Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Defense of Missionaries in Tahiti

I had the privilege recently to visit French Polynesia, and in preparation to go I read part of the book, Blue Latitudes, by Tony Horwitz, which spoke, in part, of the tragic early contact between Tahitians and the West.

Horwitz said Tahiti's population of 204,000 dwindled to 7,169 from western-introduced guns and diseases, including sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). I certainly agree with him; almost 200,000 Tahitians dying was tragic.

But then a little later he complains that missionaries persuaded Polynesians to give up indescriminate sexual behavior.


Suppose, to pick a number, that just an eighth of those who died from problems introduced by westerners died from STDs. That means STDs killed about 25,000 Tahitians.

Now suppose the missionaries had somehow managed to arrive before the sailors and persuaded the people to limit their sexual encounters to marriage. That would have severely curtailed the spread of death. Many of those 25,000 would have lived.

Or, suppose the early sailors had all been a bunch of bluenosed Puritans of a type Horwitz apparently disapproves. Same result. More Polynesians would have lived.

So, Horwitz's thesis - hopefully just a result of not thinking - appears to be that 25,000 dead Tahitians is a small price to pay for preserving "free" sex.

There are things to criticize in the Christian community and in its missionary activities, but this isn't one of them. Those missionaries deserve applause, but what they get from Horowitz is jeers.

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