Christian missionaries believe they are spreading the good news.

They may be doing the opposite.

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In 2018, a missionary named John Allen Chau was killed by residents of North Sentinel Island, owned by India and home to the Sentinelese, one of the Andaman tribal people. After the decimation of the Amazon rainforest, they may be the only remaining Stone-Age-adjacent tribe on the planet.

Chau was a Christian who felt it was important to tell the Andaman tribe about Jesus: “You guys might think I’m crazy in all this, but I think it’s worth it to declare Jesus to these people,” he said in a diary entry. Another entry says that he felt the stakes were no less than the “eternal lives of this tribe”.

This Andaman tribe, who may number less than a hundred, are protected by the Indian government. Any contact of any kind (even taking photographs) is illegal mainly due to the risk of disease. The violent disposition of the Sentinelese and their lack of natural resources are probably also factors. The history of contact between the Andaman people and outsiders is entirely depressing and amounts to a litany of theft, plague, kidnapping and murder

If Chau knew enough about the island to find it, he knew all this. However, even if Chau’s religious beliefs were true, he may have exposed the tribe not just to a real and substantive risk of genocide but also of eternal damnation.

Good intentions

Most Christians believe that accepting Jesus as their personal saviour is integral to saving their souls from the ambiguous ravages of a fiery afterlife. However, it seems beyond the expectations of a compassionate and merciful god to condemn people to eternal torment just because they’ve never heard of him.

Christians will often cite Romans 1:19-20 as evidence that something about their god “gets through” to everyone. However, it seems clear that something about the Christian god doesn’t “get through” to every person. Otherwise, there would be no missionaries.

Wherever missionaries have historically gone, all the way back to the first Christian missionary (Paul), the people living there have never heard of Jesus. Any Christian who understands and values missionary work is an unwitting demonstration of why these verses from Romans are wrong.

Billions of people right now and all future generations could be saved.

If you are a Christian who has never taken a critical thinking class, you might find a way to bridge this chasm of logic. You might find something that enables you to continue inflicting your worldview on people who have also never taken a critical thinking class. Some of these Christians justify their actions by vague convictions that “people desperately need Christ”. Others retreat into believing “there are no innocent tribesmen”. None of the explanations are particularly convincing or edifying.

Missionaries bringing the good news to remote tribes would therefore serve their target communities by staying at home. The surest path to salvation for the greatest number of people is to never mention Jesus, burn all the bibles and completely eliminate all discussion of Christianity from the public discourse. Billions of people right now and all future generations could be saved.

Leave them alone

Chau’s family have forgiven the tribe for their murder. The Indian government arrested everyone involved in helping him get there. The Indian government and the U.S. government agreed to leave the Sentinelese alone. There is no word, if the Christians are right, on how the Sentinelese feel about the possible genocidal war crimes both in this life and the hypothetical next, committed by Chau against their entire race.

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Barry Purcell lives in Ireland and writes about religion, philosophy, psychology, politics and language for a variety of paper and online publications. He has been involved in campaigns to counteract the...