I've been reading the Travels of Marco Polo and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe for school. In both Christians refer to "idol worshippers", people who worship pieces of wood and rock. I thought in both books it was pretty obvious that the "idols" in question were symbolic of the peoples' deities. That in reality, they worship statues of stone or wood no more than Christians worship crosses or statues of the virgin mary.
That said, are the Christians in these books diliberately dense? It's like they not only refuse to understand but also willfully misstate the others position.
I'm asking because I never belonged to a religion, and this sort of willful ignorance and hostility baffles me. I kinda get the impression that some religious people treat other beliefs as contagious diseases, go out of their way to avoid learning about them, and supplement their lack of knowledge about other beliefs from their own repressed fantasies.
It's like selling sandwiches - you don't want any competition, so you spread rumours that other sandwich sellers use dog meat in their sandwiches, but don't mention the fact that they got the idea from you.
I studied Things Fall Apart for English at university. With regards to the theme of religion, Achebe is clearly describing the natural process of colonisation. When two cultures or religions come into contact with each other for the first time there is an inevitable dominance struggle as the opposing cultures seek to establish a hierarchy of superiority and inferiority, which can be quite destructive.
Achebe is quite subtle about his portrayal of Christianity but overall I would say that the effects on the Igbo culture are presented negatively, especially with regards to the end of the story. It could also be argued that the stance is somewhat morally ambiguous since Nwoye's conversion is reflected on as a good thing because he was unhappy with human rights issues happening in his own culture which are supported by the ancestral beliefs of the villagers.
From a more historical perspective, I don't think Christian colonialists are "deliberately dense," but rather that they are just dense, with no disclaimer needed. They go to other cultures with the intention of converting and colonising people's traditions and minds. They do not want to understand simply because they go there with a predetermined notion of dominance.
We still see this today in all religions. Every religious organisation in existence beliefs that they are better than other organisations because they are right, and it's as simple as that. Why learn about other religions when they are so obviously wrong?
I like to think contact between cultures doesn't have to result in conflict.
But religions that claim to be the one true religion seem to create conflict.
As for all religions claiming they're right and all others are wrong, check out the Baha' i. They seem to except most religions (but not atheists).
One of the first things I learned while studying cultural anthropology was that it is almost inevitable that when two cultures come into contact for the first time, there is conflict. Differences in social structure, different customs, different religions, different leaders struggling for different goals - the fact is that when cultures initially intersect they have very little reason to get along and quite a lot of reasons not to. Especially when considering early human interaction between groups, it only made sense that one group would try to dominate the other since they were filling the same ecological niche in that area. Tolerance is an invention of modern society, and it's a necessary concession in most cases now that most cultures have come into contact with one another and often depend on one another in some way. History tells us that if one group can get away with killing, enslaving or dominating another group they almost always will.