Blame it on the missionary impulse, a lingering personality disorder of Western culture.
Most Native American tribes have three basic stories: a creation myth, a trail of tears out of the homeland and indignities suffered at the hands of Christian missionaries.
Some of the worst damage was done, the tribes will tell you, long after the Indian wars were over, when missionaries moved in. They broke up families, shipping children off to boarding schools where they were shorn of their language, their hair and their culture. They banned tribal customs like the potlatch — where Indians compete to give away gifts — and spirit rituals that had been passed on for centuries.
Edward Curtis, the photographer of American Indians, was so happy to find native people in the far north of Alaska whose lives had not been overturned by outside do-gooders that he wrote, “should any misguided missionary start for this island I trust the sea will do its duty.”
The British Empire, struggling with its “White Man’s Burden,” in the memorable phrase of Rudyard Kipling, at times tried to keep missionaries out of its colonies. Violent rebellions in India, among other places, were spawned by fear of having an outside religion forced on people.
As the African saying put it: “First they had the Bible and we had the land; now we have the Bible and they have the land.” Of course, there are more Anglicans by far in Africa now than in England, so in a sense the missionaries got both the land and the Bible.