Saturday, February 04, 2006

prophetic voice against conquest

i read today about the spanish conquest of the americas. it got me thinking about colonization and what part in this system i've played and what i can do about it.

the spanish had an interesting perspective on colonization, because as they came over to take land and get various resources to take back to spain, their main professed goal was making the natives become christians. they had this idea of messianic providentialism (which i suppose was the precursor to manifest destiny in the english colonies), that the reason spain had discovered the americas was as God's reward to them for their faithfulness, and also an act of grace toward the "indians" to rid the americas of the evils of the tribal religions.

many, like cortes, thought it was a good idea to wage war against the native people so that they would have to be subjected to the spanish, who could then force them to become christians or die, or become slaves. here's a quote from him: "Bringing these savages as slaves, to work in the gold mines, would produce to your Majesty and the Spanish people benefits, and it might even happen that thanks to such a familiarity with us some might even be redeemed." (quoted in Must Christianity be Violent? ed. by Kenneth R. Chase & Alan Jacobs, p. 45.)

there were also some franciscan & dominican missionaries who came over and became angry with the way their compatriots were treating the native people. the most famous was bartolome de las casas, who became quite a prophetic voice for those native to the americas. he wrote a letter saying, "1. All conquests are unjust and tyrannical; 2. we have illegally usurped the kingdoms of the Indies; 3. all [slaves] are bad per se; 4. those who possess them and those who distribute them are in mortal sin; 5. the king has no more right to justify the conquests and [slaves] than the Ottoman Turk to make war against Christians; 6. all fortunes made in the Indies are iniquitous; 7. if the guilty do not make restitution, they will not be saved; 8. the Indian nations have the right, which will be theirs till doomsday, to make us just war and erase us from the face of the earth." (Ibid, p. 47-48.) although i don't agree with him about the just war part, if i did believe in just war i think the native americans have about as much right to it as anyone could.

so it's great that there were people speaking out prophetically about the evils of the conquest of the americas...but i'm white, living here in the united states, speaking english. i didn't actually take part in destroying the native americans as individuals and societies, but i live here, profiting from that destruction. is las casas correct that we are complicit in it unless we pay back everything that we have profited by these unjust actions? and at this point, how in the world would it be possible to pay it back? (of course the united states as a nation would never do this, but how would i even go about doing this personally? i don't know!)

add to that the fact that we are in the process of a new conquest of the middle east... i don't agree with that conquest and i've made that fact clear through writing my congress people and talking about what i believe and living on little enough income that i don't owe federal taxes so i'm not contributing monetarily to the war effort, but i still live here. i still live a fairly normal american life, and my vote is truly with my complacency.

another conquest based on bringing "christianity" in its political form to another country is not something i want to be part of. but how do i do anything about it? not alone, that's for sure--but how can we work together to keep our nation from making the same mistake again? how do we speak out with prophetic voices and organize for effective action?

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