Sunday, March 26, 2023
HomeDebate ReligionThe immorality of prosthelytizing in third world countries

The immorality of prosthelytizing in third world countries

This is something that I don’t see brought up nearly as much as it should.

As Christopher Hitchens said of Mother Teresa, she was not a friend to the poor, she was a friend of poverty. She told the most helpless and downtrodden of humanity that suffering was a gift from God. Then she tried to equivocate the suffering she experienced during her crisis of faith with the physical suffering of the poor and disenfranchised since suffering in all forms are equal gifts in God’s eyes.

It is a stick and carrot situation in the worst sense. The stick of faith carries the carrot of hope to lead these lost lambs to supposed salvation in the same way a child molester uses candy to lure a child to their car. The promise of salvation in this case makes needless suffering something to ignore in the real world. If it’s all part of God’s cosmic justice, why bother doing anything about it? This naive stance on suffering compete negates any moral obligation to mitigate it.

Rather than attempt to ease their suffering, they were told that their suffering had meaning. Assessing existential truth claims is not a priority to those whose moment to moment life consists of worrying about where their next meal will come from. Using the suffering of others as a platform in this way is inherently immoral and exploitative. The sufferers aid her cause, not the other way around.

It’s this that still allows the burning of children as witches in these third world countries that lack the enlightened values of western culture. If it is factual that it is harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the gates of heaven then it should be the first world countries that need more missionaries.

Edit: To clarify, I am not arguing about her motivations nor that the idea of proselytizing by way of saying that suffering is a gift from God is inherently problematic. It’s the specific case of doing it in unenlightened third world countries. It is a matter of fact that the poor were used as a platform whether she intended it that way or not.

Edit 2: The point of this post is not to vilify Mother Teresa. It’s to point of the immorality of of this type of proselytizing.

Edit 3: More than a day has passed since I posted this. Allow me to correct a few things.

1. I know it is spelled proselytizing. For some reason my phone recognized prosthelytizing as a correct spelling and I didn’t notice until it was pointed out.

2. I should have clarified what I meant by “enlightened western values”. I meant “scientific facts/reasoning and rational discourse”. Not in the pejorative sense used when talking about the history of colonialism.

3. I did not mean any offense by calling them third world countries. Leave it to the PC police to point out when your offending someone else. Please realize that not everyone got the memo to update their terminology on all sociopolitical topics. I fully understand this point as well since I’m an Asian that was adopted into an Italian family in America. My grandmother still calls me her “oriental” grandson.

P.S – Thank you to all who contributed to this thread. This is my first post on this subreddit and its nice to be able to debate these topics here since it’s not possible for me to have these discussions IRL for fear of being disowned by friends and family.

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Mary Johnson
Mary Johnson
I have been reading and writing for over 20 years. My passion is reading and I would like to someday write a novel. I enjoy exercise and shopping.


  1. >Rather than attempt to ease their suffering, they were told that their suffering had meaning.

    Not shilling for Catholicism here, but most of the people she was proselytising to were Hindu, which taught that if you suffer in this life, it’s because of something you did in the past life. Unless you believe in either religion, both religions’ teachings have a callous way of trivialising human suffering.

  2. I will confess I am highly conflicted on this topic.

    When I was 19 yrs old I was a Mormon missionary in South America. Since then I have undergone some huge changes regarding religion. Many of the people we taught were in tough situations. Some of the thing I used to believe, I now know are not true. Many of the core principles still have great value. Love, kindness, self-reliance, avoiding addictions, making an intentional effort to have a loving family, are things I still value.

    Tithing to the church, over reliance on emotional feelings, group think on values, and judgmental ideas are things I hope those I taught no longer do.

  3. People should not be proselytized by any ideology. Every individual has the freedom and right to choose what works for him or what does not. That happens only after he has become an adult and can think for himself. Until then spiritual traditions should stay away from influencing and indoctrinating individuals. Religions could be taught in schools to give exposure to students. After that it should be like a library where one goes where he chooses to and picks the book he likes to read. If the whole library had only one book in all shelves, that is insulting the human capacity to think and question. Let people choose a religion if they need it, as they see it fit for their lives. A lot of money and energy is being wasted in converting people with the aim of creating new tribalism, turning same people against each other, creating more conflicts and control over the masses by dumbing them down. This needs to stop in this world. I have no problems with religions and traditions being there. But I want each individual to be the master of choosing a religion.

  4. What do you see as the relationship between “enlightened values of western culture” and [WP: Human zoo]( Europeans were making those as late as 1958. What you blame on missionaries, seems to apply rather more widely. It actually seems to me that it’s _weakening confidence_ in Western culture which has led to our considering that maybe “civilizing” the rest of the world is not so great an idea. After not one but _two_ World Wars, the West finally admitted that maybe it wasn’t quite as awesome as it had told itself. This is the historical context for the following from [Lesslie Newbigin](, who spent much of his career as a missionary in India:

    >     On the other hand, we have had a plethora of studies by missionaries on the theological issues raised by cross-cultural missions. As Western missionaries have shared in the general weakening of confidence in our modern Western culture, they have become more aware of the fact that in their presentation of the gospel they have often confused culturally conditioned perceptions with the sub-stance of the gospel, and thus wrongfully claimed divine authority for the relativities of one culture. ([Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture](, 1–2)

    Written in 1986, this is around the time that many people were wrestling with how ethnocentric the West had been. See also Alain Finkielkraut 1995 [The Defeat of the Mind](, which was published as _La Défaite de la pensée_ in 1987. I’ll bet you don’t even know who took the lead on grappling with how ethnocentric the West had been, up through WWII. What I know is that according to Brian Levack 1987 [The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe](, Christians both pushed the burning of witches before the secular powers, but also recognized the damage caused and then pushed _against_ it, before the secular powers. Governments, as far as I can tell, don’t care about human rights nearly as much as most humans do. See for example [WP: Project MKUltra]( The mother of one of my mentors may have shot herself in the head, in his presence, when he was five years old, due to being experimented on by that program. One of the reasons it was stopped was the number of really brutal suicides.

