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Christianity seems to have failed us badly


PORT MORESBY – At independence the constitution of Papua New Guinea did not separate church and state.

In fact, the constitution declared Christian values as a decent custom to be adopted, upheld and passed on to the next generation.

Besides, the constitution did not forbid any other religions of the world to be practiced in PNG, including Melanesia’s Animism.

Animism – the belief that all elements of the material world possess a spiritual connection to each other.

Throughout our peoples long, long historical journey, Melanesian Animism kept the many different nations in the islands of New Guinea – big and small - functioning and industrious.

Unfortunately, the early missionaries ignorantly condemned Melanesian culture in its many variations without appropriate understanding, and the kiaps continued in the same way.

The intruders used coercion – whether through sweet talk, guns or bibles - to undermine and destroy a cohesive socio-economic, spiritual and politically astute society.

Missionaries made the indigenous people feel bad about their language, names, dress and knowledge, including knowledge of the spiritual world.

The native people were taught the foreign understanding of spirituality and made to say prayers such as ‘In Nomine Patris, et filii, et Spiritus Sancti, Amen’.

The Pope came to PNG in 1984 and reinforced this.

The wave of cultural imperialism that swept through Melanesia forced the natives to abandon their world view and forgo a vault of knowledge about the physical and spiritual world.

The now independent state of PNG would have built Heaven here if Christianity had brought in noble customs. But it did not.

Self-proclaimed baptised Christians now manage the state institutions and they are notorious for their corruption and they intimidate the justice system with impunity.

Christianity manipulates the masses with promises of the good life and in return the masses feed the pastors and priests from their scarce and hard-earned cash.

“The Lord will bless you threefold and heaven is yours,” are the words offered to the hard working masses who give others a more luxurious life.

And, just like the missionaries, the politicians and bureaucrats have also easily fooled the God-fearing masses.

The national elections in 1997 were dominated by the issue of Sir Julius Chan’s engagement of Sandline mercenaries earlier the same year in an attempt to turn the Bougainville crisis PNG’s way.

The employment of mercenaries led to mutiny by some army officers, street protests and public disgust with politicians and their perceived corruption.

At the height of this scandal, Operation Brukim Skru (genuflection) gained momentum. This was a pan-denominational prayer campaign for repentance and for the election of a God-fearing government.

In the highly charged atmosphere leading to the elections, many candidates chose to use Christian language and slogans: ‘I am God’s Servant’; ‘I am a Born Again’; ‘God is Number One’.

Some inserted a picture of Jesus beside their own photograph on election posters.

So what happened? Bill Skate was elected prime minister. He was a man who claimed he was Christ-like - sleeping and eating with the poor and the sick; being persecuted by the political opposition.

Then in 1999, Skate declared God as the prime minister of PNG and the ‘healing’ pastor, Benny Hinn, was brought in by the government.

People on crutches and in wheel chairs came to the crusade at Sir John Guise stadium and Pastor Hinn shouted insistently, “I command you in the name of God to stand up and walk”.

The disabled struggled to rise but to no avail and that night they returned home disappointed.

Skate must have accomplished whatever political aspiration he had for flying in Pastor Hinn (and paid him K1 million) but the masses gained nothing.

Did God make a mistake in giving the people prime minister Bill Skate after Operation Brukim Skru that almost ran PNG over an economic cliff-edge in 1999?

After all, in April that year, the Catholic Church warned of an uprising in PNG unless Skate quit the government. The church accused him of presiding over political corruption and economic mismanagement.

Another disordered politician in Theodore Zurenuoc burnt the cultural poles and totem symbols from different parts of PNG that adorned the parliament building in 2013 thinking that he was doing a service to the people.

Two years later Zurenuoc wasted taxpayers’ money to send five politicians to the United States to bring to PNG a 400 year old King James bible.

The crazy politician treated the bible as a rock-star with superstitious pastors and parliamentarians carrying it, singing and dancing around it and then parking it in parliament.

Now, six years later, prime minister James Marape seems to be a loyal disciple of Zurenuoc, perhaps the last one still standing.

During this acute time when Covid-19 is a threat to the people’s lives and livelihoods, Marape is asking Papua New Guineans whether they want PNG to be officially declared "a Christian nation". Public consultations began last week to gauge support for a change to our constitution.

The inquiry is forecast to consume a K5 million and the masses are wondering what the nation will gain for expending these millions.

Most other countries are not so obsessed about their religion. Their citizens do not openly talk about their religion or hang murals of Jesus in their office.

But they are more Christ-like in their daily endeavours.

Their leaders are transparent and accountable for their actions and if they misuse $100 they tender their resignation.

