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Curiosity shop: Darwin on the missionaries


A friend forwarded this:

… It appears to me that the morality and religion of the inhabitants are highly creditable. There are many who attack … both the missionaries, their system, and the effects produced by it. Such reasoners never compare the present state with that of the Island only twenty years ago, nor even with that of Europe at this day; but they compare it with the high standard of gospel perfection … they forget, or will not remember, that human sacrifices, and the power of an idolatrous priesthood – a system of profligacy unparalleled in any other part of the world – infanticide, a consequence of that system – bloody wars, where the conquerors spared neither women nor children – that all these have been abolished, and that dishonesty, intemperance, and licentiousness have been greatly reduced, by the introduction of Christianity.

In a voyager to forget these things is base ingratitude; for should he chance to be at the point of shipwreck on some unknown coast, he will most devoutly pray that the lesson of the missionary may have extended thus far … those who are most severe should consider how much of the morality of the women in Europe is owing to the system early impressed by mothers on their daughters, and how much in each individual case to the precepts of religion. But it is useless to argue against such reasoners; – I believe that, disappointed in not finding the field of licentiousness quite so open as formerly, they will not give credit to a morality which they do not wish to practice, or to a religion which they undervalue, if not despise.

Charles Darwin, Journal of a Voyage Round the World (London: T. Nelson and Sons, Paternoster Row, 1890), p. 496-497 (formally titled, Journal of Researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle around the world, by Charles Darwin. The citation is found on pages 496-497 in his discussion of Tahiti and New Zealand.)

He didn’t believe it but he sure liked the results.


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