I that that might catch some people’s attention! 🙂 I’ve been teaching a course on the history of immigration, race and ethnicity in the United States. It is amazing how Christianity was used to hurt people, to keep them down, to make them slaves, and to make them seem less than human. I don’t make religion a focus of my class, but I make sure that my students know how some have misused the religion of Christianity. Of course, it isn’t Christianity that is damaging–it is the people who twist it into something that it isn’t. So really the fault isn’t a great religion (which is what Christianity is, along with the rest of the world religions) but the belief of some of its followers that they are better than everyone else. (Of course, the parallels are there regarding the treatment of the gay and lesbian community by a bunch of Christian religious zealots today).
You can see this in some of the charters that the Spanish and English had when they discovered the ‘new world.’ Here is a bit of the original letter that Christopher Columbus had from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the Catholic monarchs of Spain:
“For as much of you, Christopher Columbus, are going by our command, with some of our vessels and men, to discover and subdue some Islands and Continent in the ocean, and it is hoped that by God’s assistance, some of the said Islands and Continent in the ocean will be discovered and conquered by your means and conduct,..”
So ‘by God’s assistance’ the King and Queen of Spain wanted Christopher Columbus to ‘subdue’ and ‘conquer’ whatever he might find. And guess what he found? The Caribbean full of native Americans that he, with God’s assistance, conquered and subdued. In 1493 the pope, Alexander the VI divided up this ‘new’ world between the Spanish and the Portuguese. It is hard to believe that this country has a holiday just for Christopher Columbus. I wonder if the people who celebrate it think about all of the Native Americans he forcibly took back to the Old World???
The Spanish weren’t alone in using Christianity as a reason to subdue and conquer whatever they might find. Here is the letter to John Cabot, from King Henry the VII, Feb. 3, 1493:
to seeke out, discouer, and finde whatsoever isles, countreys, regions or prouinces of the heathen and infidels whatsoeuer they be, and in what part of the world soeuer they be, which before this time haue bene vnknowen to all Christians: we haue granted to them, and also to euery of them, the heires of them, and euery of them, and their deputies, and haue giuen them licence to set vp our banners and ensignes in euery village, towns, castle, isle, or maine land of them newly found…may subdue, occupy and possesse all such townes, cities, castles and isles of them found, which they can subdue, occupy and possesse, as our vassals, and lieutenants, getting vnto vs the rule, title, and jurisdiction of the same villages, townes, castles, & firme land so found.
So anyone they found is already called an infidel, a heathen, and any area they find that isn’t populated with Christians they too should ‘subdue, occupy and possess.’ They certainly did that to the poor Native Americans the English ‘found’ occupying their newfound land (the gall of those Native Americans!). Queen Elizabeth(June 11, 1578) also writes to Sir Humphrey Gylberte :
…Walter Ralegh, Esquire, and to his heires assignee for euer, free libertie and licence from time to time, and at all times for ever hereafter, to discover, search, finde out, and view such remote, heathen and barbarous lands, countries, and territories, not actually possessed of any Christian Prince, nor inhabited by Christian People, as to him, his heires and assignee, and to every or any of them shall seeme good, and the same to haue, horde, occupie and enjoy to him, his heires and assignee for euer,…
Now not only are the Native Americans heathens, but they are barbarians. And again, like King Henry the VII, she gives him permission to take whatever land he finds that doesn’t have Christians on it.
Here is a bit of the Virginia Charter, issued in 1606 by King James. They were allowed to take the land and:
“to deduce a colony of sundry of our People into that part of America commonly called VIRGINIA, and other parts and Territories in America, either appertaining unto us, or which are not now actually possessed by any Christian Prince or People, situate, lying, and being all along the Sea Coasts…”
It continues on:
“We, greatly commending, and graciously accepting of, their Desires for the Furtherance of so noble a Work, which may, by the Providence of Almighty God, hereafter tend to the Glory of his Divine Majesty, in propagating of Christian Religion to such People, as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God, and may in time bring the Infidels and Savages, living in those parts, to human Civility, and to a settled and quiet Government: DO, by these our Letters Patents, graciously accept of, and agree to, their humble and well-intended Desires”
So they were to bring Christianity to those living in ‘darkness and miserable ignorance’ and to make them civilized. So what did these good Christians do to promote Christianity to the Native Americans? Well, in 1609 the settlers from Jamestown went to war with the Powhatan Indians. By 1630 their population dropped from 40,000 to 500. Part of this was from European disease, but it was also the military actions of these Christians. As you can imagine, Christianity did not take hold with the Native Americans. Imagine being taught about the message of the peaceful Jesus, and then have your whole village wiped out.
In the late 1630s, the Puritans of the Mass. Bay Colony and the Puritans from the Conn. settlements needed more land, so instead of fighting it out themselves, they decided to have a contest to see who could beat the Indians and the winner would get the land. This time these Puritan Christians attacked the Pequot Indians. They didn’t stand a chance and what did William Bradford, the founder of the Plymouth colony have to say about it (in 1636)? (Here he is referring to a village of 400 Pequots that was burned to the ground):
Those that scaped the fire were slaine with the sword; some hewed to peeces, other rune throw with their repaiers, so as they were quickly dispatched, and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400, at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fyer, and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stinck and sente there of; but the victory seemed a sweete sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to inclose their enemies in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enemy.
Isn’t that absolutely horrible? Here is a Christian who is talking about the burning alive of 400 Native Americans as a sweet sacrifice and that God had a part in it?
I could go on and on with examples and it isn’t just Christians fighting with the non-Christians. The Christians also had no problems fighting amongst themselves for who has the better belief system.
Anyway, you get my point. People use the good message of Christianity to hurt and kill people and this country is still paying the price of the misuse of religion. I will be discussing slavery in my class this week, and I can’t wait to go into all the religious views of the slaveowners and the reasons why they believed God sanctioned slavery. I will definitely be using Paul’s letter, Philemon. And I will definitely tie all of this in when I get to talk about women’s history in the U.S. and best of all, my lecture on the history of gays and lesbians.