I’ve been wanting to write about this story since it came out, but I can’t seem to get going. All I can think to say is “hands off!” To be completely honest, I had the urge to tell him off in more vulgar ways, but since he’s dead, I’ll stick with “hands off!” for now.
Here’s the story. John Allen Chau thought he was god’s gift to missionary work. He decided that North Sentinel Island, an island off India that was inhabited by a tribe that made it clear that it did not wish to have outside influences, needed some religion, and he was going to be the man to bring it to them whether they liked it or not. Let me explain how clearly they made it that they wished no contact from the outside. There have been laws put on the books to protect their way of life. Everybody who lives anywhere near the island knows that you don’t just go “loo dee doo dee doo” onto their island.
It turns out that they did not like his intrusion onto their land at all, and they killed him. His friends, a rather loose term in this case, who helped him get close to the island, got to watch the tribe drag his body down the beach and bury it. Police and coastguards from India wanted to get his body back, but it was no easy task and I don’t know if they ever succeeded.
Now, do you see why I don’t have a lot of sympathy for Mr. Chau? He doesn’t help matters with the entries in his diary where he claimed that God was protecting him from being discovered by the coastguards. Actually, God would have protected him better by not letting him get near the island. That whole passage where he said a kid fired an arrow at him and it hit his bible, and he thought that was a sign of being protected was also pretty ridiculous. No, that was a sign that he should get the hell out of there and rethink this whole conversion of the Sentinelese people thing.
I would have more sympathy if I got the sense that he genuinely wanted to help the people, but it sounded more like he viewed the island as a conquest. I can’t stand the idea of religion being forced on people. When I read about the way things happened when Canada was colonized, I could not feel good about it either. It drives me nuts when missionaries offer help, but under the condition that their recipients convert. Why not just help somebody and leave it at that? And in the case of Mr. Chau, why couldn’t he respect their wishes and stick to reaching out to people who welcomed him?
Maybe it bothers me because on a smaller scale, I have had people try to force religion on me. I have had people accuse me of not praying hard enough and that’s why I’m blind, I have had people lay hands on me in an attempt to heal me without asking if I want this, I have had one cab driver push religion on me by locking me in his cab until I gave him some sense that I might attend a service. If I want religion, there are plenty of ways I could seek it out. Forcing it on me does not work, and it doesn’t make me feel respected either. A conversation is fine I suppose, but if I say no, listen to that and move on.
So now, this guy is dead, and the seven people who agreed to help him are arrested, and some of them are likely traumatized from watching him get dragged down the beach. I hate to be an asshole, but they all kind of deserve it. If they’d just respected these people, they’d all be alive and safe.