Posted by: Titus Presler | November 18, 2009

David Brooks makes missionary comparison in NY Times

It’s remarkable how often people searching for a comparison that will communicate an attitude vividly turn to – you guessed it, the missionary!

Often the comparison is disparaging.  Recourse is had to the missionary when the speaker wants to emphasize the blind zeal, blatant propaganda and insensitive imposition at work in some situation.

Sometimes the comparison is fairly positive.  An instance is the Nov. 17 op-ed column, “The Nation of Futurity,” by David Brooks, probably the most insightful general-interest columnist on the NYT staff (though, obviously, Paul Krugman is best on the economy and Nicholas Kristof is best on suffering in the Two-Thirds World).

Reflecting on the national mood of China in the context of Barack Obama’s visit, Brooks’ major point it that the Chinese now have the kind of hope in the future and can-do initiative that historically has been associated with USAmericans, who currently seem rather pessimistic, even jaded in comparison.

So in warming to his argument, Brooks says this: “It may seem like an ephemeral thing, but this eschatological faith in the future has motivated generations of Americans, just as religious faith motivates a missionary.”

Strictly, the point of comparison is only that strong conviction in each instance motivates persistent action.  Nevertheless, the context is so generally positive that the missionary shares in the affirmative glow.

Two footnotes:

– The tremendous growth of Christianity in China has been little noted during Obama’s visit.  Estimates of the number of Christians are stunning – sometimes around 60 million – but knowledgeable observers report many others as sympathetic, and some even predict Christianity becoming a plurality in the country.  One wonders how aware of this dynamic the uncharacteristically cautious Obama was in preparing for the visit.

– Speaking of “eschatological faith,” the July 2009 issue of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research focused on the theme “Christian Mission and the End of Time.”


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