Before the arrival of Christianity, the natives did not understand the Gregorian calendar and could not tell if the day was Sunday or Monday, or what the year was, but they picked up their digging sticks each dawn and went to the garden.

Each day they worked and sweated hard and their gardens bloomed with organic food. They had domesticated animals and built huge traditional houses and from time to time hosted big feasts.

Whatever God they adored through Animism, that God served them well for their honesty and hard work.

God, Allah or whatever name you give the ultimate being, does not care if you wear a tie, call his name every day, preach in public places or get circumcised.

God just wants individuals to be hard working and contribute to the advancement of humanity.

Jewish folklore said God created Adam and Eve and gave them the powers to procreate and their love resulted in the birth of Cain and Abel.

Likewise, God wants us to get married and procreate and raise children to become productive members of our society.

God also wants us to tend the different varieties of food. We simply have to dig up a banana sucker and carry it to a plot and plant it and when it bears fruit we are extending the creation.

God wants us to do simple things in life to extend his work. He does not want hooligan pastors and politicians running around wining and dining from other people’s hard work and then telling them how holy they are.

That said, I am fed up with prime minister Marape constantly referring to God when addressing the nation.

In the secular world, a prime minister whose country and government is elected by the people to govern them is expected to research, debate and develop agendas to benefit the people rather than shoving problems to God in the hope of Divine intervention.

The government has research institutions at its fingertips and the has universities to seek clarity on how best to address socio-economic and political ills.

Nominal Christians can sharpen their relationship with God in their own private time in the confines of the family unit or the chapel.

The missionaries came in the 1800s and brought their worship and prayers but life began to slide in the direction of Hades and now missionaries, government, scholars and village sages unanimously lament the demise of the good life.

Perhaps it’s about time PNG shelved Christianity and examined the religions of some of the well managed countries and economies of the world. Their religions must have served as a pillar to their good life.

Otherwise reneging on Christianity and returning to Animism may be a better option, because our ancestors were better-off before the arrival of this Western religion.


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Kurumbi Wone

Brother Kela - West Papua, PNG, New Guinea Islands, Melanesia and the whole world still has hope as long as we have human beings like you.

Thank you for this masterpiece. We should take this type of critical analysis into a public domain (like in schools) so that our young ones discuss and debate these issues.

Thank you, Kela.

Hazel Kutkue

Wording everything I've tried to rationalise in my mind all these years.

Philip Kai Morre

What is wrong with Christianity I really do not know but it is how we individual people perceived it.

We seem to project our own problems onto religion, God and the devil. Others would say the devil is at work and God is dead.

Christianity is a moral religion basing upon teaching of Jesus Christ. It is often call Judean Christianity because it originated from the Jewish tradition.

Some churches viewed some of our Melanesian customs as evil and wanted us to abolish them. Other churches embraced our culture and help us to modify our traditional religious beliefs.

Catholics - of which I am a member - do not condemn traditional beliefs but saw that certain practices needed to be corrected, not abolished.

In the early missionary work in Simbu, Fr John Nilles, who was also an anthropologist, wrote to Rome to get special permission to allow polygamous marriages, entered into before the arrival of missionaries in the highlands in 1933, to receive sacraments.

I know a few Catholic priests in Simbu who are also anthropologists including Fr Ennio Montevani and Fr Jim Knight who wrote extensively on religious anthropology and enculturation.

They learned the local language and can speak it fluently. In their books they have never gone against our traditional belief system. Other Catholic dioceses are also the same but I wouldn't know about other churches.

In Fr Ennio's recent book, '60 Years of Missionary and Priestly Life', he mentioned that his encounter with the people of Yombai (the late author Francis Nii"s place) deepened his faith in Christianity.

"My task as a missionary was not to bring the light where there was darkness but to discover the light that was already shining," he writes.

"The people of Yobai were not sinners who I had to save from damnation but people already have dialogue with the heavenly father."

He also wrote that "God revealing himself, and the human response, took place in cultural terms."

Those living in Australia can contact Fr Ennio Montevani at Melbourne Catholic University if you are interest in culture and religion.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I wonder how many of those early missionaries actually thought about what they were doing when they proselytised among the peoples of Papua New Guinea Garry. Did they realise that they were the thin edge of the wedge that would eventually destroy those people's cultures.

I know the Catholic missionaries were largely happy to accommodate traditional beliefs alongside what they were preaching and didn't engage in silly things like making people wear clothes but some of the more rabid outfits had a distinct destroy and replace strategy reminiscent of CIA tactics.

Michael Topio Dotaona

A very relevant and timely article that exposes the writer's (and those that support this narrative) attempt to bridge a relationship with God without acknowledging the purpose of the church nor the need to contend for the Truth, the Way and the Life of which is His Son, Jesus Christ.

