October 14, 2013

Did You Celebrate Columbus Day?

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.

8 Responses to Did You Celebrate Columbus Day?

  1. Alex says:

    I’m not sure why you put genocide in quotation marks. can you read the accounts Hispaniola under Columbus and conclude that it was anything less? If so, you are a spectacularly hard-hearted man.

    True, Columbus was not responsible for greater extinction of the native population: any Eurasian would have brought the diseases which caused that devastation. But his own interactions with the natives (which horrified his own contemporaries) are a paradigm for later brutalities, not for later triumphs such as democracy, freedom, and the arts and sciences.

    To claim that we somehow ‘owe’ America to Columbus is absurd. We owe the European discovery of the Americas to a fortuitous meeting of technological know-how, Spanish expansionism, and geography (the Atlantic is smaller than the Pacific, which is why the Chinese didn’t reach America first). Columbus was a mercenary who happened to be in the right place at the right time to benefit from this. If it hadn’t been Columbus, it would have been somebody else shortly after. The foundation of the USA owes nothing to Columbus, and if history had favoured him and his patrons more thoroughly, you can bet that there would not be such a nation today.

    I have nothing against celebrating America, but if you want to play the game of historical laus et viruptio, Columbus can only seem a harbringer of the worst aspects of American history.

    • Adrian Croft says:

      Your post is utter nonsense. Genocide refers to something DELIBERATE. Columbus had no intention of exterminating the natives of America, nor did the colonists who followed in his wake. Hitler and his regime were guilty of genocide, the Turks perpetrated genocide against the Armenians. Many other examples could be cited, but Columbus is not one of them. It’s often forgotten that he encountered many Indians who sought refuge with the Spaniards, on the assumption that these new fair-skinned people would have to be more civilized than the other Indians that have been killing and enslaving them. Few PC historians bother to acknowledge that slavery existed on a huge scale among the native Indians, also some barbarities that might fall under the label “genocide.” The European colonists were not all saints by any means, but this Manichean view of things – evil Europeans, innocent and peaceful native Americans – doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny. When Paul wrote “all have sinned,” those words included the people in continents that Paul didn’t even know existed. I feel no shame whatever in having ancestry that was German, Scotch, and Scotch-Irish. We opened up two continents with vast resources, and try to imagine technology and inventions without the contributions of Americans of European descent.

      We took a Caribbean cruise in 1992 – note the year – and we have a photo of the two of us standing in front of a Columbus statue in San Juan, Puerto Rico, with a banner calling attention to the 500th anniversary of his landing. That banner was about all there was, because the “celebrations” of that anniversary were conspicuous by their absence. What a pity that Political Correctness gives people such a warped view of history.

  2. Alex says:

    You’re obviously a sub-intellectual perv who can’t face arguing like a real man and instead likes to build and then molest straw-men. I’ll shoot-down your non-sequiturs and rebuttals to points I didn’t make one by one.

    – Genocide. If I invade your island, enslave your people, brutalize you to the extent that your women decide to stop bearing children and your population is 10% of what it once was, you’d be forgiven if you called my quibbling about ‘DELIBERATE’ intentions mere semantics. On that note, which major dictionary lists deliberate intension as a necessary aspect of genocide? Not the OED, as far as I can see. If I pursue policies that cause 90% of a specific ethnic group population to die in painful, degraded circumstances, that’s genocide – whether or not I actually wanted you dead or just didn’t care if you did die is to my mind beside the point. But I won’t fight with you. Genocide or not, what happened to the inhabitants of Hispaniola was bad, and Columbus had his hands in it.

    And did I say that Columbus or other colonists were responsible for the extinction of most of the Natives? No. In my original post, I wrote: “Columbus was not responsible for greater extinction of the native population: any Eurasian would have brought the diseases which caused that devastation”. I’ll translate that into simple English: “disease did most of it, and this was tragically inevitable”. Columbus didn’t want to exterminate the natives of the America: he wanted a labor force Christian and servile to the Spanish crown. But if he exterminated one group out of many, that was by the by. He did just that when he was the governor of Hispaniola. Here’s a quote from a Roman Catholic monk who was present: “… 7000 children died in three months. Some mothers even drowned their babies from sheer desperation…. In this way, husbands died in the mines, wives died at work, and children died from lack of milk . . . and in a short time this land which was so great, so powerful and fertile, though so unfortunate, was depopulated. If this concatenation of events had occurred all over the world, the human race would have been wiped out in no time… My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write….” (You can find Bartolome de las Casas’s History of the Indies, from which this description is taken, for free online).

    – Noble Savages. Did I ever say that all Europeans in Columbus’ day were evil, or that the Indians practiced universal brotherhood between men? Again, don’t put words in my mouth. Like all people, the native Americans fought, often very violently.

    The fact that the Soviet Union engineered famines in the Ukraine and murdered hundreds of thousands of its own citizens doesn’t justify Hitler invading Russia and killing a few million Russians. Analogously, the fact that some native Americans fought other native Americans (and not as brutally as the Muslim/Christians fought one another, at least in the Mexican peninsula) doesn’t justify the Spanish enslaving them.

