Today I’m in Boston where evidently Indigenous People’s Day is an official holiday instead of Columbus Day. Every year at this time there are bewailings about honoring Columbus. This piece manages to compress nearly every single contemporary grievance about America, especially its conservative Christians, into a cannonball aimed at Christopher Columbus. Here’s one typical sentence:
Disturbingly, this belief in America as a divinely ordained white Christian nation — which has blessed so much brutality in our history — remains linked to denials of our past and support for political violence and anti-democratic sentiment in the present.
The author also cites the “Doctrine of Discovery,” a mythical conspiracy tracing every European crime of the last 500 years ultimately to the papacy. Apparently, even Protestants were compliantly part of the web.
This narrative insists America and Western Civilization are the focus of evil in history. Christianity is also to blame. Some advocates for “Doctrine of Discovery” date their historical conspiracy all the way back to Emperor Constantine legalizing Christianity in the Roman Empire. We must repent for 1700 years! As one repentant churchman noted, that’s a lot of sorrys.
Judaism and Christianity teach that humanity is fallen and needs divine redemption. In contrast, these historical conspiracies imagine the world is largely okay but corrupted by particular religious and political forces deemed sinister at the moment. In this way 21st century American evangelicals can be faulted along with 15th century popes and maybe an ancient Roman emperor.
European civilization is bad but “indigenous people” are good, the modern myth makers insist, agreeing with 18th century Enlightenment philosophers who also believed “primitive” natives were more noble because untouched by “civilization.”
But “indigenous” is a dubious category. No people is truly native. All peoples have been migrating and intermingling for thousands of years. The original peoples of the Western Hemisphere reputedly came from Asia. They were divided among thousands of tribes that evolved across millennia.
Like all other peoples these “indigenous people” waged war and conquest among each other for thousands of years before Columbus’s arrival. Like everyone else they committed genocide, practiced slavery, were imperialists and thought themselves superior to other peoples. According to Christian teaching, they were by nature as depraved as everybody else in Europe, Asia and Africa.
Romanticizing “indigenous peoples” resembles what is ascribed to “Christian nationalism” today. It mythologizes the folk ways of one category of people distinct from others. But fallen human nature is universal. Particular cultures may have special attributes. But all are equally susceptible to every form of human vice, debauchery, greed and cupidity.
The biblical narrative rejects that some people are intrinsically superior to others or dropped down out of heaven with special advantages. All peoples are of one flesh and equally carry God’s image. And all peoples by their sinful natures are prone to deny this dignity to others what they expect for themselves.
“Indigenous people” like other peoples didn’t much respect or worry about the people they conquered, enslaved or exterminated. They didn’t have special holidays to honor or to apologize to their victims. Most peoples in their natural states in every culture valorized conquest, strength and subjugation. The defeated, the enslaved and the victimized were weak and deserved their own karma, according to the cosmos as they understood it. Everyone so assumed for thousands of years.
The cult of the victim was the invention of Christianity, which of course literally worships a victim who willingly died on a cross to atone for the sins of the world. This concept was and is revolutionary and transformative. God uses weakness to humble the strong, and the last shall be made first, completely counter to what the world naturally assumes.
Those Europeans who came to the Western Hemisphere starting with Columbus were in no way naturally superior to the people already here whom they displaced and conquered. But they did carry with them a faith, too often unheeded or distorted, that the people they conquered were their equals before God. Sometimes some of them in their better moments reflected on this premise and tried for a time to act accordingly.
Eventually laws and customs began to recognize more fully the human equality and dignity the Gospel teaches. But no society does now or ever lived up fully to its demands. Yet its witness continues to challenge and transform.
Today’s politically correct preoccupation with “indigenous people” as victims is a largely unacknowledged legacy of Gospel concern for the defeated and the exploited. This impulse is socially constructive within a wider appreciation of universal human nature. Everybody is a potential victimizer.
But the biblical understanding of all persons bearing God’s image must be credited with today’s demand for equality and justice for all. Humanity is not naturally prone to decency and fairness for all peoples. The Gospel by divine power has universalized the expectation of protection for the weak and restraints upon the strong.
Columbus Day, which some now call Indigenous Peoples Day, could be a reminder not of human glory or pretended innocence, but rather of Divine Providence’s redemptive acts in history and throughout the world today.
Comment by CBByrd on October 11, 2021 at 3:37 pm
Progressive humanists/educators once held that children were “Tabula Rosa”, NOT bigoted, but loving and accepting of one another and that oppressive/prejudiced behavior is learned.
‘Now, with new and improved theology and historical-critical theory focused on elevating whatever “victim” group currently serves the , the left’s agenda, this is eventually going to circle back around to the Christian view of the brokenness of humanity at the level of systems and institutions, even all creation, from genetics to world views….
