Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Columbus Day and the End of the World

October 12th recently passed.  In the United States, it brought the usual tired claim and counter claim of discovery, genocide, knowledge and disaster

Replicas of Christopher Columbus' sailing ships Santa Maria, Nina, and Pinta sail by Endeavour, Orbiter Vehicle (OV) 105, on Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Launch Complex (LC) Pad 39B awaiting liftoff on its maiden voyage, STS-49. This view is a ...
Image from here

May I suggest that if Columbus himself could speak on the matter, he would probably concede that his voyages were the primary trigger for the catastrophe which eventually overtook the native people of the Americas.  He might offer in mitigation that an expanding Europe would have made contact with the New World sooner or later, and that he simply happened to trigger the inevitable.

More intriguingly, though, he might argue in mitigation that the disaster his voyages represented for the native peoples were both historically inevitable AND not inherently desirable.  Columbus took a much keener interest in biblical prophecy than Catholic Christianity does today.  He saw his work as part of the process of bringing on the foretold end of the world.  In this way, his Catholicism was perhaps much closer to the robust millennial Protestantism of some American churches (for example, Grapevine Cowboy Heritage Church), and perhaps even to the inferred views of Pope Francis, than to anything that might have been found in the teaching of (say) John XXIII or Benedict XVI.  For better or worse, the loss of lives and cultures and languages was simply part of a plan over which people might exercise only limited control.

The apocalyptic speculations of presidential candidate Ben Carson would have made sense to Columbus, in a way that they would not have done to the nobleman Cristóvão de Mendonça, the nationalistic Luís Vaz de Torres or the commercially-minded Willem Janszoon.  The continued power of the end-times in influencing American culture suggests that Columbus' vision retains a great deal of its power.

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