverse and reprehensible to suggest that the fact that the Holocaust resulted in a higher proportion of murdered Jews and at a faster rate than the Slave Trade should make us even more grateful for the latter.
“David S, how would you feel if the nation of your birth was directly compared with a continent in terms of its “numerical” sufferings?”
Since I was born in England, I don’t think I’d feel different from any other native of this country. And, as I explained, the comparison didn’t originate with me.
(4) “How then do you regard contemporary Arabs in relation to their ancestors who, through their involvement in slavery, committed acts of barbarity more than matching European whites?”
The same: I don’t hold 21st century Arabs responsible for the sins of their ancestors.
Nevertheless, as with contemporary Holocaust deniers, we can be held responsible for attempting to explain away or downplay the gravity of genocidal sin in order to exonerate our racial heritage.
(5) The secular press also only runs occasional articles on the persecution, torture and death of Uyghurs in China. Their neglect of their plight is because the media are more focused on domestic issues. It is not because white people are being unduly targeted by the media as the chief perpetrators of slavery and oppression.
I will reiterate the ‘kicker’: “That they have not been should make us quietly grateful.”
Even if you want to contrast the carelessness about human life that characterised the Slave Trade with the intentional extermination that characterised the Holocaust, or (as suggested in another comment) to explain that Africans got off fairly lightly in comparison with the proportionately higher and faster extermination of European Jewry, I would still take exception to the perverse inference from that observation: “that they have not been should make us quietly grateful.”
There is no reason to be quietly grateful that, instead of deliberate extermination, the repeated and intentional packing of Africans into slave ships like sardines which foreseeably and repeatedly resulted in a significant proportion dying amounted to manslaughter (“carelessness about life”), rather than murder.
Dave Shepherd – on the one hand I agree with you – the intentional extermination that characterised the Holocaust and the carelessness about human life that characterised the Slave Trade are basically two cheeks of the same bottom – which is the problem of radical evil inherent in mankind. And yes – I do believe that there is a God in heaven who punishes the wicked and that those actively involved in the slave trade and those who could have done something about it, but chose to turn a blind eye to maintain their own equanimity, will be cast into the lake of fire and, ultimately, will not see life.
At the same time, I personally am quietly grateful that things are not as bad as they could have been – in the sense that the world has been perilously close to nuclear war in the past and that things could have been much, much worse. I think this is what John Root is getting at and I think that this is the sense intended.
Having said that, the current Ukraine conflict could easily lead to a nuclear war – and then it is finished for absolutely everybody and every living thing on the planet. I think this was the meaning intended.
Thanks for your reply. I concur with most of the points you’ve made. However, I don’t think that your description of the motivation behind your gratitude concurs with the impetus behind John Root’s reply.
His motivation for rehabilitating Western colonialism appears to be:
(1) to dissipate internalisation of what sociologists call ‘white guilt’ by asserting that a completely negative view of Western colonialism is a chronological fallacy. However, if 19th century context is so far removed from 20th century values, then why assert a favourable comparison between the transatlantic slave trade and the Holocaust, or China’s current policies? He can’t just cherry-pick reliance on chronological fallacies to support for his own comparisons.
(2) John also asserts that our (presumably, that means the West’s) “unparalleled material comfort and far greater personal freedoms and access to information” is attributable to an “ethical capacity for self-criticism, change and reform” that (he claims) mitigates the evil perpetrated under colonialism. However, he doesn’t distinguishes correlation from causation. The very fact that such benefits have accrued far more to the global North than to global South is part of the enduring harmful legacy of colonisation.
Dave Shepherd – yes – I agree with everything you say here. Aren’t Christian values those asserted by Jesus when he taught ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ and explained what he meant through (for example) the parable of the good Samaritan? Surely this is timeless – and (at least for Christians) just as operative in the 19th, 20th, 21st centuries. So I agree with you about the ‘chronological fallacy’.
To your second point – well, yes. How does this idea of a collective “ethical capacity for self-criticism, change and reform” by Western Man tie in with the assessment of the Apostle Paul in Romans 3:12 ‘All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.’
Thankyou David, very true.
There is a time coming when Jesus,the Anointed, will “judge the Nations with a rod of iron.” All Nations will be called to account. I think I find only one prayer in the Revelation, REVELATION 6:9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
6:10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
6:11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
I feel that out of their intense suffering there has emerged probably the fasted growing Church currently -. the black church and the utterly faithful African and Global South churches.
For a glance at the current status of colonialism in Canada, a good start is the history of the so-called ‘Indian Residential Schools’. Under this system indigenous children were removed by force of law from the homes of their parents and taken away to residential schools where they were forbidden to speak their own languages, practice their own ceremonies, and live by their own cultural traditions. Thousands died under this system, which was in existence for a century and a half (the last school was only shut down in the 1970s).
