12 October 2021
Columbus Day, October 12th, an holiday very familiar to all of us who went to school in the United States in the 20th century. Now the day is a focal point of conflicting histories and political correctness. For some it is seen as a day the exults tyranny, slavery and evil conquest of peaceful and beautiful indigenous peoples. While others may see it as a day of honor for a brave explorer and man of faith and vision.
To pretend that Columbus and the European wave of exploration and exploitation he introduced was a heroic and glorious time ignores crucial and cruel realities. The political interests of the European countries were intense and focused primarily on greed and power. Evils of slavery, violent conquest, and at times, forced conversions were a sad part of the legacy that came to the Americas. But it was not all evil. It was a time of exploration and discovery of lands, peoples and places. It was a time of great missionary outreach and while some would see this as evil it was very usually done in great sacrifice of life and love to bring a new faith to a new people. It is that faith effort that was, very often, the only protection or antidote of the greed and violence otherwise being introduced.
Likewise to paint the indigenous peoples as nations of pure peace and harmony without the vile diseases of the white man or the evils of slavery and conquest is also to ignore harsh realities. While there was great sophistication and beauty to the diverse cultures of these peoples there were also very common cruelties of tribal warfare and conquest. The impressive architecture of the ancient peoples who built their homes on plateaus and caves are but one example of peoples who struggled to survive in an harsh and often violent world. It is also important to recognize that slavery was not introduced by the Europeans but was rather common among the peoples of the Americas long before Columbus.
It seems that the Europeans, led by Columbus and the indigenous peoples shared a very common and deep…humanity. They lived lives of great spirituality and courage. They were explorers and discoverers who sought to both use, exploit and share their discoveries. Perhaps the strongest pieces of evidence of this common humanity are the maps of exploration and growth.
Perhaps instead of using this time as a time of finger-pointing and exercises in political correctness, we could instead focus on our shared humanities and voyages. Voyages that have seen and shared great evils and good. Perhaps we could celebrate the courage and faith of each other and seeks ways to both honor and nurture the ongoing journey to better places and being better peoples as designed by our one Creator and God.