Too often we tend to shun, as the writer suggests, those "nominal Christians can sharpen their relationship with God in their own private time in the confines of the family unit or the chapel".

Then we wonder why the family unit is being threatened and what has caused the walls of our society to be breached.

Instead of choosing between toeas and cents, the writer can have #TreasureThatLasts.

Angela Kelly-Hanku

Great to see some critical thinking on Christianity, religion and the state in PNG.

I just hope the masses be so thoughtful during this very costly law review.

Arthur Williams

A provoking article by Kela. I have read it through several times today and realise it isn't a complete anti-Christian rant but perhaps a thoughtful plea from him who owes so much of his being a competent writer from his primary Grade 11 secondary education to the Catholic Church.

I note too it is not an atheistic article as he invites us to search worldwide for better managed nations with different religions.

I thought about that and wondered which country fits that cry I would choose

Christianity has 2.4 billion adherents and 16 nations where Christianity is the State religion. The other three main religions of Islam, Hinduism and Buddism have 3.6 billion adherents. There must some idyllic nations who have one of those as their official state religion.

In the Muslim world there are only four nations out of 50 (perhaps only 45) nations that have declared separation between civil/government affairs and religion: Albania, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh and Burkina Faso.

I think the best one to live in could be the small Balkan state. Though the even tinier Maldives with a 99% Muslim population is a beautiful island place to migrate too.

Alas it demands all its citizens be Sunni Muslims and a secret non-believer should beware as most judges have no formal legal training and are given much leeway in their interpretations of Muslim law.

Choice is limited in Hinduism to India and Nepal though I'd opt for neither. The third choice of lovely Indian Ocean state of Mauritius would be best. By now it has possibly reached a 50% majority Hindu population as since 2019 it has a Permanent Residence Scheme for eligible foreign businessmen costing a minimum of US$100000 for his wife and kids under 18.

Buddhism alas has only seven majority nations: Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Laos and Mongolia.

My tiny knowledge and a little research suggests I would not be very happy living in any of those nations; even highlands Bhutan where since 1972 the King declared GHN or Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product.

So Kela for PNG to look around for a role model of nationhood is very hard. It almost looks like your country has to make do with Christianity as its majority religion which will lead to some of the annoyances that means in social, economic, cultural and political life.

Even in today's (6 May) National of PNG there are two very pro-Christian articles:

1 - Rural Airstrip Agency dedicates operations, services to God

2 - PNG is a Christian nation: Rev Joseph Walters

I would point you to another Chimbu person's biography, carried in The National on 30 April, in its People section: 'Mugua Believes He Is Over 100'

"Around the time he was born, there was no system or official to officially register births at his Yagle village in the Kerowagi district of Chimbu.

"Today Mugua still walks around the village albeit with the aid of a walking stick. But he has no problems with his eyes, ears or teeth. He can still identify people 20 meters away.

"He puts it all down to self-discipline, good character and adhering to Christian teachings.

“When I heard about the Ten Commandments, it sounded familiar, just like what my father and other old people used to tell us inside the men’s haus.

"They told us not to steal, swear, commit adultery, lie, or kill someone. So I have been trying to uphold God’s laws up to today.”

"Worth a full read about ordinary PNG people but anyway surely that's a worthwhile a recommendation for Christianity."

Perhaps Mgua and others are following a hybrid Christian Animism described elsewhere “as a biocentric approach that understands God being present in all earthly objects, such as animals, trees, and rocks".

Scholars of Christian Animism include Mark I Wallace an American professor of religion at Swarthmore College. He believes there’s an animistic understanding of the world deep within Christianity — and that it’s vital we recover it now.

An anthropocentric Christianity has helped create the conditions for our planetary ecological crisis. Only once we recognise the spirit of God in wood thrushes and great blue herons, says Wallace, will we be able to respond appropriately. (Source

Years ago ECP/APCM missionary Tom Hoey of Mougulu introduced me to the word 'syncretism' so perhaps I am straying that way but theology is so full of much wandering from the straight and narrow and thus full of many interesting byways, yet all with the same destination.

Six billion humans surely cannot all be wrong, can they, Phil, our resident atheist.?

Friends and writers during this Covid era live every day as if its your last and dream as if you will live forever.

PS: I had Methodist parents, became a Baptist, was a Catholic volunteer, a lay-preacher for the United Church and married a Seventh Day Adventist.

Peter Kranz

To play devil's advocate for a moment. What have the missionaries ever done for us? Well apart from....

Medicine and health clinics
Aviation services to remote areas
Working to end sorcery violence
Helping the sick
Doctors and nurses
Translation across more than 800 languages
Protecting abused women
Supporting orphans
Introducing human rights
Feeding the hungry in times of need
Emergency relief

Yes, but apart from all that, what have the missionaries ever done for us?

