Archive for Saturday, October 8, 2011

Faith Forum: How different do you think the America’s religious life would’ve been if Columbus hadn’t ‘sailed the ocean blue’ in 1492?

October 8, 2011


Robert Minor, professor emeritus in Kansas University’s religious studies department, 1300 Oread Ave:

When Columbus landed in the Bahamas in 1492, he embodied the intentions of every European power that vied to dominate trade, exploit conquered resources to shore up their economies, and convert non-European “heathens.” Competition was stiff as France, England, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands sought to best each other in controlling the world.

Columbus’ writings tell us that he was searching for gold, which was becoming the sign of real wealth. Others might come later to the Americas seeking religious freedom, but the elites of the new European nation-states sought empire.

Religiously they agreed that their own beliefs were vastly morally superior. Empire therefore meant controlling the religious lives of the “uncivilized.”

Columbus wrote to his patrons, the Spanish King and Queen — who had just disenfranchised Muslims and Jews back home — of his desire to convert America’s peoples to Spanish Catholicism.

“Your Highness, 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, Cristóbal Colon, to the said parts of India to see the said princes ... 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.... I shall forget sleep, and shall work at the business of navigation, so that the service is performed.”

European colonialism included subduing “heathens.” Had it not been Columbus, it would have been another with identical aspirations and the same religious goals. European nations with their state churches hoped America would become a continent their christianities would eventually dominate.

— Send email to Robert Minor at

The Rev. Matt Sturtevant, First Baptist Church of Lawrence, 1330 Kasold Drive:

“Columbus wasn’t a hero, but a murderer and greedy religious zealot” — that perspective shocked me when I first heard it in college history class. How different it was than the Columbus of my youth: brave explorer, sharing the Christian faith with the New World.

How would our country be different if he had not “sailed the ocean blue”? What is the true legacy of Columbus and other European explorers? Questions best left for historians. However, as a Christian pastor, I cannot ignore the fundamental Columbus Day question of how to share the hope that I have in Christ without falling victim to the “missionary zeal” of the Crusades and European New World conquest of the “heathen” in the name of Christ. For me, a few simple rules:

  1. Remember the model. Luke 4 explains that Christ’s identity was simple: “He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” What if every generation of Christians (including our own) stuck to this guideline?

  2. Listen first. Our world would rather talk (or scream) than listen: angry message board posts, cable news know-it-alls. The draw to “conquer the heathen” is as strong today as it was then. Every ideology, every faith must resist the urge.

  3. Invite and persuade instead of coerce. In the tradition of Baptist proponents of religious freedom through the ages, I believe that a coerced faith is not truly faith at all. Whether it is locally or globally, we must listen and persuade instead of prescribe. Christ’s example to personally invite and offer hope bears emulating. It’s not about conquest, guilt, or pressure. It’s about freedom, healing, and hope.

— Send email to Matt Sturtevant at


Maddy Griffin 6 years, 7 months ago

What has one got to do with the other? Columbus was a thief and a murderer and I find it shameful that this "holiday" still exists.

number3of5 6 years, 7 months ago

If it hadn't been Columbus, it would have been someone else. Maybe a more evil person than Columbus was. What ifs are not the way to look at things, but we need to be thinking of how we can make the future better.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 7 months ago

We should all be punishing ourselves for the sins of the white devils. Tushy will be along shortly to give us a catalog of horrors....

ivalueamerica 6 years, 7 months ago

no, but we should be honest about history. Why does that bother you so much?

Once again, your opinion is based on your politics, not on facts or anything else.

As a Liberal with values, I complain when we celebrate Columbus, for example, without honestly showing what sort of horrors he committed.

As a Liberal with values, I complain when we celebrate Margaret Sanger, for example, because she was a racist.

I think Anne Coulter is absurd and should not be taken seriously, I think the same thing of Al Sharpton.

the difference between a value and and a side is important to me, I guess it means nothing to you.

purplesage 6 years, 7 months ago

I thank Rev. Sturdevant for a thoughtful response. It is likely that any significant figure from history can be be cast in caricature to suit one's purposes. Since Christopher Columbus was not a perfect man, there are things which can be emphasized to his detriment. And, unfortunately, some see his zeal to spread the Good News of the saving grace of Jesus Christ as a flaw which can be twisted and contorted into a negative.

The kings and kingdoms of this world are best not mixed with the work of the Kingdom of God. Religious freedom, or the lack thereof, is a powerful influence on the history of the United States. Revisit point 3 of the article. Who can fault someone with a desire to share Good News and the Kingdom of Heaven with others?

Every generation of Christian Believers is heir to the commission to carry the Gospel with them wherever they go in this life. Columbus did no less.

bearded_gnome 6 years, 7 months ago

nicely said Purplesage! thank you. I also appreciated the Baptist Pastor's comments here and particularly his point 3.

bearded_gnome 6 years, 7 months ago

Columbus wrote to his patrons, the Spanish King and Queen — who had just disenfranchised Muslims and Jews back home — of his desire to convert America’s peoples to Spanish Catholicism.

---Uh, this prof sure is drenched in political correctness and historical revisionism! the spaniards were liberated from islam, which had been spread to their land at the point of the sword and much continuing oppression. I suppose he doesn't realize that the Spanish Jews had it much harder under Islamic rule than Spanish rule. of course that would conflict with his skewed world view.

voevoda 6 years, 7 months ago

Wrong, bearded_gnome. Spain is no more innately Christian than it is innately Muslim. It is a Spanish myth that the Reconquista constituted a "liberation." And Jews were certainly not better off under Islamic rule. They were better off than they had been under the Christian rulers that preceded the Moors. Jewish life flourished in Muslim Spain, where Jews rose to high positions in government and participated in intellectual life. Not all Muslim rulers were equally tolerant, but by and large the Jewish communities did better in medieval Islamic countries than in Christian ones. Jews were certainly better off under Muslim Spanish rule than they were under Ferdinand and Isabella, who expelled them from Spain. Jews were forced to sell all their property in a hurry at great loss, and leave much of it behind. Those who stayed were subject to arrest and execution. These are the facts, bearded_gnome, not "political correctness and historical revisionism." You can verify them in any number of reputable books written by experts.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

Anyone who knows anything about Iberian/Spanish history (which clearly excludes bg) can confirm what voevoda has typed.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 7 months ago

Interesting question, actually. Most of the 'major' religions has been oppressors at one time or another. If Cheng Ho ( hadn't lost his nerve, the Chinese may have taken over the continent from the west and we'd be another religion; if the Vikings had stayed in the Northeast, we might have Thor and Odin and Loki on the nation's money. Christianity spread through a combination of politics and economics. Other religions, given the chance, have done the same. It would be strange to contemplate junior high school under Odin. Instead of cheerleader tryouts, we'd be having a lottery to select the virgin for the spring sacrifice. Finding virgins is getting more difficult in modern times. I wonder if this would have affected America's 'official' religion if things had turned out differently.

voevoda 6 years, 7 months ago

i see your point, Made_in_China, but the Vikings who explored North America were Christian, not Norse pagans. Norse pagans didn't sacrifice virgins, either. You're thinking of Druids or Incans.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 7 months ago

Voevoda: Thanks for the heads up. Druids would be ok too. The dominant religion now conducts ritual human sacrifice each weekend, so at least the tradition would be commonly accepted. It seems to me all the religions are serving similar purposes. It just depends on which ones are favored by a particular government at any given time to see which 'god' will ascend to the currently fasionable throne. For a religion blog, this one has been more interesting than the norm.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.