Celebrating Columbus Day has become naughty. Political correctness insists Columbus’ arrival in America ushered in a genocidal calamity. Such p.c. celebrants of “diversity” should consider that the Columbus voyage actually generated some of the most multicultural societies in history.
But any honor for Columbus’s epic trek across the Atlantic entails some appreciation for Western Civilization, which is taboo for the Left. The Religious Left is no exception. Jim Wallis’ Sojourners office evidently diligently worked on Columbus Day, unlike most of the nation’s capital, lest anyone think they were honoring the Columbus calamity.
Sojourners published several articles explaining the evils of Columbus Day. The most polemical was by self-professed Cherokee Randy Woodley, author of Living in Color: Embracing God’s Passion for Ethnic Diversity. Contrary to his book’s seeming theme, Woodley’s diatribe against Columbus’ discovery implies that he prefers a Western Hemisphere populated exclusively by the original tribal peoples.
“When Americans continue to celebrate Columbus Day we do damage — not just to Native America but to all Americans,” Woodley angrily insisted. “Jews will never celebrate the rise of the Third Reich. Ugandans will not likely hail the legacy of Idi Amin, Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Regime, et. al.”
So America’s primary European discoverer was no better than Hitler, Pol Pot, and Idi Amin. Happy Columbus Day indeed. At least a Sojourners article actually referenced a communist genocide. But was the ethnic Italian dispatched by the Spanish monarchy to find a path to the Orient that would evade Islamic navies really the moral equivalent of Holocaust plotters?
“As a Christian example he enacted terrible cruelties to friendly natives,” Woodley sarcastically penned. “Assuming unlawful rights of authority; robbing and subjugating whole nations of their freedom and entire capital; allowing his men to rape, murder and pillage at will; and deliberately leading the way for the genocide of millions, considered by many to be the worst demographic catastrophe in recorded history.”
Unlike the Third Reich, or other genocidalists like the Khmer Rouge and the Stalinists of the 1930’s, neither the Spanish monarchy nor its fleet every plotted the murder of millions. Woodley quotes Columbus’s journal, in which he rhapsodized about the native Caribbean peoples he first encountered: “In all the world, there is no better people nor better country. They love their neighbors as themselves, and they have the sweetest talk in the world, and are gentle and are always laughing.”
Enlightenment Europeans often idealized relatively unknown indigenous peoples for supposedly being uncorrupted by civilization. The idealization persists today, when the Left portrays non-Western peoples as only innocent victims, and the West as uniquely sinister. Columbus and most of his Spanish contemporary adventurers idealistically saw their discovery as the opportunity to spread Christian civilization and, more materialistically, to construct trade empires.
The vast majority of native peoples who died after encountering Europeans did so because they lacked immunity to European diseases. The conquests of the Spanish conquestidors throughout what became Latin America were often brutal, but no more so than the routine practices of the empires they conquered, which often resorted to human sacrifice.
Woodley’s article for Sojourners boasted that pre-European “great civilizations thrived in America with unparalleled techniques in urban planning, micro-agriculture, macro-environmental management (including ecology, xeriscape, agronomy, botany, forestry, and raised bed, naturally fertilized gardening), sustainable architecture (including passive solar heating), psychology, philosophy, religion, ethics, science, math, medicine (including brain surgery and dentistry), government, language, education, rhetoric, intercontinental economic trade, successful peacemaking, etc.”
This is all somewhat true. But the native “religion” that Woodley cites often involved cutting open the hearts of virgins, among others, upon temple altars devoted to bloodthirsty pagan deities. And while Woodley laments the supposed lack of modern interest in native cultures, is the lack of information also partly due to the absence a written language by American natives? In fact, Woodley’s penchant for diversity celebration is a product of Western Culture, and would have been largely unrecognizable to the homogenous native cultures he venerates.
“The point is not whose “stuff” is the best but rather why can’t we celebrate it all without pulling from despicable despots of the past like Columbus?” Woodley implored for Sojourners. “Euro-Americans landed in America. The accomplishments of the people who were here prior to their arrival should be celebrated and memorialized along with those who came here later.”
But the Religious Left, including Woodley, do not seem very interested in celebrating Western Culture, only its alternatives, and even its enemies, ancient and modern. The European colonizers of the Americas were simultaneously brave, cruel, creative, condescending, noble, and base. They never convened a council to plot, Eichman-style, a holocaust of native peoples.
The civilizations the Europeans conquered were themselves conquerors, wiping out rival tribes, and brutally massacring rival claimants to power. When the English first settled North America, they encountered the Powhatan Confederacy in what became Virginia. Powhatan, father of Pocahontas, had assembled his empire by annihilating or subjugating the rival tribes between the Potomac and what became North Carolina. Was Powhatan not a successful imperialist?
Two attempted genocides were orchestrated in colonial Virginia. In 1622, Powhatan’s younger brother Opechancanough, after a nearly decade of peace, horrifically and nearly successfully attempted to murder every male, female and child Virginia colonist on a Friday morning. The genocide failed, thanks to the warning of a young Christian Indian boy named Chanco, but one quarter of the English were killed. Opechancanough attempted the same genocide in 1644, killing over 400, but still failing to wipe out the English.
History is full of savagery by all cultures. Christianity and Judaism understood all humanity to be fallen but endeavor to uplift and redeem through their teachings. Modern America endeavors to ascribe dignity and legal equality to a diverse population, largely thanks to its Western origins, and in ways that would have mystified pre-European tribalists. But Religious Left groups like Sojourners, preoccupied more by revolutionary and statist goals than by traditional religious doctrine, oddly and unhistorically prefer to stigmatize the West, and especially America, along with its discovers/founders.
The Sojourners staff may continue to work on Columbus Day. But diatribes like Woodley’s against Columbus are not serious.