A few years ago a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission travelled across Canada and heard the personal stories of thousands of survivors regarding the physical, sexual, spiritual and cultural abuse that they were subjected to in these schools. The TRC made 94 recommendations for change which can be viewed here: https://ehprnh2mwo3.exactdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf
Opinion pieces about colonialism should be written by those who were colonized, and their descendants. Ian, I would strongly urge you to reach out to a North American indigenous Christian leader who can write a response to this article.
Or an native American Indian in the USA.
Great comment, Tim.
Are you really saying that only those who experience, *anything* can study and write about it.
No – but experients can provide an invaluable perspective.
No – but experients can provide an invaluable perspective.
Long way to say anecdotes.
But Tim’s comment pushes more than a *perspective* when he writes and
advocated, “opinion pieces *should* * only* be written by those who were colonized and their descendants.”
Geoff – you got a slightly different understanding as to what Tim meant, than me. This is because Tim didn’t actually say ‘only’, so as to read :
“Opinion pieces about colonialism should ONLY (exclusively) be written by those who were colonized …”
I stand corrected, John, with my addition of *only*.
I’d nevertheless be interested to know where those *indigenous* Christians are to be found. And are their descendants Christians today? How did they come to believe?
Through the good offices of David Brainerd? The Mayflower pilgrims?
I’d particularly recommend Richard Twiss’ ‘Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys’ and Randy S. Woodley’s ‘Indigenous Theology and the Western Worldview.’
Good to see you back, Tim.
Thanks for the links.
While I’ve not looked at theany of the links, you first links seems to be little more than an exercise in ” authority referencing”, none of which so far as I can skim, comes anywhere near to addressing the points last made to John even at the most basic level.
Can you, briefly, please answer the points I to John.
I’m indigenous, British, English, but maybe some Scot.
How came I to believe, as an adult lawyer at that time?
What about the indigenous Celts in the UK, and indigenous Pagans? And I’m certainly no historian.
And where did some
of the indigenous people you link get their qualifications from and the roots of the educational systems/training.
A trace of the source is needed, it is suggested.
I noticed that one of the people linked was qualified at Asbury.
What is the source and theological, culture of today’s contemporary, revival (for the want of a better word) at Asbury? Is it indigenous?
It could be suggested that the only truly indigenous Christians are Messianic Jews.
The rest of us are all indigenous gentiles, no matter what tongue, tribe, nation.
Thanks for your comments, Geoff.
Just as a matter of interest, have you bought any of Rev. Ian Paul’s interesting looking booklets, published by ‘Grove Books’ ? I think I might buy some this week.
I sent you a message, further down, Geoff (I think).
Could it be suggested that you ask Ian for his recommended booklets, based on any of your specific areas of interest. While clearly I can’t speak for him, I feel sure he’d be pleased to do so, his time permitting.
I think there is an email link on this blog for him at Grove Booklets, if he is not having watching brief on these comments.
Geoff, I’m not arguing against the evangelisation of North America (though I do have issues with some of the ways it was actually done, from a position of power and empire rather than a position of weakness as in the Book of Acts).
As for opinion pieces about colonialism, I believe there is no shortage of articles written by the descendants of the colonisers. At this stage in the story, we should be trying to redress that balance by privileging the voices of the colonised. That’s my view.
Full disclosure: I’m white, born in the English Midlands, but have lived on Treaty Six and Treaty Eight Territory in western Canada since 1991 (and the western Arctic before that). So yes, I’m definitely one of the colonisers.
So yes, I’m definitely one of the colonisers.
Shouldn’t you go home then? If not aren’t you just a hypocrite?
Power or weakness. That would make a good subject for another blog.
As mentioned in the Root article Colonialism has far reaching ramifications, some good and some bad.
The latter has given rise to some colonized groups demanding apology and reparations for past evils; this in pursuit of “Justice.”
If defining Morality is so difficult then I suggest that Justice is a bigger thorn.
Who will implement it?
Witness Putin and the colonization of parts of Ukraine deporting thousands of children into Russia; One government official is reported to have “adopted” a Ukrainian child. He [Putin] has been charged with war crimes By the International courts. But who will enforce any sentence?
“If history teaches us anything, it teaches us nothing.”
With reference to the most devastating colonization: The scattering of the 10 tribes of Israel by God through the Assyrians, those ten tribes have completely lost their identity.
Writing during this same time period, the Jewish historian Josephus said, “The entire body of the people of Israel remained in that country [Media]; wherefore there are but two tribes [Judah and Benjamin] in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans, while the ten tribes are beyond Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers” (Antiquities of the Jews, 11.5.2, Complete Works of Flavius Josephus,
However, God has decreed that Judah and Israel [the still lost 10 tribes] He will ultimately be reunited
See (Jeremiah 50:4-5). (Ezekiel 37:16-19, 21-22).
Justice is God’s prerogative and if we as Christians are meant to “walk as He walked”
Then remember that “He will not cry aloud neither shall His voice be heard in the streets”
The latter has given rise to some colonized groups demanding apology and reparations for past evils; this in pursuit of “Justice.”
Interestingly, of course, the whole idea that ‘justice’ involves the weak being able to plead their case, and prevail against, the strong, is a novel Christian idea (see Holland, T).