  5. On the case of Mother Teresa, [this post]( from r/badhistory is helpful. It contends that Hitchens’ portrayal of Mother Teresa was a hit piece whose portrayal of Mother Teresa is inaccurate on some points and lacks crucial context on others.

    One directly relevant portion:

    >Sister Mary Prema Pierick, current superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, colleague and close friend of Mother Teresa responds; “[Mother’s] mission is not about relieving suffering? That is a contradiction; it is not correct… Now, over the years, when Mother was working, palliative treatment wasn’t known, especially in poor areas where we were working. Mother never wanted a person to suffer for suffering’s sake. On the contrary, Mother would do everything to alleviate their suffering. That statement [of not wishing to alleviate suffering] comes from an understanding of a different hospital care, and we don’t have hospitals; we have homes. But if they need hospital care, then we have to take them to the hospital, and we do that.”

    It just isn’t true that Mother Teresa used the suffering rather than helping them.

  6. Granted, I’m not a scholar on Mother Theresa and only know the narrative surrounding her servitude, your argument lacks persuasion in that I do not believe the people she fed would feel that she victimized them.

    Drastic difference between a child molester giving candy to kids and Mother Theresa feeding the impoverished.

    Did Mother Theresa require those she fed convert to Christianity or starve? Did she coerce people into following her beliefs?

    From my little knowledge she was called to serve others because of her faith. If you argument highlighted specifics of how Mother Theresa forced the poor to accept Christ or Christianity lest they starve, then I’d be more apt to entertain it. You claim rather than attempt to ease their suffering, she told people their meaning had suffering. I’d imagine the hungry felt their suffering eased slightly, and some may have found comfort in their suffering not being in meaningless. Mental health research is very clear that people who experience meaning have better health outcomes across the board; meaning can help justify enduring suffering.

    Your post sounds like someone who has had their share of suffering and does not appreciate another implying there is meaning in it; rather than experience the uncomfortable reality that their “could” be meaning to it – it is easier to rationalize the mere notion as the equivalent of a predator luring the innocent. Because if there is no meaning, then indeed, why do anything about? If there is… then one ought to do something. No?

  7. This a actually a really poor argument because your argument isn’t really connected to your thesis. Your thesis concerns the morality of proselytizing in developing countries (NB: Nobody uses “Third World” anymore). Your argument, however, has nothing to do with proselytizing. Your argument is primarily concerned with mission activities and the exploitation of poverty in developing countries by religious organizations in wealthy countries. To add further weight to this problem with your argument, Mother Teresa wasn’t terribly concerned with winning converts to Catholicism (and if she was, she was hopelessly unsuccessful). She was more interested in keeping them poor so that she and other Catholics could feed them and feel good about themselves for having been charitable.

  8. So first we have

    >The immorality of prosthelytizing (sic) in third world countries

    and then

    >It’s this that still allows the burning of children as witches in these third world countries **that lack the enlightened values of western culture**

    So, it’s immoral to disseminate a western philosophy that suffering is a metaphysical reward, but it is a moral imperative to disseminate the “enlightened values of western culture?” Religion, from an anthropological lens, *is* culture. The idea that we could just solve the problems of developing nations by forcing our culture on theirs is not new, nor is it bad when religious and good when secular. It’s *always* bad, because it’s *always* colonization in some way, shape, or form. When Great Britain colonized India, causing tens of millions of deaths and trillions of dollars in economic theft, they justified it as **giving the gift of the enlightenment values of western culture**.

    And it’s funny that you’d use witch hunts as an example; Christians have been using their “enlightened” values *against* what they perceived as dangerous superstitions like witchcraft or human sacrifice for nearly as long as Christianity has existed. The European witch hunts were a bizarre anomaly in the history of Christianity (and they actually took place during the Renaissance through the early Enlightenment period) given the centuries of Christian theology asserting that witchcraft is a thing of superstitious folly that only uneducated bumpkins took seriously. Executing witches or people otherwise accused of magical crimes long predates contact with Christianity.

    Christopher Hitchens is not a good source of history (or, well, anything); I’d take your claims over to r/AskHistorians for clarification.

  9. What do you think St. Teresa was doing all those years?

    She was comforting the poor and easing the suffering of those who had been discarded and rejected by society.

    But hey…we make Reddit posts criticizing the works of St. Teresa.

    Which is more efficacious?

  10. It seems like you’re stuck on whatever you accuse Mother Teresa of and apply that to proselytizing in general.

    How is the practice of proselytizing immoral? you can call someone to join your religion **and** try to improve their condition at the same time.

    > in these third world countries that lack the enlightened values of western culture.

    Have you considered the possibility that perhaps some people don’t want your “enlightened values”? Where you see enlightenment, I see confusion.

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