Monday, May 28, 2007

The Pope, The People, and Purification

The pope traveled to Brazil recently where he called the brutal evangelizing of millions of indigenous people purification, and said that the indigenous Indians had been “silently longing” for Christianity.

Really? Were they silently longing for the destruction of their culture, their autonomy, and the deaths of millions of their people? And what evil was purified by the forced conversion of millions of native peoples to Catholocism? Was giving up human sacrifice of some Indians worth the destruction of almost all Indians? Was loosing self–determination a good thing? Does humanity somehow benefit when the cultural diversity of our species is depleted? Maybe it does. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we were all purified of our cultural differences and became Catholic? No more pesky Jews or angry Muslims. No more Hindus, Buddhists, or Zoroastrians. No more atheists and freethinkers. The purified world of the pope is simple, unified, and, not surprisingly, run by him.

Of course not everyone was happy with the Pontiff’s view of Catholic hegemony, and the pope did admit that “the memories of a glorious past cannot ignore the shadows that accompanied the process of evangelization of the Latin American continent.” Leaving aside the fact that Latin America is not actually a continent, and only the Catholic conquerors would call the invasion of the New World “glorious,” can we really sidestep the horrors of European colonization by claiming it was a shadow phenomenon?

Jesus urged his followers to carry the Good News to the world. His message was that God loves you, not that God wants your gold. To make sure people understood that his emissaries were not invaders Jesus instructed them to carry nothing with them on their journey: “no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money” (Luke 9:3). The pope’s glorious memory has nothing to do with Jesus, and the Catholic armies that invaded the Americas came not to preach but to pillage. They didn’t heal or purify, they raped and robbed. They came with swords and left with the wealth and the freedom of an entire civilization in their sacks. This may have been glorious for the conquerors, but not for the peoples they conquered.

Of course historians can point to similar genocidal invasions by Israelite, Muslim, and Protestant armies as well, but at least when the Queen visited Virginia recently she didn't call the genocide of Native Americans purification. Gotta love those Germans.

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