So if these countries hadn’t been colonised by Christians, they probably never would have even had the conceptual framework to demand ‘justice’ or ‘reparations’. That framework was only available to them because of the imposition on their society of the one worldview in the history of the world that invented it: Christianity.
So the whole anti-Western ‘justice’ movement can only even exist because of the success of… Western colonialism.
Untangle that one.
S – depends what you mean by ‘Christian’. Those responsible for doing the colonising weren’t Christian if we use the word Christian to mean people saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, who have been brought into the number of the Saviour’s family by His blood – far from it. Those responsible for doing the colonising were the reprobate, at enmity with God, and headed for the eternal fire.
At the same time, there were Christians who did see the opportunity for evangelism, seized the opportunity and spread the gospel message.
I should point out, though, that there was a lot of pseudo-Christianity about and you can see it in the Church of Ireland (Anglican) if you ever visit Ireland. I spent 4 years in Cork and at some stage visited the C. of I. cathedral there (I did this exactly once – and never again because the whole experience was so sickening) – and the whole thing looked to be to the glorification of the occupying British armed forces. So I imagine that there was quite a lot of very evil pseudo-Christianity about, which was spread on the back of the British empire, it was sanctimonious and to the glorification of the British empire, but there wasn’t a Christian component to this.
Those responsible for doing the colonising weren’t Christian if we use the word Christian to mean people saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, who have been brought into the number of the Saviour’s family by His blood – far from it.
I’m sure of them were. Not the majority, obviously, but that’s just because the majority of people in general are on the wide way. But colonisation involved a lot of people — bureaucrats, diplomats, engineers, sailors, merchants, lawyers, etc, etc — and chances are quite a few of them were Christians.
the whole thing looked to be to the glorification of the occupying British armed forces
Oh dear me you didn’t pick up the Sinn Fein/IRA nonsense, have you?
S – no I didn’t – my anti-Sinn Fein/IRA neurons are simply wired far too hard for that. Nevertheless, during the 15 minutes that I was in the Church of Ireland cathedral in Cork, I started developing feelings of sympathy for Jonathan Swift’s view taken from ‘A Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufacture’ (1720), which was ‘burn everything English but their coal’ – and if anything could have done it, then viewing the interior of that cathedral certainly would.
In Acts of the Apostles the amount of believers to hangers on had a similar ratio to believers/Christian culture today? Will there always be a tiny core of ‘real’ believers in the centre of a Christianised culture? I think it is inevitable.
But to the actual point: regardless of whether individuals involved were Christians or not, the fact remains that if these places hadn’t been colonised by a culture that was at least nominally Christian, the uniquely Christian ideas of justice for the weak would have been unknown there. So the entire anti-Western movement depends for its intellectual foundations on idea that were only there because of Western colonisation.
Nice bit of a paradox eh?
S – it probably didn’t need the imperial armed forces to create conditions for Christians to go to places and spread the word.
Right now (living in Poland) I’m highly pro-Western and pro-the evil anglo-saxon empire, because the alternative is the even more evil Russian empire (if Putin wins in the Ukraine then it’s clear that he won’t stop there).
it probably didn’t need the imperial armed forces to create conditions for Christians to go to places and spread the word.
That’s a hypothetical. The historical fact is that the Christian ideas of justice only exist in those places because they were colonised by the West, and the fruit of those ideas is rampant anti-Westernism that holds colonialism as a the greatest evil.
Which is what you call a paradox.
And of course, the ‘imperial armed forces’ were a minor part of colonisation.
It seems S, that it is so much of the autonomous, western world-view “Air that we Breathe” ( Glen Scrivener employing Tomm Holland as something of a catalyst) that it is almost unrecognisable or denied by some of those arguing for justice, equality,
reparations and and more in the midst of west/east, north/south ensuing and enduring correlative or widely indirect consequences of historical evil in today world wide colonially
The great Christian gift of forgiveness is largely absent. Forgiveness, that is noticed as being absent today even by secular author Douglas Murray in his book, The Madness of The Crowds, yet remains somewhat avoided in contemporary Christian writings on centuries of history.
My parents were friends of a German PoW and we holidayed in Germany less than two decades after the end of the war.
And yet here we are continuing to perpetuate and harbouring centuries of unforgiven grievances, even as Christians today.
My O my how we need to heed and perpetually repeat the paradox you point out S even as you have found it necessary to repeat. Evidence of it’s foundational importance, indeed.
Er, no. While the Portuguese did bring Christianity to sub-Saharan Africa, Islam that dominated that region from the 7th century already borrowed heavily from the Hebrew Bible with respect to justice for the weak.
The Quran states: “O you who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in upholding equity, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it be against your own selves or your parents and kinsfolk. Whether the person concerned be rich or poor, God’s claim takes precedence over [the claims of] either of them. Do not, then, follow your own desires, lest you swerve from justice: for if you distort [the truth], behold God is indeed aware of all that you do!”