It’s not just people with white European ancestry who are marred by such human corruption…. brokenness is the universal human condition. Christians attribute it to Original Sin. Keep it up with the historical-critical methodology and pretty soon they’ll come all the way around to affirming the Christian worldview in toto!
Comment by David on October 11, 2021 at 7:00 pm
Humans are tribal much like our ape relatives. Fear of the outsider might have evolved from the possible diseases they might introduce. People who move about were always held in suspicion such as the Romani or Jews. You will notice that it is always the people in the next state over that are the worst drivers. The big sports events in high school are between neighboring towns.
Comment by Timothy on October 12, 2021 at 4:50 am
As a small business owner with 25 employees, I dread some of these so called ‘holidays’. Very costly. Didn’t Congress approve Columbus Day to appease and curry favor with the politically powerful (and Catholic) Italian voters? As far as Columbus discovering America, many question this assertion. Don’t the victors usually write history?
Comment by Dan W on October 12, 2021 at 7:29 am
I’ve never had Columbus Day as a paid holiday. If business owners choose to close that day don’t blame Columbus!
I had Veterans Day off one year and I went to the barber shop, which happened to be open. The barber asked me “Don’t you usually come in on Saturday?” I told him I was off for Veterans Day. “Are you a veteran?” he asked. “No” I replied. “I’m a veteran” he said, “Isn’t it a crazy world where veterans have to work on Veterans Day, and everybody else has the day off?!”
I thanked him for his service, and tipped very generously that day!
BTW Thursday, November 11, is Veterans Day this year.
Comment by Douglas Ehrhardt on October 12, 2021 at 9:30 am
Only government employees get Columbus day off with pay. Ridiculous.
Comment by Sigma on October 12, 2021 at 9:51 am
Typically I agree with you, but I think the marked was missed on this post. One does not have to look back far in American history (Trail of Tears, “Manifest Destiny”) to see that the church was often the wingman of the state and went along with actions that were cruel and indigified.
Where there Christians who were opposed to this? Certainly. However, their voices were ignored, ridiculed, threatened or had attempts on their life for speaking the truth about the situation. The church should have been the agent of God’s mercy, healing and reconcilation. However, it has been judged to be nothing more than a plague, a relic holding on to the last remnants of medieval British colonialism. When “salvation” did not come, it did not come from Protestant Christianity, it came from the secular humanist camp. The lack of awareness on our huge “image problem” is absolutely astonishing and the lack of remorse (and repentance) for what what has been done by our spiritual ancestors (that we inherent) truly is mind-boggling.
The state no longer needs the church in order to fulfil its objectives of territorial expansion. The age of colonization ended with WWII. The American church instead of realizing there has been a massive shift in geopolitics, has dug in it’s heals and acted more like a jilted lover (both liberal and conservative) trying desperately to win back the affection of the populace or cursing and throwing stones at them from walking away. It is a very unattractive picture and I say this as a Christian.
As Russell Moore has said in one of his last letters “The Bride of Christ needs maritial counseling.” We need to get our own act together. Without the blessing of the state are we really that weak of an entity? Have we lost the power of transformation or was it all an illusion to begin with? Was conversion by might and the sword all we truly had and once that was taken away we are nothing? Was the “Bible alone” and preaching by itself really good enough or did we just use it as a religious prop? Where really does our power come from?
This are hard questions, some will get offended and say that I am a hertic. For the record, I have no beef against the Bible. There are people in the past who have said “I like your Christ, but I do like His followers” after reading the Bible. We are, ironically, being judged by the text we hold dear and being told that we are worthless.
Until we become God’s peacemakers here on Earth (without the use of military/police force), we will be rejected over and over again. That realization should make us tremble, should make us fall on our knees and beg God for forgiveness. I wonder though if we have the humility to take on such an action.
Comment by David on October 12, 2021 at 11:59 am
How Columbus became an American hero is an interesting story.
Apparently, there was a desire to have a non-Anglo Saxon historical figure. Non-protestant immigrants liked the idea of a Catholic founder of America. We actually do not know the appearance of Columbus and that frequently used is based on a painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC that bears an added inscription.
Europeans tended to treat Native Americans as an inconvenient population. There were exceptions with PA, NJ, and NY continuing the practice of purchasing lands from the tribes as started by the Dutch. Other states had far more harsh practices. Of course, it was introduced diseases such as smallpox, measles, and influenza that killed off much of the native population and caused the most misery. European settlers took these to mean that God was “clearing the way” for them.
We recognize the importance of remembering slavery and segregation, and what happened to the natives should not be forgotten as well.
Comment by Diane on October 12, 2021 at 3:15 pm
My Mayflower ancestors and those that followed them to these shores were supremacists. Within twenty years of the Mayflower’s arrival, the European colonists has criminalized the practice of Native spirituality, language and culture, seeking to “Christianize” them.
I am not part of that past, but as a Mayflower descendant, I’ve benefitted as wealth -particularly in terms of racial/ethnic status and land has been passed down. New England farm land, stealthily taken from Native peoples, was part of my family’s ill-begotten inheritance for generations.
