Why do missionaries do what they do anyway? In the movie Black Robe, French Priest Father Laforgue sets off on a mission to bring Christianity to the native North Americans in what is now known as
Laforgue, known as Black Robe to his guides, begins preaching the idea of paradise from the get go. If the natives choose to believe in God, they will have the promise of a better life and eternity in paradise. The problem is to believe in God and to believe in his paradise is to both completely change their lives and completely alter their already held beliefs. And the question becomes: Why choose Black Robe’s way over theirs?
To the natives, Black Robe’s ideas are almost illogical. They are to give up the only pleasures they know. They are to give up every concept of greater meaning that has ever been a part of their lives. And in the savage culture in which they live, to adopt Black Robe’s ideas would also mean to show weakness and essentially hand themselves over to their enemies on a platter. As Daniel asks Laforgue, why should the natives believe in our truth instead of theirs? “Is it harder to believe than a paradise where we all sit on clouds and look at God?”
As the journey goes on, unfortunate events lead to struggles and deaths. Laforgue continues to try to guide his native companions to God before they die. But at the same time, Laforgue is called a demon and blamed for their misfortunes. He holds onto his faith in God and all people’s need for him, but he also struggles with the very real culture clash before him. “What can we say to a people who think that dreams are the real world and this one an illusion?” questions Laforgue. “Perhaps they are right.”
So at the end the movie, the question of why still remains. Even if God is real and all people in the world need him, how can he come to be known by people of so many different cultures? How can Laforgue presume to tell people they need Christianity after he has seen the destruction with which they associate it? Why should he continue to preach to them when the only reason they finally ask to be baptized has nothing to do with an understanding of Christianity?
As I see it, the answer comes down to another question asked at the end of the movie by a native to Laforgue. “Do you love us?” asks the native. And as faces of those he has lost along the journey and faces of those still there flash before his eyes, Laforgue says, “Yes.”
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