    – PC historians: Can you find me a single ‘PC historian’ who denies the existence of slavery in the Americas prior to Columbus? Just one? They don’t even need to be at a reputable institution. Didn’t think so. But you probably were just mouthing off and hadn’t actually read any scholarship on the subject, PC or otherwise, had you?

    – Guilt. Did I ever say that I felt ashamed of my heritage, or that anyone should be? The idea of feeling personally guilty for the crimes of ones ancestors is, to my mind, as ludicrous as feeling a sense of personal accomplishment in what they did. If you didn’t do it, it’s not yours to auto-flagellate/boast over. You personally didn’t do anything. (I’m of English, German, and Russian descent, and I accept no praise or blame for any of the substantial gifts to/crimes against humanity that those three nations are responsible for). In conclusion, don’t put words in my mouth, you twit.

    You strike me as the type who loves to wallow in the ficticious ‘we’ that posterity projects onto the past. You personally didn’t open up any continents or design any new technology, but if feeling proud of those things makes you feel better about yourself, go ahead. But by extension you need to start feeling some shame for what your German ‘we’ did to the Jews and my Russian forefathers (although I personally won’t blame you for it).

    – Conclusion. Again, I’m not sure why you identify Columbus with the founding of the US (I’m assuming you’re a Yank). Like I said, if history had favored Columbus and the interests he served, we’d probably be speaking Spanish in a greatly enlarged Mexico. If you think that Columbus was responsible for the discovery of America, and that it would have not occurred or been substantially delayed without him, you’re also wrong. So, in conclusion, Columbus was a contingent, unsavory character in American history. What he did was not unique to Europeans, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was a greedy merchant who traded in lives for gold. Couldn’t you celebrate something more worthy, like Lincoln’s birthday, rather than honoring a man who even his contemporaries thought was a wad?

    • Greg Paley says:

      IRS staff, why are you not deleting this post? Look at the vicious language this person uses. There’s no excuse for this churlish behavior. The man sounds demented. If he can’t make his points without verbal abuse, I would ban him from the site.

      • Alex says:

        Thanks Greg, so let me get this straight: I first post a very mild-mannered, inoffensive response to an article. Mr Croft proceeds to call my comment “utter nonsense” and goes on to accuse me being “PC” and of saying various things which I did not actually say. I respond with a long, thoughtful and grumpy response.

        That makes me demented?

        I may have gotten a bit carried away and called Mr Croft a “twit” – for that I am sorry. But in all honesty Greg, why don’t you either quit whining, or failing that grow a pair and respond to the substance of my argument.

        For the record, I stand by my original position that Columbus was a “wad”. Let me add that he was also a “As*hole,” a “jerk”, a “scum-bag”, and many other bad things.

        • Adrian Croft says:

          You called me a “sub-intellectual perv.” I take no offense. Abuse slung from people like you is like a compliment from a human. I did chuckle at someone demented enough to use “perv” to describe someone of differing views. Funny also to call someone else “sub-intellectual” when you operate on the high intellectual plan of calling Columbus a “jerk” and “scumbag,” plus the other gutter term I won’t quote. I’m glad they didn’t delete your PC rant, I think the clearer headed readers will know what they’re getting into after the first eloquent, scintillating line: “You’re obviously a sub-intellectual perv.” That tags you as one from the upper echelons of the Ivy League. Too bad you didn’t add “Your mother wears army boots!”

          • Alex says:

            distress’ card and hollering for the moderators like you did, Greg. I’m not actually an Ivy Leaguer (☹), but it helps to know that I’ve got somebody fooled.

            Firstly, I didn’t call you a perv for holding different views. It was part of an extended metaphor likening your gratuitous, strawman-reliant abuse of my innocent comment to sexual assault. I thought it was pretty funny, but in retrospect I can see how it might be seen as merely frat-boyish. Sorry. Can I also remind you that you’re the one who barged into this exchange with guns blazing and accused me of PCism, “utter nonsense” and of making a range of claims that I had in fact not made (ie. that we should feel guilty of our past, that native americans were pacifists, etc)?

            On a wide count, ad hominems makes up only 70 out of the 892 words in my response, so for argument’s sake, lets forget that I called you a “sub-intellectual perv”, a “twit”, casted aspersions on your scholarly integrity, and belittled you for not personally opening up the Atlantic: what would have been your response to the other 800 words?

            As for so called ‘gutter terms’, I use English in all its riotous profusion. If you want to adhere to some narrow, academician’s prudishness, go ahead, but I rest soundly knowing that I have Thomas Moore, Milton, and Donne as models for hurling “sh*tty” language at those who deserve it.

            Again, don’t take it from me, go and read what Columbus’ own contemporaries though of him. Bartoleme de las Casas’ ‘History of the Indies’ is a classic written by someone who was there at the time. Anthony Pagden’s ‘The Fall of Natural Man’ is an excellent summary of the theological debates which the Spanish colonization inspired in ecclesiastical circles.

            Columbus quote: ‘Let us, in the name of the Holy Trinity, go on sending all the slaves that can be sold’. Why you like this guy is beyond me.

  3. Alex says:

    P.S. I can’t understand how your mother’s wearing army boots would be offensive. If that is indeed the case, she should be commended for attempting to repair the gender-imbalance in a traditionally very male-oriented environment, as well as for balancing family-life with a demanding career.

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