Only fifty years ago were Native peoples given religious freedom under the US Constitution (American Indian Religious Freedom Act).
I can’t do much about the past.
Last year, I had a phone conversation with the current Chief of the Wampanoag tribal people….his ancestors were responsible for the survival of mine. We agreed that it’s essential for our history (histories) be known, not to produce guilt or shame, but to motivate us to work together for a better and just tomorrow.
This year and every year from now on, I’ve pledged to offer a financial gift to the Wampanoag people to help with their efforts in reclaiming their culture, language, and land rights. Recognizing the past opens doors of opportunity to build a better future and address past wounds.
Of note, I’ve pledged to learn and educate myself so I can share with others. In an act of racism, the Trump administration in its last year arbitrarily announced an end to reservation land rights on Cape Cod for the Mashpee Wampanoag people.
The Mayflower Descendant society made a public declaration of support for the Wampanoag folks as the tribe went to court to appeal the Trump administration’s brash, White-supremacist act.
Millions of Americans are descended from one or more of the Mayflower Pilgrims (six were my ancestors). We would not be here without the generosity and grace of Chief Massasoit and Tisquantum (Squanto). Before the arrival of the Mayflower, Squanto was captured by European explorers along with other indigenous people. They were bound and human trafficked across the Atlantic for the purpose of enslavement. Squanto managed to escape from Europe and on his return, found his tribal people had been wiped out by disease. He served as interpreter between Massasoit and the Mayflower folk – he’d learned English during the period of his captivity.
I celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day and give thanks for their contributions. I sorrow with them in re to the past and join in hope for the future.
Comment by David on October 12, 2021 at 5:08 pm
Many do not realize that Federal Indian Reservations are not owned by the tribes, but rather are held in trust for them. Reservations granted by state governments can grant ownership.
Comment by Barbara on October 15, 2021 at 10:46 pm
It’s my understanding that Indigenous Day hasn’t replaced Columbus Day, but is a proclamation which means it can be celebrated if the town, state or whomever wants to celebrate it can, but Columbus Day is still a day off and can be celebrated as well. The Protestant colonists and the Americans in the 1800s loved Columbus and appreciated him discovering the New World and giving them a place to go to get away from religious persecution, and he was accredited in the history books of that time for what he did. There was a very dark side to the Native American Indians which is not mentioned in revisionist history of today, but people like William Bradford mentioned it in his book, and so did all the other people who had first hand knowledge and experience with the Indians. The Indians were subsistence hunters and marginal agriculturalists, and had a war culture. They were killing themselves off before white man arrived, and from one end of the continent to the other they went on the warpath over anything and nothing. Theirs was a very base way of living with real food insecurity staring them in the face every day. Many went on killing sprees for food or just because it was a way of life. The fight for the continent was between the English (and then the Americans), French and Spanish, and the Russians who were making their way down the Pacific Coast committing atrocities against the Indians along the way. Everyone, including the Indians ought to be thankful that the Americans ended up the winners, as they did everything they could to keep the Indians from the fate the Indians had in mind for others. Some of the real history books on the subject can be read in pdf form on the net for free, and they are very interesting.
Comment by George on October 15, 2021 at 10:48 pm
Everyone needs to go out to an Indian reservation and see how they live. Government housing is provided . Beer cans and liquor bottles litter the grounds. Trash blowing in the wind. Not one tree or shrub planted anywhere. The lucky ones leave and get an education and find real work and become Americans like the rest of us. The reservations are the worst thing we did to them. Don’t tell me I’m wrong because I’ve been there. Mississippi.
South Dakota. They are a horrible legacy we have made. The Indian wars are over. It’s history. Let’s move on.
Comment by Search4Truth on October 16, 2021 at 2:38 pm
Interesting how quickly the comments drifted way away from Mark’s well developed article. And, while at times the church has been responsible for some atrocities, if you carefully examine history will find the church (Christian beliefs and thoughts in action) more responsible for the improvement of the human condition (treatment of women, the poor, the sick, the orphan, the widow, etc.) than any other event in history. Isn’t that why most of us still look at the calendar as chronicling the time before Christ (BC) and the time in the year of our Lord (AD)?
Comment by Hank Beckel on October 18, 2021 at 12:56 pm
How many who are so concerned about what happened to indigenous people of the Americas are willing to give your property to an indigenous person and then move to Europe? If you are not willing to do this then you are not truly remorseful! Staying home on a paid holiday is not helping an indigenous person. Put up or shut up!
Comment by Search4Truth on October 23, 2021 at 7:34 pm
Are you just reading the comments and not the preceding article? There is no such thing as indigenous people. In fact, all peoples began in the fertile crescent and spread outwards over generations. And as Mark’s article pointed out we still haven’t learned the humility to iive together.