When I was younger, a small church opened in the shopping center behind my apartment complex. Expectedly, their Sunday services began at around 7 AM and lasted well into the afternoon. Though the church small, they made up for the square footage with raucous preaching and singing . For a month, I woke to voices shouting and singing the praises of their god.
One morning, I had-had enough and decided to take the opportunity between a break in their services to complain to the pastor. I entered the church and saw a man who wore the air of religious leadership that told me he was the pastor. I waited as congregant after congregant greeted him with the look of exaltation believers are groomed to give those they’ve charged with leading their salvation. Finally, I seized an opportunity while he was between greetings to approach him.
As soon as I approached, the pastor asked if I would be attending the service. “Unfortunately, I haven’t missed a service in a month,” I replied. He looked confused, so I went on to explain that his choir and enthusiastic sermons had been my unwelcome alarm clocks for the past few Sundays. “The Lord’s army is early and excited,” he chuckled. I was unamused and asked him to respect that he moved into a residential neighborhood. “This is too much noise for any day of the week, let alone on a Sunday when people sleep in.”
Neither the pastor’s expression nor tone masked his disgust and shock that I did not revere his position as he told me plainly and harshly to deal with the noise because “God’s work is being done and He has the final say.” Annoyed, I replied, “I’ll handle this shit,” and stormed out. And perhaps it was only my mood amplifying the sounds, but the rest of their services for the day seemed twice as loud.
The next Sunday, I pulled my car in front of the church at 6:30 AM. I watched as congregants filed in. At 7 AM sharp, service began. And at 7:01 AM, I began my own service at my newly formed Church of Trap. I started T.I.’s Trap Muzik album from the first track and let the bass rattle windows at ignorant levels. After 24s, to which I rapped along with all the confidence of a dope boy who woke up early enough to catch all the first of the month traffic, the pastor came out as some of the congregation filed in the doorway to see who was disrupting their services with that devil’s music.
The pastor walked over to my window and said, “Young sister, we’re having church. ” To which I replied, “So am I.”
The pastor went back inside and satisfied with my disruption, I went home. Nothing changed in the volume of his services and I ended up having to launch complaints to the landlord repeatedly before anything changed. That ordeal reinforced what I’d learned early in life: Christianity’s core principle isn’t charity or faith or even hope. At the root of all Christian work is a fatal arrogance that convinces its practitioners and subscribers to believe that their own purpose and place in this world is higher than non-believers.
The very notion that any work based on spreading, interpreting or enforcing the word and will of their God as determined by his followers is inherently good and worthy operates with the presumption that those who’ve self-deputized as qualified proxies for their God deserve reverence, when in fact, an obsession with a higher power reveals nothing more than an obsession with a higher power. The arrogance fueled by a belief that one has been ordained by the supreme being to bring followers intoxicates. And as with any drug, its users and abusers are always chasing the ultimate high.
So goes John Chau who illegally entered the protected territory of the reclusive Sentinelese tribe with the intention of converting the indigenous to Christianity.
The very fact that the tribe has maintained a way of life has remained unpenetrated by the convenient burdens of the technology is itself evidence of commitment to maintaining their isolation. They do not want to be found. They are a fortress.
I had never heard of this tribe who occupy North Sentinel Island in the Andaman Islands of India before last week when news that Chau set out on a mission to meet with and convert them. Now I make no claims to having any encyclopedic knowledge of geography and the people indigenous to lesser known parts of the world, but I say confidently that this is not a tribe most Americans had knowledge of before last week. So however Chau learned of their existence, he was seeking the ultimate high, no doubt knowing that so little is known about these people because they are indiscriminately violent toward outsiders. To reach them, to make any headway in establishing some relationship between the tribe and the outside world might as well be the first step to canonization.
Chau, having gleaned whatever knowledge of the Sentinelese that Google had to offer still went there. He paid local fisherman the US equivalent of $350 to illegally escort him to the island so that he could make contact with the tribe members. He traveled their to “befriend the Sentinelese to share Jesus with them” according to his friend who heads a religious group that Chau once traveled to Israel with. And as is their way, the tribe guarded their space, making it abundantly clear that this outsider, like his predecessors, would not be allowed access to their island.
“One blocked (unarmed) while other (armed with knife),” Chau detailed in a journal. One of the tribe members shot an arrow at him, landing the arrow directly into the Bible Chau held near his chest. They then chased him off and he “had to swim about a mile back to the boat at the mouth of the cove.”
Still, Chau returned several times, because he believed the “eternal lives of this tribe” were at stake. Each time he was met with the aggression that have kept the isolated people safe for centuries. Yet, his intoxication, or his love for Christ, both having the same effect of numbing his sense of reality and ability to to reason, kept him going back believing in his own divine purpose. In his final journal entry, Chau wrote, “God, I don’t want to die.”
Well, either Chau’s god couldn’t read his handwriting, or his god had a divine plan for keeping the Sentinelese from the dangers of outsiders, because on November 17, local fisherman observed some of the tribe members dragging Chau’s lifeless body. Despite their repeated warning shots, Chau persisted. The lines between benevolence, arrogance and stupidity are hair thin, and Chau waltzed across them all in his doomed mission to bring a god they didn’t want to people who are just fine without him.
As Chau’s friend testified, “He was willing to give his life to share Jesus with the people on North Sentinel island.” And the Sentinelese remain willing to take the life of anyone who dares intrude on their island. Anyone who doubts it, they make believers out of them, pun intended.
But most disturbing in all this is that Chau’s illegal intrusion on these people to “share Jesus” may result in a death sentence to some or all of the tribe. “Survival International has warned that the Sentinelese people are extremely vulnerable to disease from outsiders.” How divine of him?
And as if the history of Christian missionaries entering the spaces of Black people to convert them to Christianity weren’t enough – Jomo Kenyatta once quipped, “When the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the missionaries had the Bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.” – The New York Times detailed the known history of the Sentinelese with the outside world, noting the first documented incidence of an outsider making contact with he people was at the end of the 19th century when a British naval officer happened upon the island and “basically kidnapped several islanders. He took them back to his house on a bigger island, where the British ran a prison, and watched the adults grow sick and die. After returning the children to the island, he ended his experiment, calling it a failure.”
Rightfully and righteously so, the Sentinelese have been violently aggressive with outsiders since. Should they not protect the paradise they have created, free from the ills of racism, capitalism, and elitism? Should an invader not be put to death after being given multiple chances to abandon his pseudo-altruistic mission and leave them in peace? The Sentinelese are an example to be modeled.
American imperialism disguised as Christian benevolence has resigned Black and brown people who spent thousands of years living harmoniously with the earth to hellish fates. The doctrine of Manifest Destiny that saw the extermination of Native Americans from U.S. soil was born from Christians believing their destruction of the land and its people was ordained by a higher power for a greater good. Unflinching protection of their space is not only just but wise.
A man who violated the law and land to spread the word of God, actually probably spreading only disease, is no victim. He is not to be celebrated for his commitment to Christian principles. He is to be admonished for causing further intrusion to people who have chosen to remain unattached to this crumbling Babylon.
And if, as is the rhetoric of the sanctimonious, all things happen according to God’s plan, then when those employed in their God’s marketing and communications department, honored and pleased to do what they deem the essential work of saving souls through the ultimate promotional material, their Bible, must accept whatever fate they meet when seeking out and finding lost souls who have no investment, interest or faith in the father or his legendary son.