So, “the whole idea that ‘justice’ involves the weak being able to plead their case, and prevail against, the strong” is not uniquely Christian.
Holland’s ample demonstration of the profound impact of Christianity on the Western thinking doesn’t warrant your assertion that, had it not been for Western colonisation, “the whole idea that ‘justice’ involves the weak being able to plead their case, and prevail against, the strong” would have been unknown “ if these places hadn’t been colonised by a culture that was at least nominally Christian.”
So, “the whole idea that ‘justice’ involves the weak being able to plead their case, and prevail against, the strong” is not uniquely Christian.
It is uniquely Christian; Islam didn’t invent the idea independently, it stole it from Christianity.
However I will concede that in some places, rather than being colonised directly by the Christianity that originated the idea of justice for the weak, that idea might have come indirectly from Christianity via being colonised by Islam.
In all cases though the idea arrived via colonisation, whether the colonising culture was Christian or Islamic.
Now, was it more brutal for the colonised to be colonised by Europeans or Muslims? That’s an interesting question. Certainly the caliphates were just as keen on slavery as the Europeans, perhaps more so.
Islam may have adapted several teachings from the New Testament, but the specific concept of “justice for the weak” (which is echoed in the Quran quote that I provided above) comes from the Old Testament.
In Exodus 23, we read: “You shall not spread a false report. Do not join the wicked by being a malicious witness. You shall not follow the crowd in wrongdoing. When you testify in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd. And do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit.”
This is strikingly similar in tone to the Quranic admonition.
Mohammed would have been more influenced by the Old Testament than the New Testament because of his contact with the large Jewish community in Medina. In contrast, contact with Christian communities (e.g., of Najran) was largely negotiated through envoys.
David Shepherd – many thanks for all your contributions to this thread – very enlightening – and puts it in a proper context.
Islam may have adapted several teachings from the New Testament, but the specific concept of “justice for the weak” (which is echoed in the Quran quote that I provided above) comes from the Old Testament.
Unless you’re aiming for Marcionism, the Old Testament is the Word of the God of Christianity, isn’t it?
S- so you basically agree with David Shepherd’s point? That’s nice. Muslims got the idea from the OT which (as you correctly point out) is the Word of God of Christianity; the point that David made being that they got it without being colonised by Western pseudo-Christian civilisation – they got it directly from the OT which was part of their cultural base.
Actually, I think you’re on shakey ground here. There may be some beautiful principles of moral integrity underpinning the judicial system in the UK – and these principles could very well be fine Christian principles, but it has always been sanctimonious and hypocritical. I think that pretty much everybody understands that it often takes a lot of money to actually avail of the judicial system – and I can’t quite square that aspect of it with the teachings of Jesus.
If we understand that (a) a Christian is somebody who knows that he is saved (i.e. that he will go to heaven when he passes from this life to the next) and understands in his own heart and mind why (i.e. nothing in and of ourselves – we are inherently sinful – everything to do with the crucifixion and resurrection) and (b) that we are living for Christ in a pagan world (so – don’t expect too much of the criminal justice system or indeed any other aspect of civil government – no matter if you’re in a `Christian’ country or a Catholic county or indeed a country with any other cultural base) then things make a lot more sense.
so you basically agree with David Shepherd’s point? That’s nice. Muslims got the idea from the OT which (as you correctly point out) is the Word of God of Christianity; the point that David made being that they got it without being colonised by Western pseudo-Christian civilisation – they got it directly from the OT which was part of their cultural base.
As I wrote above: ‘ However I will concede that in some places, rather than being colonised directly by the Christianity that originated the idea of justice for the weak, that idea might have come indirectly from Christianity via being colonised by Islam.’
That is, Islam stole the idea from the Old Testament and then spread it by colonisation, just like Europeans would do later.
Now, exactly what Mohammed’s though processes were when he was inventing his religion — he had certainly encountered both Jews and Christians — is unknowable. Clearly he wanted to make up a religion that could be the foundation of an empire; so would he have stolen from Judaism if it hadn’t been for the fact that Christianity had by that point taken over the Roman empire? Imagine yourself as an ambitious Arab merchant designing the religion that you hope will be your ticket to power and riches. Would you put in a bit from a religion which was mist famous at that point for having been crushed by the Romans? Or would you steal from the religion which had successfully conquered that empire?
Also as above: ‘ Now, was it more brutal for the colonised to be colonised by Europeans or Muslims? That’s an interesting question. ’
Actually, I think you’re on shakey ground here. There may be some beautiful principles of moral integrity underpinning the judicial system in the UK – and these principles could very well be fine Christian principles, but it has always been sanctimonious and hypocritical.
The point is that without Christianity those principles wouldn’t even be there to be hypocritical about. Pre-Christian societies didn’t have noble ideals that they hypocritically failed to live up to; they unashamedly embraced ideals of strength and violence. Again see Holland, T.
