If you did, some church scolds would chastise you for honoring Christopher Columbus’ conquest, “genocide,” etc. Actually, this year, the scolds have mostly been silent, perhaps enjoying a day of rest or shopping.
Evangelical Left activist Shane Claiborne issued this relatively mild admonishment:
While we are thankful for this land we call America, it is important not to romanticize the dark parts of our national history. In his book Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen points out that Columbus and the Spaniard conquerers approached the native Americans and would read aloud what came to be called “The Requirement” that went like this:
“I implore you to recognize the Church as a lady and in the name of the Pope take the King as lord of this land and obey his mandates. If you do no do it, I tell you that with the help of God I will enter powerfully against you all. I will make war everywhere and every way that I can. I will subject you to the yoke and obedience to the Church and to his majesty. I will take your women and children and make then slaves . . . The deaths and injuries that you will recieve form here on will be your own fault and not that of his majesty nor of the gentlemen that accompany me.”
Part of what we must do is re-learn our history – so that we do not read the Bible with imperial eyes but learn to read the empire with biblical eyes.
“Our history is different from the history told by nations and empires—our heroes are not the pioneers of colonialism and capitalism like Columbus and Rockefeller, but the pioneers of compassion like Mother Teresa and Oscar Romero. And our holy-days are different from the holidays of pop-culture and the dominatrix of power.” – from Common Prayer
Interesting prayer. Columbus and Rockefeller had their downsides, but their exertions also benefitted millions of people, most of them poor. They were both grievous sinners and heroes.
Prior to the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery in 1992, the National Council of Churches denounced any celebration of the “invasion and colonization with legalized occupation, genocide, economic exploitation, and a deep level of institutional racism and moral decadence.” The prelates urged “repentance” without specifying who must repent.
A response from FIRST THINGS, likely penned by Richard Neuhaus, wondered who exactly should repent and how they should do so. Only persons of pure European descent? And should they repent by returning to Europe? “The only possible result of heeding the NCC jeremiad is that those outside the morally exempt victim categories should feel terribly bad about being Americans,” it said. “Making people feel bad about themselves is, apparently, the purpose and pleasure in issuing ‘prophetic’ pronouncements.”
As the NCC condemned Western missionaries for “destroying native religious beliefs [by] forcing conversion to European forms of Christianity,” FIRST THINGS asked if the early church fathers also deserved condemnation for “destroying” pagan Europe’s “native religious beliefs.” And it concluded:
Contrary to the NCC, and contrary to super-patriotic boosters as well, the observance of 1992 is not morally unambiguous. Nonetheless, it should be a time of celebration. Such celebration is not an exercise of arrogance but of gratitude. Despite the sin that mars every human endeavor, the history of the West in the New World has been, on balance, one of achievement and blessing for humankind. With specific reference to the ideas and ideals of the American experiment, that history continues to represent, in the words of a president who was not unacquainted with moral ambiguity, “the last, best hope of earth.”
This week reputedly over 100,000 Vietnamese in the Communist capital of Hanoi stood in line to honor General Giap, the just deceased conqueror of South Vietnam. His brutal conquest killed millions and enslaved tens of millions. History is full of nasty conquests, including the centuries of unending conquests by various native tribes against each other before Europeans ever saw America.
Columbus’ “conquest” ultimately allowed tens of millions of all races around the world to escape poverty and oppression by coming to America. The new nations of the Americas also today include nearly half the world’s Christians. History is scarred by human depravity. It also is redeemed by the Hand of Providence.