The Ill-Fated Mission To spread the good word

ObookiahT.H. Breen at The American Scholar:

Cornwall, a small community in northwestern Connecticut, would seem to have been an unlikely place to launch a campaign to save the world. But as John Demos recounts in this wonderfully crafted, deeply disturbing narrative, that is precisely what happened during the early decades of the 19th century. A group of highly educated Protestant ministers, energized by the evangelical fervor of the Second Great Awakening, devised a bold plan to bring true religion to millions of people who had not yet heard the word of Christ. Such ambition had a long and depressing history. The first Europeans who landed in the New World strove to convert the Native Americans, and even though these efforts seldom fulfilled the missionary dream, generation after generation insisted on trying to rescue the heathens from ignorance and evil.

Converting native peoples always turned out to be harder than the evangelicals anticipated. Before the heathens could become proper Christians, they had to learn the ways of civilized society, which in practice meant adopting European customs. The ministers reasoned that if they could just persuade the heathens to speak English, dress in English clothes, and live in English-style houses, they would be more receptive to Christianity.

more here.