If we understand that (a) a Christian is somebody who knows that he is saved (i.e. that he will go to heaven when he passes from this life to the next) and understands in his own heart and mind why (i.e. nothing in and of ourselves – we are inherently sinful – everything to do with the crucifixion and resurrection)
Contentious. You seem to be saying it’s possible to make the visible Church (ie, those who we call Christians) identical to the invisible Church (ie, those who are saved). I don’t think that’s possible. There will always be those who we call Christians (and who call themselves Christians) who are not saved (Matthew 7:21).
So no, I don’t agree that ‘Christian’ means ‘one who is saved’. Or at least, I think that’s a particular technical meaning of ‘Christian’ and you have to be explicit if that’s what you mean by it in a particular argument.
and (b) that we are living for Christ in a pagan world (so – don’t expect too much of the criminal justice system or indeed any other aspect of civil government – no matter if you’re in a `Christian’ country or a Catholic county or indeed a country with any other cultural base) then things make a lot more sense.
That’s not controversial, but I don’t see the relevance.
S – no – I don’t equate the ‘visible’ church with those who are saved -I don’t think anything I wrote implies this. What I’m saying is: don’t expect anything of the visible church. I know that I am saved – but I’m not at all sure that I’m part of any visible church (whatever that is). I take the word Christian (without inverted commas) to mean someone who is saved and ‘Christian’ (with inverted commas) to mean someone who belongs to an organisation that puts up a facade of being a Christian organisation.
I’m simply suggesting here that you’re ascribing far too much importance to cultural heritage. There are sufficient altruistic principles written on the hearts and minds of people that it shouldn’t surprise us if we find judicial systems in societies that are not culturally ‘Christian’ which are based on fine principles – so I’m inclined to agree with David Shepherd. We’re living in a pagan world – so you can rest assured that these fine principles are merely a hypocritical facade.
Sorry if I’m being too cynical here …..
I take the word Christian (without inverted commas) to mean someone who is saved and ‘Christian’ (with inverted commas) to mean someone who belongs to an organisation that puts up a facade of being a Christian organisation.
Okay, but you must understand that that’s not how most people (including me) would distinguish between those two senses in normal usage, right?
For instance, I would usually use the word without inverted commas to refer to someone who accepts the tenets of Christianity, in the same way that a Marxist is someone who accepts the arguments of Marx, or a Positivist is someone who accepts the tenets of Positivism. So for instance someone who denies the virgin birth is not a Christian; and someone who thinks that God does not interfere in the workings of natural physical forces is not a Christian but rather a Deist.
I don’t think using it to mean ‘someone who is saved’ is particularly useful because if we use it way then we can never say for sure whether anyone is a Christian or not because we can never be sure whether anyone is saved or not (you may say we can know whether we ourselves are saved, but Matthew 7:21 I think proves that we can mistakenly think we are saved when we aren’t). And what use is a term where you can never be sure whether you’re applying it correctly?
Still as long as you’re explicit.
There are sufficient altruistic principles written on the hearts and minds of people that it shouldn’t surprise us if we find judicial systems in societies that are not culturally ‘Christian’ which are based on fine principles
And yet, we don’t. Unless you have a counter-example. Islam obviously isn’t one because it got the ideas from Christianity.
S – surely a Christian is someone who has faith, by which I mean: (a) knows for certain that they are in the number of the Saviour’s family (and that they are going to heaven when they pass from this life) and (b) is aware of the basis of this – that Christ has done *all* the work on Calvary (in His death and His resurrection) to make this happen; the Christian understands that he, in and of himself, is a sinner and by rights should be condemned.
Matthew 7:21 does not contradict this – I’m sure that you are aware of people who say ‘Lord, Lord’ and, at the same time, take the arrogant view that they have actually done something to merit their salvation. John 6:29 tells us exactly what doing the will of the father (in Matthew 7:21) entails. And yes – I’m quite happy to read Matthew through John.
This is all very basic stuff.
As to the list of things you give. I personally believe in the virgin birth, but Emil Brunner didn’t. There is so much good stuff in his `The Mediator’ that I’m not prepared to say that he wasn’t a Christian – based on his confession, I confidently expect to see him in heaven when I pass from this life to the next. I’m not so sure that God places the same level of priority on such issues as you do – the fundamental issue is to believe in Jesus, to believe that He has dealt fully with my sinful nature, accepting the necessity of Christ’s atoning work for my own salvation.
You say that ‘someone who thinks that God does not interfere in the workings of natural physical forces is not a Christian but rather a Deist.’ I’m not exactly sure what you mean by that. I take the view that God created the laws of nature; the entire workings of the natural physical forces are due to a creative act of God. He certainly did intervene in the once-for-all event of the incarnation and that the sign miracles were to establish that Jesus was indeed the Messiah; I’m
therefore extremely sceptical about a steady stream of interventions. These would nullify Matthew 11:4-6 (if the lame walking, the deaf hearing, lepers being cleansed were – and still are – ten-a-penny, the no reason for John the Baptist to believe that these works signified that Jesus, who did them, was the Messiah). More importantly, if there are a steady steam of miraculous events then these actually become part of the workings of the natural physical forces – in a way that we may not have understood yet – and it is the job of scientists to look for natural explanations for recurrent events.
So – as I see it – yes – it is difficult to see how one can be a Christian without believing in the supernatural. The once-for-all event of God incarnate, that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate and that he rose again is vital; we believe in this and we believe in what he achieved in our own lives by this. But I got the impression that you might be going further than this ……
surely a Christian is someone who has faith,
Um, no? Why would you think that? Someone who has (saving) faith is saved; but we’ve already agreed that there isn’t a one-to-one mapping between those who are saved (the invisible Church), and Christians (the visible Church).
Matthew 7:21 does not contradict this – I’m sure that you are aware of people who say ‘Lord, Lord’ and, at the same time, take the arrogant view that they have actually done something to merit their salvation.
Nothing in Matthew 7 suggests that those are the only people who will think they are Heaven-bound only to discover that they are mistaken. All we know from Matthew 7 is that there exist people who believe, sincerely, that they will be saved, and who are mistaken. How can you know for sure that you are not within their number? Their conviction of their salvation is just as real, just as sincere, as yours.
As to the list of things you give. I personally believe in the virgin birth, but Emil Brunner didn’t. There is so much good stuff in his `The Mediator’ that I’m not prepared to say that he wasn’t a Christian – based on his confession, I confidently expect to see him in heaven when I pass from this life to the next.
You’ve shifted the goalposts there. You’re conflating two totally different questions: was he a Christian, and is he in Heaven? The answer to the first question is ‘definitely not’. That answer to the second is unknown to anyone living, and I will never state about any given individual whether they are, or will be, in Heaven. Only God knows whether someone has sincerely repented, or will sincerely repent before they die (perhaps only a split-second before).
I’m not so sure that God places the same level of priority on such issues as you do – the fundamental issue is to believe in Jesus, to believe that He has dealt fully with my sinful nature, accepting the necessity of Christ’s atoning work for my own salvation.
Yes, that is absolutely the fundamental issue for salvation. But being a Christian is not the same as being saved. So that is not the fundamental issue for being a Christian.
You say that ‘someone who thinks that God does not interfere in the workings of natural physical forces is not a Christian but rather a Deist.’ I’m not exactly sure what you mean by that.
Well, a full explanation would be rather too long for here, but for a start:
He certainly did intervene in the once-for-all event of the incarnation and that the sign miracles were to establish that Jesus was indeed the Messiah
… anyone who denies that the miraculous events in the gospels (a) really happened (b) happened as described and (c) involved the suspension of the normal physical laws of nature, is not a Christian.
So for example anyone who thinks that the real events behind story of Jesus stilling the storm were simply that the disciples went out in a boat, and there was a storm, which subsided naturally, as storms generally do, is not a Christian but rather a Deist.
But: that’s not to say that such a Deist could not, when death is near, in the very last minute of their life, realise that they need to be redeemed, call upon Jesus, be saved, and end up in Heaven. The way to life is narrow but it is never completely closed until the moment of death.
S – well clearly the way you define things is completely different from me – and I find it difficult to work with your definitions. I can be certain of my own salvation, but you’re correct that I can’t be certain of anybody else. On the other hand, I can see that in his `The Mediator’, Emil Brunner pushes all the right buttons – in the sense that I perceive a mind that is fully conscious of his own sinful state, and (from what he says) is trusting in the work of Christ on Calvary. Because he doesn’t believe in the virgin birth (which I’d say is pretty major), I’d therefore place him as a Christian-that-has-his-wires-seriously-crossed.
By the way – if you’re dismissing the Muslim religion, it should be pointed out that the Muslims have large responsibility for Mozart’s ‘Turkish March’ – and they also gave us the correct tempo to play it at.
(It’s quite a nice piece of research if you enjoy that sort of thing).
well clearly the way you define things is completely different from me – and I find it difficult to work with your definitions.
Whereas it’s literally impossible to work with your definition, because by your definition it is impossible to ever say of someone ‘X is a Christian’ and know whether or not you are correct.
And what on Earth is the use of a term that is impossible to ever use?
This is to David S,
Does it really need to be said that Hebrew scripture is Christian scripture?
A paradox, yes?
Evil defeats evil. A paradox, yes.
Through which Christian lens are you viewing this history?
Yes, I know you have argued for reparations, but there is more involved.
If it could be suggested that you seem to be harboring resentment in your heart, certainly not forgiveness, nor recognition that you have been a beneficiary of Western culture, educational, legal systems, Roman, Greek and Christianity. And, with a heavy heart, it would seem that you’d hold me at arms length, though we have Christ in common in what comes across to me as your exercise of chronological (inverted) snobbery.
Do you give God thanks that you live at this time in this place in history, for your life, education, family, influences, your conversion? I’m sure you do.
Yours in Christ,
Geoff – I’d say that it all depends on the basis on which he is arguing for reparations. If he, in some sense, holds people guilty for the sins of their forefathers, then this is (of course) anti-Christian, a blatant contradiction of Deuteronomy 24:16.
But I didn’t get the impression he was arguing this. I got the impression that he considered that the current economic situation of some of the former colonies was poor – and that this was directly attributable to the fact that that they used to be colonies.
For example – I would very much hope that he wouldn’t put Zimbabwe into that category, since before Mugabe came along the economy was fundamentally sound; the current dismal economic state of Zimbabwe is entirely the responsibility of Zimbabwe.
At the same time, I’m under no illusions about the nature of foreign policy of all governments (including the FCO of the UK, also the USA), that they are all governed by self-interest. So it wouldn’t surprise me at all to discover that the way in which the Europeans withdrew from their former colonies, what sort of trading arrangements they had with them, etc …. were governed by self-interest, which haven’t necessarily done the former colonies any good.
I’m also pretty sure that Dag Hammarskold’s aeroplane was shot down by the Americans who, on a divide-and-conquer basis, felt that it would not have been in their interests for him to succeed in negotiating peace.
Wealth is something that can be created and destroyed; I’m all in favour of the UK government helping to create conditions for a vibrant economy in the former colonies, putting money to it if it will help, much more importantly – making it very easy for them to export goods to the UK. I’m certainly not in favour of throwing money at corrupt governments (e.g. Zimbabwe) where it is more-or-less guaranteed that the whole lot will be embezzled.
It all depends on what David Shepherd means – and there may well be reasons (for example trade agreements) which mean that the former colonies find themselves with a raw deal.
Paradox? Isn’t that a Christian phenomena?
Not sure if you are looking to take a deep dive into paradox, as articulated by J.I. Packer here:
But sure, paradox of incarnation, death and resurrection and ascension, salvation and sanctification, judgement, justice, war/peace, sin, law, faith, grace, forgiveness, love, holiness, union with God, Father, in Christ and indwelling Holy Spirit, are at the heart the Good News of Christianity.
I’m off to bed to worry about antinomy v paradox. ‘Twas a good read..thanks Geoff and to S who got my curiosity moving.
Today, Steve, as I entered coffee shop I saw a professional artist, I’ve known for years in Christian circles. We got chatting, and completely unbidden and without any prior hint of the topic, he started to talk about paradox, using the word. Our conversation flowed from there. He even spoke about when he taught art, and paradox in art: the paradox of complexity made, found in simplicity and he moved onto expand that to saying that what is frequently seen and argued in scripture as contradiction is paradox!
If I knew what your email was I’d send you a picture of my latest scrap-wood art! Ian has it. He might forward it. 🙂
I’d be interested but not sure how it could be done.
To take further the discussion with David Shepherd:
1. I recognise the phrase ‘mildly grateful’ for European colonialism is provocative and can seem a callous and lightweight dismissal of what slaves in the Americas and their descendants have endured – but I was writing about a ‘reckoning’, an attempt to get some purchase on the overwhelmingly important consequences that western expansion has had for the whole world, and my reckoning (inevitably, coming out of ‘western’ experience) is that whilst there have been a range of evils from the careless, profit-seeking destruction of enslaved lives, to racial arrogance and greed, nonetheless the averaged-out life of the global population (if such an exercise is thought to be possible!) is better now than it was when western expansion began 500 years ago, and that is not just true for the west. Surely the reality of that improvement for the whole world needs some recognition in the attempt to form a moral reckoning.
2. Again, this is speculation but it is arguable that western colonial expansion could have taken a very much worse turn for the worse if it had not had a thread of Christian, humanitarian concern running through it. In that respect the Holocaust is significant as a technologically driven attempt to obliterate one ethnic group. One might ask, if the Nazis had succeeded who would have been next? It is not saying that the Jews mattered more than enslaved Africans, simply that different dynamics (extermination, not greed) were involved. We know of the evils that did happen, but greater evils could have happened.
It was two or so years ago when there was a similar lengthy discussion in the comments. If I remember correctly it was around the time of the toppling of the Colson statue and underlying critical- theory politics of BLM was at peak fever pitch, following police killing in USA and again if I recall aright David responded to an invited article by Will Jones (now of Daily Skeptic). As part of the much toing and froing David argued mostly from Zacchaeus for reparations.
It seems to be something of a running sore, an open wound.
As usual, I stand to be corrected and David, if he is still in the room, can respond here as the sees fit.
Geoff, brother in Christ, I’m not sure how your comments to/about David S here are helpful.
Helpful. Now there is an interesting word particularly from someone who hasn’t engaged in any of this, except with this helpful comment nor has any idea of the history of this and communication with David.
Please but out and do not interpose, interlope.
The comments ranged widely, including, race in the legal profession in the UK, and class systems in professions and the church in our exchanges and their were many robust exchanges with other commentators with many academic references from the USA.
David is more than capable of responding robustly and with depth and grace, which is greatly appreciated by me, if he is so minded.
David’s wise and studied voice was more regular here with some great contributions on scripture, which are missed.
I don’t apologise for bringing this down to the personal Christian level.
