Today is Columbus Day. That’s an important holiday here in Massachusetts, so I don’t have to teach today. Of course that doesn’t mean I don’t have work to do, but it’s still a nice break from my regular routine. But should we be honoring Christopher Columbus with a holiday?
Parades span the country from LA to Denver to Massachusetts. You can see people dressed in red, white and green – celebrating their Italian heritage. You’ll see American flags flying, people dressed as Christopher Columbus and parade floats fashioned after Columbus’ famous fleet of ships….[you may also see] people holding up signs that read “Don’t celebrate genocide” and “Columbus: America’s first terrorist”. Every year, Native Americans rally together to protest the celebration of a man who historical research has now revealed to be less than the hero we were taught about in elementary school.
The Boston Globe’s James Carroll has an interesting piece about Columbus’ religious motivations: Columbus and the American Problem.
Apparently, Columbus’ goal was “the old Crusader ambition of recapturing for Christianity the place where Jesus had walked, especially Jerusalem.”
“…banishment of both Jews and Muslims – the 1492 purification of the Christian realms. That his departure was simultaneous to the expulsion of the unbelievers had significance for Columbus, who later wrote, in his report to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, “And thus, having expelled all the Jews from all your kingdoms and dominions . . . Your Highnesses commanded me that I should go to the said parts of India.’’
The word “India’’ had an imprecise meaning in Europe, with its main connotation being the realms that lie to the east beyond those controlled by Muslims. Achieving those realms by going west defined Columbus’s purpose – and the freedom from Islamic control was the point.
For Columbus, achieving Jerusalem was not merely a matter of releasing the Holy Sepulcher from the age-old Muslim bondage. Like millennialists before and after him, he seems to have believed that the final restoration of the Holy Land to Christian dominion would usher in the Messianic Age. “God made me the messenger of the New Heaven and the New Earth,’’ he wrote in about 1500, “of which he spoke in the Apocalypse of St. John . . . and he showed me the spot where to find it.’’ An apocalyptic impulse informed the New World project at its birth; the project assumed hostility to Islam; and its ultimate purpose involved Jerusalem. Those three facts remain pillars of the American problem today.
Meanwhile, back in the 21st Century… (more…)
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