Garrett Roche

Kela Sil Bolkin writes: “Unfortunately, the early missionaries ignorantly condemned Melanesian culture in its many variations without appropriate understanding.”

And he later adds “Missionaries made the indigenous people feel bad about their language, etc….”

While what he has written may be true of some individual missionaries, and even of some groups of missionaries, at the same time the positive contribution to recognition of Melanesian cultures and languages by many individual missionaries and mission organizations cannot be ignored.

For example, the Summer Institute of Linguistics together with the various churches and mission organisations have done great work in acknowledging the value of the hundreds of local languages in PNG. I believe Philip Kai Morre has worked with SIL on the Kuman language.

While the main purpose of the work may be the translating the Bible into local languages, in the process the local languages are written down and promoted. People are encouraged to speak and read in their own tongue.

In the Mt Hagen area some of the earliest written cultural studies were the work of Lutheran and Catholic missionaries.

Lutheran missionaries Georg Vicedom, Herbert Tischner, and Herman Strauss produced volumes ‘Die MboWamp’ and ‘Die Mi-Kultur’ on the history and culture of the Hagen people.

Originally written in German some of these writings have been also translated into English by Andrew Strathern and others.

On the Catholic side, Ernest Brandewie studied and published work after living among the Kumdi Enga-Mai clan at Kwinka near Baiyer River. These were positive and valuable accounts of local history and culture.

For fifty years or so the Goroka based Melanesian Institute, an organisation - founded by Anglican, United, Lutheran, Catholic and other churches in PNG - has provided orientation courses and information for new incoming missionaries aimed at getting them to respect and understand local cultures.

The library of the Melanesian Institute in Goroka would have a great collection of material on the many cultures of PNG.

So, yes, there were, and maybe still are, times and places where missionaries may have been too dismissive of the local language and culture, but there has also been a great effort made by many missionaries and mission organisations to understand and respect local cultures and languages.


Well said. Speaking as an atheist and one of the younger generation that may one day inherit this beautiful island of ours, I worry about the government getting increasingly religious.

This issue came to my attention a while ago when the prime minister declared his intention to make PNG the "richest black Christian nation on earth", a statement I disagree with since it goes against our nation's motto of unity in diversity.

Name withheld by request - KJ

It seems to me that when it comes religion we're not that diverse and we do need to represent PNG's religious minorities and non-theist people such as myself.

It is disheartening knowing that the government has a history of misappropriating resources for religious purposes and I was unaware of the wasteful exploits of prime minister Bill Skate and Operation Brukim Skru.

It seems our current prime minister is continuing this trend by wasting resources on an inquiry, resources that could have been better spent on improving our country's health infrastructure.

That said, religion is an important part of modern Papua New guinea but it should not come at an expense of the Papua New Guinean people

Just my two cents worth, or in this case two toea.

Philip Fitzpatrick

A great, heartfelt article, Sil. I hope it gets picked up by other publications in PNG.

We shouldn't be surprised about the destruction of PNG society and beliefs by the missionaries and colonial Administration.

The capitalist colonial ethos operated on a destroy and replace strategy that is even now being used by the big neo-liberal nations including the USA and China.

The USA has used the same strategy in South America where the CIA has engineered insurrections designed to destroy legitimate governments and replace them with ones amenable to US style corporatism.

China is hellbent on homogenising itself and everything it touches to conform to its weird capitalist/communist agenda.

It is interesting that radical secularists are adopting many Animist styles of thought in their fight to get action going on climate change and many other issues.

Mr Marape needs to go into the forest and hug a tree now and again.

James Wau

Very well observed with your critique and suggestions.
Remember that there are always two sides to coins. On the missionary side of life, I could say they brought light into our society. If they did not come to our country, you would not have peace and harmony.

Not all that your ancestors did are perfect and good and a godly life. They are restricted to move to different places and tribal fights everywhere. But when the missionary comes in they bring peace, harmony too. They bring something good and at the same time remove some of our good things too as you mentioned. All these happened in history and colonial times.

At present, you can see the church is reaching all parts of our country where the service of our government cannot reach. Hospitals and education in the remotest places like Jimi, Sepik and other areas. They try to maintain peace and good order.

What you observed and mentioned above were all being experienced throughout the world during the colonisation era. Not only the missionaries but the government too.

Remember changes come with good and bad. You cannot be and live like your ancestors anymore. The church cannot be blamed for all the evil you face today.

Your Animism faith is also experienced throughout the world but there is also a supreme God of your Animism belief.

Thank you and appreciate your work.

Michael Dom


"We buy the lies that Members flog while our children play
Because the pastor says that God will bless us some day."

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