Missionary Activity and Colonialism

The attempt to impose one’s beliefs on people in other countries, in missionary activity and colonialism, is arrogant and unwelcome

The intelligent application of the Golden Rule might have shed a different light on missionary activity and colonialism in the 19th and 20th centuries.  In an interview in January 1903, McKinley Defends U.S. Expansionism, President William McKinley tried to justify the US annexation of the Philippines in 1899:

“… we could not leave them to themselves—they were unfit for self-government ….  there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died.”

The concept of Christianisation had also been used to ‘justify’ European colonial adventures and the words “do the very best we could by them” sound as though the annexation was for moral reasons.

McKinley would have taken a different approach if he had he asked himself the Golden Rule question: “if I had been in their position, what sort of ‘help’ would I have wanted?”   The Filipinos resisted fiercely for the next four years, so they clearly did not wish to be annexed.  It is not surprising that most countries do not wish to be overrun or to have different moral values or political systems imposed upon them.  It is, to say the least, arrogant to say: “they were unfit for self-government”.  They didn’t agree.  Christianity cannot justify forcible colonisation, because the Golden Rule is a central tenet of its teaching (

This missionary activity and colonialism was in a tradition of condescension dating back to the Roman Empire.  As reported in a New Statesman book review, The gangsters of Rome: the brutal side of the ancient city, Pliny asserted that Rome’s destiny was.

“it was Rome’s destiny “to unite previously distinct powers, to soften patterns of behaviour, to provide a common language to the numerous peoples hitherto divided by their savage tongues, to civilise mankind – in short, to unite the peoples of the world, and to serve them as their fatherland”.

It is a failure to consider the point of view of the other people concerned, which is a common problem described earlier (2.2).  And it continues.  America’s promotion of its own system of government, in ‘democracy assistance’, is still causing problems in the 21st century – as described later (



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/4354.htm.