Don’t Dishonor Columbus

The movement to remove some public historical monuments has gained considerable momentum after the tragic events in Charlotteville.

I am sympathetic to the removal of statues to Confederate leaders. These men fought for an evil and ignoble cause and their statues were for the most part erected to reinforce a wicked regime of white supremacy during the Jim Crow era. Calling attention to this, and cleansing the public square of these monuments, may help to reinforce the rejection of racism that our society clearly needs.

But the “progressives” in our nation have begun to turn their iconoclastic attention to other historical monuments, and in this they are not on such solid ground. In particular, by targeting Christopher Columbus, they have gone too far and have shown a deplorable lack of moral and historical sense. To dishonor Columbus would be a crime against our history.

Modern progressive ideology holds Columbus responsible for all that went wrong after the discovery of the New World. Those effects are undeniable and Columbus was certainly implicated in conduct that by modern standards are unacceptable (but which is also grossly exaggerated). Historians disagree about the extent of his involvement in that conduct, and we should leave it to them and their researches to provide the basic facts.

But on the moral level, the legacy and conduct of Columbus deserve great respect and honor. To understand Columbus, we have to appreciate the completely Christian mind with which he — along with all of his contemporaries — viewed the world. The modern mind cannot understand the centrality of faith to a man such as Columbus, a deeply devout Christian of the late Medieval era. His faith affected every part of his view of the world, and was the most significant motivation for all that he did. To him, the liberation of Jerusalem the Holy City of God and the conversion of non-believers to offer them salvation were moral imperatives of the highest order. In his view, the occupation of the Holy Land by Muslims and the fall of Constantinople were not just political and military matters, but were catastrophes that had apocalyptic significance and demanded a response by Christians.

Columbus’s nautical ventures were not purely commercial in nature, as our narrow modern economic obsession would view it. Nor was he bent on conquest and oppression, or seeking to discover a new continent, or to prove that the world was round, as our contemporary historical ignorance would suggest. It was never Columbus’s intention to spread disease or to commit genocide. Unlike Confederate generals, it was never a fundamental part of his mission to enslave anyone. To allege otherwise is to commit a vicious and ignorant historical slander.

Columbus’s mission always and at its heart was motivated by his deep Christian religious beliefs. To understand this we can just look to Columbus’ own diary, in which he explained that he sought the journey in hope that he would find enough gold and spices to finance a crusade to liberate the Holy Sepulcher, and he urged the King and Queen of Spain “to spend all the profits of my enterprise on the conquest of Jerusalem”.

His faith and trust in God was what led him to his great adventure. This is what gave him the courage never to give up on his goal, despite all the personal hardships and disappointments he suffered. He was impelled always by what he saw as God’s holy will for him, his part in the mission to bring the Gospel to the whole world, his role in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom of God.

It is clear that Columbus did not foresee the negative consequences of his journeys. But who among us can see all the results of our actions? How was he to know that the natives of the Americas would be vulnerable to European diseases (and vice versa) or that the new colonists would act as monsters? It’s also important to recall that we can say with absolute certainty that there have been enormous good consequences of Columbus’s intrepid journeys. The opening of a whole new world has offered people an abundance of material blessings and has spread the Gospel, offering the hope of salvation to billions of people. This cannot be discounted in our evaluation of Columbus. Indeed, it should be given the tremendous weight that it deserves.

It is certainly ironic to see Columbus denounced as a killer by people whose evil acts are so obvious that all can see them — particularly the remorseless killing of African American and handicapped babies in the womb, which is ardently defended and supported by so-called “progressives”. One can only hope that history — and God — will judge them with more mercy and fairness than they are judging Columbus.

Christopher Columbus was not perfect. The values of his time were not as “enlightened” or “liberal” as ours. But he was undoubtedly one of the great men of history. Even to consider removing a statue honoring Columbus would be an act of historical sacrilege, a denial of the very roots of our society, and a crime against our heritage.

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