But I did make a comment 18 March 12.29am which I think was pertinent to the discussion of European colonialism. I understood John Root to be saying that the colonial ‘experience’ is mitigated by development in the colonised group’s language, particularly Bible translation. I question that since colonialism tended to have NOTHING to do with language development, in fact the history shows the opposite.
Bruce – well, I’m strongly sympathetic to what David S. has written here – and from that perspective I do find Geoff’s comments / questions helpful.
I believe that the Anglo-Saxon empire (initially based in London, but the centre of gravity
had already transferred to Washington DC by 1945) is a thoroughly evil entity, governed purely by self-interest. Yes, within this framework, Christians were able to use the opportunities that the empire provided to evangelise and spread the Word; who is to say that they wouldn’t have done this anyway even if colonisation hadn’t taken place?
Furthermore, the down-side of imperialism is not a thing of the past – for example, the Chagos Islands (the islanders were basically chucked out so that the USA could have a military base there). From this, you can probably figure out the lens through which I see Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, etc ….
So I’m sympathetic to what David Shepherd has been writing on this thread. The reparations issue was not something that David Shepherd mentioned on this thread, but Geoff tells us that there was a discussion on this forum over 2 years ago where he expressed views on this. As I see it, there could be very bad reasons for demanding `reparations’, which would show something anti-Christian, something that would contradict Deuteronomy 24:16. We are not responsible for the sins of others; we are guilty for our own sins and not for the sins either of our ancestors or for our rulers who, frankly, we don’t have much control over.
On the other hand, there is a case that the current poor economic state of some of the former colonies could be a direct consequence of the fact that they were colonies – and I’d be very sympathetic towards assistance in setting the conditions for economic revival and putting money to it if it will help.
I’d like David to come back into the room and give his views on this.
I believe that the Anglo-Saxon empire (initially based in London, but the centre of gravity had already transferred to Washington DC by 1945) is a thoroughly evil entity, governed purely by self-interest.
So you’d prefer for the world to have been conquered by the French empire, the Portuguese empire, the German empire or the Soviet empire?
Because those are the options. ‘A world without empires’ just isn’t realistic. There have always been empires — there are empires in the Old Testament — and there always will be empires. The question is which empires are better or worse than other empires — and are you really saying the British empire and the American empire were, when compared against other empires, two of the worst?
S – I don’t know how you inferred that from my comment – I’ve made it clear throughout this thread that I’m under no illusions about this. The anglo-saxon empire is fundamentally evil and based on self-interest. At the same time, evil imperialistic forces are a part of life and cannot be avoided. I’ve also made it clear that, from my point of view, the other options are much worse. In the Ukraine conflict, I’m relieved that the USA/UK alliance is working on behalf of the Ukrainians, giving them Himars and other goodies, because the Russian empire is clearly a much worse option.
Hi Jock. Yes I would like that too.
The articles along with the comments may well be found in our host’s archives. I’m on phone so find it difficult to trawl sites, including lengthy comments sections.
One significant aspect missing from any of this is the theology of suffering, and evil.
Does the theology of Moltmann, carry any weight in that regard.
I don’t think David has addressed any of that: none of us have. Where is God in the slavery, in the Holocaust?
Bruce, from down -under, may be able to contribute towards the question of colonisation evidenced at the simplest level of Oz having many UK name places, and a copy bridge.
And Bruce, may be able to comment about the ever increasing ( colonising methodology?) footprint of the CCP along with Oz’s western alliances.
Geoff – I did read Moltmann’s ‘The Crucified God’. I have a problem with it, which is that he never states that part of the definition of being a Christian is that I believe that *my* sin was nailed to the cross in the crucifixion; it is *my* sin that separates *me* from God and, for me as a Christian, that is what Calvary was all about. I don’t think I saw explicit mention of that there, which is a warning. I’d expect a Christian to nail his colours to the mast and make it clear that his own sins were nailed to the cross.
On the other hand, if you make the assumption that you are reading a book by a Christian who has indeed understood this of himself, then much of the book (except for the last two chapters) is very powerful and adds a lot to the understanding of the cross; Moltmann certainly deals with the theology of suffering in a powerful way, connecting it with the Holocaust and connecting it with black slavery.
He does point to the Spiritual song `Were you there when they crucified my Lord’ and states the reply `Yes, we the black slaves were there participating in his suffering and shame’. This is all good, powerful, important stuff – provided that it doesn’t replace the key point of the crucifixion – which is Christ dealing with my *sin*.
Hello Jock, I was just asking a Christian theological question, not addressed.
And I’m currently reading very slowly and spasmodically, “None Greater – the Undomesticated Attributes of God” by Matthew Barrett, which within the framework of the chapters, in a few pages considers and undermines and refutesMoltmann’s answer.
As it happens Barrett also looks at the Christology of the creed of Chalcedon, in the same section in which Moltmann is discussed, the creed which has been mentioned in the comments section of Ian’s last article on the lectionary reading, above.
Geoff, I would comment on colonisation that I guess if you declare a continent to be terra nullius you can do what you like about place names (and anything else for that matter).