Don’t Know Much About History

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Happy Columbus Day. It’s not a big holiday.  There are no Columbus Day parties, unless you’re a school kid.  Any day that school is out is a party.  Some people take advantage of some Columbus Day sales, but that’s about it.

Some people didn’t realize it was Columbus Day until they went out to their mailbox and found it empty. “What’s up?” “Where’s the mail?” “Oh yeah, it’s Columbus Day.”

I grew up in a time when Columbus was seen as a hero.  Do you remember this line from a poem, “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”  How cute.

And then I was taught by Christian leaders who described in glowing terms Columbus’ commitment to Christ and sense of mission to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the people who were “living in darkness and the shadow of death” (A quote from Columbus’ journal).

Columbus’ writings, though, show another side to the guy who got a holiday named after him.  Alongside claims that he is doing his work for God’s glory, he writes in his journal on October 12, 1492, the first day he encountered the native people of the Americas, that “they should be good servants…I, our Lord being pleased, will take hence, at the time of my departure, six natives for your Highness.”  Columbus promises, in a report to the Court in Madrid, “as much gold as they need…and as many slaves as they ask.”  He even gives God credit for his “success”: “Thus an eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way over apparent impossibilities.”  When a large percentage of the Indians died in transit, Columbus wrote, “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”

In the prologue of his journal, Columbus writes, “Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians and Princes who love the  holy Christian faith, and the propagation of it, and who are enemies to the sect of Mahoma (Islam) and to all idolatries and heresies, resolved to send me, Cristobal Colon, to the said parts of India…with a view that they might be converted to our holy faith…Thus, after having turned out all the Jews from all your kingdoms and lordships…your Highnesses gave orders to me that with a sufficient fleet I should go to the said parts of India…”

Columbus was familiar with persecution and murder before arriving in the New World.  The day before Columbus left Spain, all of the Jews in Spain were required to leave.  During the time that Columbus was preparing for his voyage, an estimated 30,000 Spanish Jews were burned at the stake for their failure to convert to Christianity.  That’s some strategy for evangelism.

The list of gruesome acts attributed to Columbus against the island natives go on and on – rape, torture, sex-trade – things that just don’t jive with “spreading the Gospel” or “bearing the light of Christ” (the meaning of the name “Christopher”), and things that just didn’t make it into Little Johnny’s history books.

I realize I’m treading on sacred ground for some.  It is not my intent to disrespect or cast dispersion on someone who has been revered by so many.  It is my intent to face honestly any evidence uncovered by historians.  The title of the post applies to me.  I don’t know much about history or many of the other areas of study mentioned in the song from which that line is taken.  But I don’t want my preconceived ideas to prevent me from facing whatever truth is revealed.  For some  historians’ perspective, check out these links:

http://www.history.com/topics/columbus-controversy

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/aug/07/books.spain

Reading Columbus’ own words from his own journal,  and seeing the evidence uncovered by historians, what do we do with this?

1. Remember the line, “Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

2. Some say Columbus was just a product of his time and culture.  Does that excuse behavior that goes against the character of Jesus?   What am I doing that may characterize me as a “product of my culture” but that contradicts the character of Jesus?

3. How do I see people?  Columbus obviously didn’t see the islanders through the eyes of Jesus.  How about me?  Through whose I eyes do I see people?

4.  In some way, Columbus’ journeys played a part in the founding of the United States – the freest country on earth.  That’s a good thing.   I’m glad to be an American.  I’m also a Christian – living in the kingdom of Christ.   I have to make sure my values and behaviors are determined not by my citizenship in America but by my citizenship in His Kingdom.

Happy Day.

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4 thoughts on “Don’t Know Much About History

  1. I heard a great joke on Columbus Day, one I’ll keep with me and share every year. “Let’s celebrate Columbus Day by walking into someone else’s home and telling them we live there now.”

    Love the last part, where you brought it back to the only thing that matters. What am I doing to see others through the Jesus filter. Great thoughts Phillip.

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