By Ken Howard
Few figures have fallen further than Christopher Columbus in the estimation of the general public. Once lauded as a courageous explorer and the discoverer of the new world, Columbus is now lambasted as a royal toady, sucking up to Queen Isabella of Spain to garner financial and political support for an ill-planned get-rich scheme, whose avarice and racism ultimately led to the decimation of the indigenous tribal populations and the enslavement of those who survived the slaughter. Even his eponymous federal holiday has suffered from his disgrace: while few are willing to go as far as giving up a day off from work, many have lobbied their respective state legislatures to change the name of the holiday to less onerous appellations, such as “Native American Day” or the somewhat ambiguous “Discovery Day.” Comedian John Oliver, on his weekly show Last Week Tonight once featured Columbus Day in his occasional segment, “Why is this still a thing?”
However, if we dig underneath the trending opinions of the day, we would discover that real Christopher Columbus was a mixed bag: neither saint nor Satan. Columbus was a Christian: a closet converso, some say, whose ancestors had converted from Judaism to Christianity to escape the Papal Inquisition of the 13th century, and who was now seeking the favor of Ferdinand and Isabella not long after the two monarchs had kicked off the not-unexpected Spanish Inquisition, which focused its suspicion largely on converted Jews. So at the very least, one might credit him with a certain degree of chutzpah.
Columbus was – as all historical figures are – a product of his age. Particularly, his thinking had fallen victim to the influence of the religious paradigm of his age, the Christendom paradigm, under which Church and Empire merged, and as the Church began to pull the levers of the Empire to achieve its ecclesiastical ends, it became something that the earliest followers of the Way would not have recognized, having transformed itself from an trans-religious movement centered in the love of Christ, to a hierarchical institution, proselytizing new members and enforcing the uniformity of its existing members through the use of power and (implicitly) violence.[Read more…]