Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bill Maher would love this one! Missionaries versus Anthropologists

Open Anthropology, my authority on the Human Terrain System, had an interesting discussion of pseudo-Calvinist religious groups. I was, again, reminded about how strange we Americans, and specifically, we Texans (who do not like to be called Southerners) are. I am not a native Texan. I never expected to end up in Texas. I was a well-traveled military brat. But, here I am. Teaching in the city which formerly housed the headquarters of the KKK. Site of some of the greatest concentration of oil refineries and their associated industries. The area is not a traditional "southern" stronghold, having been founded by mid-westerners searching out jobs post-WWII. Sort of Indiana meets the South. Swing a stick and you will hit 20-30 Baptists. We have so many Baptist churches they have to number them: first, second, third, you get the idea. And that is mainstream, "normal" ones.......

I tread very shaky ground teaching Anthropology here. I have learned to make clear distinctions. "This is the anthropological perspective".....we are going to use that perspective, we can't be biased..missionary activities constitute interference... and my discipline cannot interfere. Perhaps more than any other anthropologist, I, on a daily basis, feel our role is to "preach" cultural relativism. They need it. Over and over again.

With that in mind, I found the most fascinating update at the Katine Project blog, entitled, Religion and Sex in Uganda: the power of the pulpit. Uganda has long been one of the great success stories of the the African HIV/AIDS epidemic. (I had the great joy to work with Susan Hunter in Tanzania just after she left Uganda back in '94. She left Uganda just as the country was showing some positive responses to what was truly a horrendous crisis and tragedy. She brought hope with her.) In recent years, however, it seems that Uganda has also thrown itself into a full embrace with evangelical Christian groups so that, the blog reports, fully half of all Ugandans are "born again". Last time I was in Tanzania, tent revivals with Ugandan preachers were, like Baptists in the American south--thick on the ground.

The consequence of these fervent beliefs has been an involvement with the issues at the heart of our own election: a growing belief in abstinence-based teaching and (dare I say) cultural messages of condemnation for those who chose other paths, funded generously by the Bush Lily- White House. And the end result of that? A decrease in condom-usage and a growing stigmatization of those who fall victim to the disease.

Does anyone truly believe that Levi Johnson could have walked into a drug store and bought a condom without earning a righteous whooping from the small community in which he lived. Does anyone truly believe that "happiness" (whatever the hell that is) can come from, in the words of my favorite troubadour, Bruce Springsteen, "a union card and a wedding coat"? Does anyone truly want to return to a young girl dying alone in a hut in her village when no one will care for her because she has earned the designation of "whore" and deserves what she gets? All for the lack of a condom. For the lack of a commitment to a small life-saving bit of latex. For the refusal to accept the reality of humanity. People have sex, get over it.

After I have spoon-fed the cultural relativism lesson, do I allow them to judge? Absolutely. Do I judge? Absolutely.

BTW, tomorrow, there will be a special blog post on National Blog Action Day. Subject: World Hunger. You can click on the icon to the right (aka the non-left) to find out more information.


openanthropology said...

Thanks for starting that interesting (as usual) post with the kind word about my blog. I think you have a terribly tough job. I was once interviewed for a position in Lethbridge, Alberta (Canada's Texas), and was directly cautioned that the students tend to be "conservative" -- the intellectual challenge thus sounded as if it were one way: against faculty. Anything "too radical" might disenchant the students, so it's better to disenchant the faculty and keep everything largely the same. I suppose this is one reason why few people have ever heard of a university in Lethbridge outside of Lethbridge.

Until I saw it here, I knew absolutely nothing about Blog Action Day. And I cannot think about what I want to write on the issue of poverty! Otherwise, I would have joined in a rush. I feel stretched.

Pamthropologist said...

You could take my route and avoid the blogging part. You have a great music collection.

Thanks for the kind words.

larry c wilson said...

Religion thrives on misery.

Pamthropologist said...

And vice versa.

H. anthrocanthropus said...

Hey pamthropologist! I just found your blog while doing a google search for anthropology and missionaries!
I also teach general anthropology at a conservative community college as an adjunct. I have to be very careful how I approach topics. During the election, the class knew where I stood!
Hope you are still around.

Pamthropologist said...

Thank you for the supportive comments. I am working my way back to normal, never fear.