On Tuesday May 29, 1453, the Ancient World of Mediterranean civilization ended with the Fall of the Roman Empire to the Ottoman Turks as its Capital, Constantinople was captured by Sultan Mehmet II.
On Wednesday October 12, 1492, some 9,500 miles to the south-west, a New World began as Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Guanahani, now in the Bahamas.
This new moment was fraught with promise. Great progress had been made in the past when cultures met and cooperated. Examples such as the rich fusion of Hellenism and Buddhism in what is now Afghanistan and India, and when the cultures of Egypt and Hellenistic Greece formed the Coptic culture show what could be accomplished. Even within Christianity, the harmony of Druid Christianity among the Celts, and Eastern Orthodox Christianity and the indigenous peoples of Alaska demonstrate that sharing, not conquest, is possible.
The Encounter in the New World
This harmony was not to be, however, in the New World. Unfortunately Europe had sent an ambitious, greedy, ruthless and completely unprincipled man as their explorer in the person of Christopher Columbus. All one needs to do to discovery his depth of depravity and that of the colonizers in general is to read his own journals, and the description by the horrified Priest and later Bishop Bartolomé de las Casas, O.P. (c. 1484 – 18 July 1566) of how the Spanish later treated the indigenous peoples.
Las Casas wrote: “killing, terrorizing, afflicting, and torturing the native peoples” with “the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty” and how systematic violence was aimed at preventing “[American] Indians from daring to think of themselves as human beings.” The Spaniards “thought nothing of knifing [American] Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades.” “My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write.”
Columbus himself used the native peoples as slaves, sexual objects, and other heinous acts. We often hear that you cannot judge a person of the 16th Century by 21st Century norms. On the contrary, I judge Columbus against Bishop De las Casas, and the Jesuits in Central and South America during the same time period. Columbus and those like him knew better. They chose cruelty and domination deliberately for profit and power.
The Lies They Told (and tell us) in School
This all is not political correctness speaking. Sorry. It is reality. When we discover that what we have been taught in school contains lies, we must invoke our old friend, Cui Bono? Whom does it benefit? We’ve exposed a number of lies in this blog. For example, trying to say that the Roman Empire fell in the 5th Century is of benefit to those historians, like Gibbon, who wanted to prove that Christianity destroyed the Empire. Except, that isn’t true. The Empire fell in the 15th Century, as any person from that time would tell you.
Another convenient fabrication is that the Mediterranean world believed that Earth was flat in the 15th century. That’s poppycock. As far back as Pythagoras in 6th Century BCE, people knew the world was a sphere. In Hellenistic Alexandria, scholars and scientists knew that our planet was round, and they actually calculated its circumference pretty nearly correctly. Sailors were quite aware that the World was round in 15th Century Europe, as well as in many other parts of the world.
Who does this lie benefit? Modern people. It allows us to continue with the illusion that modern people are smarter and more sophisticated than ancient people. Nonsense!
Then too, we are told that Columbus “discovered” America. Ridiculous. Asian peoples discovered North and South America and the Carribean around 40,000 years ago and inhabited them. More recently, Leif Ericsson and the Vikings landed here, and possibly St. Brendan the Navigator. There might have been Chinese, Polynesian, and many other contacts.
Cui bono? The European Colonialists, of course.
Finally, we have been conned into “celebrating” the despicable Christopher Columbus himself. I’m all for having a holiday on October 12 (or the second Monday in October). Canadians have Thanksgiving Day. Many in the Hispanic world celebrate Día de la Raza. But the man himself should be pilloried. He began one of the greatest genocides and cultural extinctions in history.
Now I’m not going to go to North Beach in San Francisco, or Little Italy in New York, and try to stop the Italian-Americans from celebrating. The Roman Catholic Fraternal Order The Knights of Columbus lobbied for the national holiday in 1934 and got it. I think it is time to rename the Federal Holiday, just as many States and Municipalities already have. Those who want to celebrate the day as one of Italian Pride can do so. I just don’t want to do so or make it official under Columbus’s name.
The second item connected to this anniversary is the two great hatreds that plague the United States, and much of the world, today: Religious Hatred and Race Hatred / Race Slavery
One sometimes hears, “It’s just human nature. People have been hating since the beginning of time.” While the sin (missing the mark) of Hatred may be deeply rooted in our ancestral past, Religious Hatred and Race Hatred, at least in the Western World, are not ancient.
Religious Hatred arose in the West primary as a result of Monotheism. In Pre-Abrahamic times, most of the Western “Pagan” religions simply identified their Gods with other people’s Gods. Take the example of Hermes in Greek religion. He was identified with the Roman Mercury, the Egyptian Thoth, and the Nordic Odin. As long as you burned some incense at the altar of the State Gods, things were fine.
There is good evidence that classical “Paganism” was evolving into what would have been a kinder, gentler, more inclusive “Pagan Monotheism.” But it didn’t get a chance. With the dominance of first, Christianity, and later Islam in the Mediterranean world, with rare exceptions, it became “My way or the Highway.” Christianity and Islam have been at loggerheads for 1400 years. And both have persecuted Jewish people. Even within each Faith, different factions warred with one another. We are currently suffering from the internal struggle of Shia vs Sunni in Islam, and we spent hundreds of years in the past as first, Catholics made war against Orthodox Christians, and Catholic and Protestant Christians fought. Those times are past in Christianity, but just listen to a fundamentalist preacher call the Roman Catholic Church the “Whore of Babylon,” and know that those horrible times aren’t that far way.
While it is sadly true that religious persecution has taken place elsewhere, as when Tibetan Buddhist leaders persecuted Shamanism, it has been perfected in the culture of the West that has spread through Colonialism.
Race Hatred and Race Slavery
Surprisingly, these evils are even more recent. In the ancient Mediterranean world there was most certainly slavery. If another country conquered your country, you were fair game for slavery. Then, too, of course, each cultural group thought of itself as the best. But it wasn’t hatred, nor was it about ethnicity. In Pharaonic Egypt, if a Black-skinned person spoke Egyptian and participated in Egyptian culture, he was fully accepted. Analogous behavior would have been typical from Persia to Éire. This continued pretty much the same until the 16th Century.
One sometimes sees modern movies or TV shows set in the European Middle Ages with Black actors in the cast. I often hear the comment, “Oh, that’s just political correctness.” No, it really isn’t, there were (some) non-Europeans in Western Europe, and nobody really minded, as long as they fit in with the culture.
Race Hatred, and Slavery based on Race, began with the age of Colonialism, which we associate with Oct. 12, 1492. These horrors which have scarred the world are thoroughly modern. In particular, the Indigenous peoples of the colonial world were hated and exploited by the colonialists, with varying ferocity. The Belgians were probably the worst, and the Russians might have been the kindest. In Alaska, they befriended the natives. I don’t know the history of Central Asia. Of course, the Orthodox Russians did not like Islam, but that’s not racial.
It is not surprising that the hated and exploited returned the favor against the Europeans in enmity toward their conquerors. In Eastern Asia, some governments were strong enough to resist the Europeans for a time, but gradually, most of the world fell under European domination.
As this has lifted in the de-colonialization of the world, Slavery itself is largely gone. However, economic domination and race hatreds remain endemic. I–along with many–thought that as Americans, we had fairly well eradicated racism from our midst. Boy, were we wrong. We’ve got a lot of work to do!
Let’s take this Oct 12 to give thanks for the progress we have made, own up to our mistakes and those of our ancestors, and move forward to create solidarity among all peoples, and all creatures, of our planet! Maybe that’s what this holiday can become, Universal Solidarity Day.
Thanks for reading!
Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant