It was a little over 500 hundred years ago. The event changed the world, quite literally. It was changed by one man’s vision and valor, persistence and perseverance, and fortitude and fearlessness. Historians would remember it was the same year of the Reconquista, when the subjugating Islamic hegemony was expelled from the Iberian Peninsula. The long unwelcome visitors were finally expelled after almost eight centuries. The man petitioned the recently united Crowns of Castile and Aragon, the Spanish kingdom, for ships, sailors and supplies. He wanted to circumnavigate the globe for yet to be discovered land masses and new routes to Asia for evangelism and trade. While land travel would have made more sense, it wasn’t doable. The overland trade arteries between the west and east were clotted by Islamic powers, this time the ever-encroaching Ottomans.
This Genoese man, known by the Spanish as Cristóbal Colón, was Christopher Columbus. After his request was granted, he sailed west. Instead of hitting the east, unknown to him, he bumped into a New World which he thought was the Indies (or the Asian countries). Sure, pre-Columbian European, African and Asian explorers may have stepped foot onto the New World, but it was because of Columbus that the two worlds were united.
Often, Columbus is presented as a poster child for all that’s wrong with Christianity and the Christian west. He was a Western “capitalist” colonizer who promoted the Crusades. Some think he represents Christianity’s greedy, dominating, enslaving, misogynistic, egoistic, homophobic, ethnocentrist and xenocentrist tendencies. Wait, is this true? Also, how ought we judge Christianity? In addition, what can we learn from Columbus’ successes and failures?
From Hero to Villain
From the nineteenth century Washington Irving’s innocuous veneration of Columbus to the twentieth century Howard Zinn’s scathing criticisms of Columbus, we are all left scratching our heads; what is truth? In addition, we are tossed many outlier curve balls, such as the claim that the Admiral was a double agent for Portuguese to sabotage Spain.
Washington Irving’s long debunked fictional fancy flair that Columbus “proved that the world was round,” was later used to attack the “unscientific Church.” Round earth believing Columbus had to follow reason and fight against the “flat earth believing” Church. A prime example can be seen in the infamous Andrew Dickson White’s “History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom”:
“The warfare of Columbus the world knows well: how the Bishop of Ceuta worsted him in Portugal; how sundry wise men of Spain confronted him with the usual quotations from the Psalms, from St. Paul, and from St. Augustine; how, even after he was triumphant, and after his voyage had greatly strengthened the theory of the earth’s sphericity, with which the theory of the antipodes was so closely connected, the Church by its highest authority solemnly stumbled and persisted in going astray.”
Poor White, his vicious and radical anti-Christian bias, makes this, along with many other parts of his book, an embarrassment to the modern historian. White is flat out false, a peddler of fake news. For thousands of years, pretty much all intellectuals knew the world was spherical. The debate was not over if it was round, but how round and what size was the sphere. Today, the elephant in the room isn’t White or even Irving, rather it’s an anti-Christian historical revisionist. That person is the late Marxist Howard Zinn. If Irving’s calms were anemic acetic acid, Zinn’s are hard sulfuric acid. While the eighteenth-century Irving made Columbus into a hero, twentieth century Zinn made Columbus into a hideous, sinister monster.
Otherwise smart people, like Black Jazz musician Daryl Davis and Joe Rogan (seemingly out of ignorance, not malice) propagate this fiction that has infected the culture. With Joe Rogan agreeing, Davis claimed that “Christopher Columbus was a serial killer, rapist and pillager and he didn’t discover a thing.” Zinn, however, seems to be maliciously twisting the truth to promote his socialistic ideas. Chapter one of his substandard, poorly-documented book “The People’s History of the United States” shows Columbus in the most scathing way. While holding the authoritative badge of historian, Zinn commits historical blasphemy.
An Attack On The Christian Worldview
The works of Zinn and his comrades (quite literally) are used in countless public schools today, preaching anti-Christian and even anti-Western ideas. This is not surprising since he’s a Marxist, which by definition is totally incompatible with the Christian worldview. He uses a technique that many often use when the facts aren’t on their side; he often asks rhetorical questions hoping you leap to his desired conclusions. Like many leftists, he’s also quick to be vague and equivocate. His method is to blame one person for the misdeeds of others or a group of people. He also misquotes sources, seemingly to promote his point. Lastly, he doesn’t show the good, the bad and the ugly about historical figures. He rather nearly sets up all Westerners as villains and all natives as saints.
Many progressives absorb those lies. This is why Columbus Day is often shouted down as evil and many push to have Indigenous Peoples Day rise up in its ashes. As Columbus is painted as a bad man, the natives seem to be perpetually painted as “noble savages.” He flowers them as if they lived in peace and harmony, and sexual equality and happiness. It tickles him to show “proto-Communistic” tendencies, such as shared land, shared food, shared logging and shared spouses. All the while, Columbus is assumed to have introduced greed, inequality, rape, war and genocide—all based upon his Western values.
Through this, the so-called sins of the Admiral can at times be at the center of debate between Christianity and secularism! Columbus is used to show how bad Christianity really is.
Fake News Has Always Been
Fake news is not just a problem today; there was “fake news” of Columbus’ day too. No wonder, he’s such a pivotal, polarizing and famous figure. This, along with limited data about his life, makes it viciously hard to segregate truth from error.
Historically, many protestants and the KKK didn’t like Columbus because he was maybe the face of Catholic Hispanics (even though he was Italian). No one defends the radical misdeeds of the Roman Catholic Church (nor the misdeeds of Protestant groups). However, the Protestant reformation took place over ten years after he died! How could one fault him for not being Protestant when Protestantism didn’t even exist? Today, he has different enemies: Antifa and BLM rioters turned thugs. They aim to demolish his statues for his “misdeeds” and his Western values. These people are usually pulling from revisionists like Zinn (by the way, Wikipedia does this as well). So, let’s look at just three of these so-called “misdeeds.”
Claim number one: Columbus the enslaver.
Historically, slavery was ubiquitous, and presently it’s still alive in some cultures. It has never fit within Christianity. In post-Roman West, slavery was condemned at best, controversial at worst, and nearly eradicated. Since the nineteenth century, the West has almost universally condemned slavery. Zinn and others often make Columbus out to be a vicious slave trader who introduced it to the New World. This is not true. No matter Columbus’ deeds, natives perpetually enslaved others.
Zinn wedges the enslavement of innocent natives and the rise of the encomienda system (a soft form of native slavery) within a section about Columbus. I condense six paragraphs from his book below to show his technique.
Talking about Columbus and company, “They found no gold fields, but had to fill up the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend. In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children…picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships…[also] they ordered all persons [natives] fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months…[those who didn’t bring this amount] had their hands cut off and bled to death…[later] Indians were taken as slave labor on huge estates, known later as encomiendas…Las Casas transcribed Columbus’s journal and, in his fifties, began a multivolume History of the Indies.”
Well, did he say Columbus did it? No, but like typical Zinn, he tells half the truths, hoping you will jump to his desired conclusions. As you can see, he makes it sound as if Columbus is enslaving innocent natives and starting the encomienda system. At best, the slavery part is a half-truth, and at worst, he had nothing to do with the encomienda system. I’ll talk later about Columbus and native enslavement, but for now, we know that the encomienda system was started in 1503. Consider this: Columbus was not governor at that time, rather a castaway on a Jamaican beach! He was finally rescued in 1504, went back to Spain and died in 1506!
Claim number two: Greedy for Gold Columbus.
According to Zinn, “The information that Columbus wanted most was this: Where is the gold?” and “The aim [of Columbus] was clear: slaves and gold.” For sure slavery wasn’t one of his main objectives; Zinn is so wrong here. We talked about that some before and I will talk more about it a little later, but for now, let’s talk about the gold. Was Columbus gold greedy? Like usual, the truth is more complex than what Zinn makes it out to be. Europe was still trying to liberate the Holy Land from the occupying Islamic powers. Spain needed money to pay for the costly expulsion of Islamic forces in their country. Gold was needed for all of that. With trade with the “Indies,” the wealth of Europe (and the Indies) could rise.
So, was gold a driving force for Columbus? Well, personally, he wanted to see the gold go to help liberate the Islamic-occupied Holy Land. Even though this was the case, he would limit the Spanish from looking for and collecting gold because there were other duties to be done. Some of the Spanish wanted to just take the gold from the natives, Columbus made them trade freely. Second, he really enjoyed discovery. He was so focused on exploration at times that his legs would become numb from the cold air, cold water and being awake for days on end. Third, he really did seem to care about others. He wanted to share Christianity with the natives, which he thought were Asian. So, while gold was very important to him, I don’t think it was his main objective.
Claim number three: the Natives Were all Good People.
If you read Zinn, he makes it sound as if the natives were all good people all the time. They were full of hospitality and sharing and “these traits did not stand out” to the Europeans as Western civilization was marked by “the frenzy for money.” Columbus is made out to be all bad and the natives are made out to be all good. He does say one place that the Indians were “not completely peaceful, because they do battle from time to time with other tribes, but their casualties seem small, and they fight when they are individually moved to do so because of some grievance, not on the orders of captains or kings.” But that’s about as far as his native criticism goes.
The problem is he’s peddling fake history again. For example, Columbus’ men and his allies, the Taino tribe, were attacked by other Arawak chiefs. These other tribes raided, killed and captured people, including some of chief Guacanagarí’s wives! Chief Guacanagarí and Columbus joined forces, rescued the survivors and fought back. So no, they were not peaceful. But that’s not the half of the story. Remember, slavery was pretty much ubiquitous to all the pre-Columbian Caribbean islandic people, so again they were not peaceful.
The worst of the natives were the infamous Carib tribe. They did far more than warring and enslaving other people. You can guess what they did when you learn that their name is where we derive the word “cannibal.” They didn’t just eat others, they would wipe out whole islands of Arawak tribes, which is why the Arawaks were so afraid of them. Spending years on a conquered island, they would eat the men, rape the women and castrate the boys for future food supply. Like their moms, girls were raised up into sex slavery for the same reasons. That’s not peaceful, that’s evil at its worst!
How Bad Was Columbus?
As a person, Columbus wasn’t perfect. While he was no Hitler, he was not Jesus either. Like most, he was a mixed bag of morals. The best we can do is to learn from both his successes and failures. Scholar Dr. Robert Carle may say it best: “Columbus was alternatively greedy and generous, courageous and timid, forgiving and spiteful, magnanimous and petty, a genius at sea, yet maddeningly obtuse on land. He had neither the humility to be a saint nor the ruthlessness to be a successful conquistador.”
He had some moral failings. After the death of his first wife, Filipa Moniz Perestrelo, he took a mistress, Beatriz Enríquez de Arana, who bore him his second son.
While Columbus seemed to promote Indian rights, he also seemed to blankly impede them too. It seems he assumed that as new subjects of the Spanish Crown, they were to just comply (the natives didn’t have this feeling I’m sure). As Admiral, as representative of the Crown and as governor (for a few years), maybe he just assumed the natives were supposed to comply. But still, why was he so unaware of their own social structure?
For example, it seems he “forcibly” took some natives to be his guides and aid him in building relations with various tribes. He also took some to bring back to the Spanish court. Just as historian and priest Bartolomé de las Casas, I’m quite confused why Columbus thought this was a good thing, especially since they had their own families and cultures. Now, it is true that the natives often wanted to go with him in the boat, and those who no longer desired to stay with Columbus just left. It doesn’t seem as if they were guarded well, if at all. He also rescued some women and children from their Carib enslavers. It was clear they wanted to go with him. However, later some of them slipped off the boat to go to land.
Lastly, he did take prisoners of war, which he enslaved for at least a limited time. In one sense, this sounds strange; however, we do similar things today. The thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery, except for the punishment of a crime (the prison system). Now, if someone today were to shoot people, capture people, rape woman, castrate boys and eat the men, would you think they should be locked up and punished? Of course! I’d assume most of us would have done what Columbus did in this case. Now, some of the Arawak tribes were captured too. However, they were captured because they were the enemies of his allies, Chief Guacanagarí. When they killed and captured both Columbus’ men and Taino Chief Guacanagarí’s people (including some of his wives), they responded with force.
Now, in a strange twist, Columbus himself was sent back to Spain in chains in his third voyage by Francisco de Bobadilla for his so-called “misdeeds.” Spanish royalty exonerated him quickly, however. Also, it does seem that Columbus often went out of his way for the natives. In fact, he adopted a befriended native leader’s son, and he named the boy Diego Colon.
What We Can Learn From Columbus
First, it is clear that Christianity doesn’t rise or fall on Columbus or any other outlier; it rises and falls on Jesus. So no matter what Columbus did, or what evil acts anyone else did, Christianity was and still is grounded upon Jesus.
Second, as the old saying goes, “those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.” That’s why it is best to learn the good, the bad and the ugly of the past so we don’t repeat their mistakes and so we can stand on their shoulders for the good they did. We also need to remember to give credit where credit is due, give praise where praise is due, give honor where honor is due, and give blame where blame is due.
Third, by the same judgment you judge, you will be judged. Past people who criticized Columbus the most are often psychological projectors and hypocrites. They were often the rapists, genocidal murderers, ravishers and slave drivers. After hundreds of years, hypocrites still roam the earth. Progressives are often the first and loudest to scream “unjust” when the name Columbus is spoken. These people, however, are at the worst of evil. I reserve the word “Hitlerian” for people who actually promote Hitler type policies. One of the most evil and unjust actions of the modern era is the active killing of innocent unborn babies. What moral authority do they have when so much blood is dripping from their hands? They may go on to criticize Columbus’ so-called gold fever, but they also promote forceful seizure of the wealth of others under the happy-sounding word of socialism. What moral authority do they have with active covetousness and greed of the property of others? They may also criticize Columbus’ sexual immorality (and unfounded claims he committed rape) but they also promote shacking up and LGBTQ behavior. What moral authority do they have with such promotion of sexual immorality?
Some of his past and present fiercest foes are truly some of the most rabid hypocrites on earth. Jesus’ words come to mind: “first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”
Fourth, a very important proverb comes to mind: “He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him.” Zinn and company will sound true, and truth and error will be hard to separate, until you read and understand primary sources. If the politics of today are complex, understanding ancient happenings is usually much harder. One is dealing with a different culture, different concerns, different values and sparse sources.
Lastly, knowledge of human nature can be learned from Columbus, the natives and the Spanish. The Scriptures are right: humans are imperfect and need redemption. Also, as we individually and as a society keep a biblical focus, we become more enlightened, we mature in sanctification and society blossoms. When we follow the way of secular culture and when our personal happiness is our end goal, we have seen and will continue to see the decline of cultures and the hurt of peoples.
I have a passion to have answers for Christianity as Peter taught us to do. I would love for you to come along with me and not miss a post! In the future, I plan on giving more resources and answers you can share with both believers and unbelievers. Plus, I want to send you a Free Quick Guide why I think science points to God. I would love for you to have this Free Quick Guide and the latest posts straight to your inbox.
If you like what you read, feel free to come along side and partner with iApologia. Thank you to those who help keep iApologia going!
So, what did you think? Feel free to share your thoughts below!
- “Official Christopher Columbus Website” By Rafael Ortiz http://www.officialchristophercolumbus.com/
- “Discovering Columbus” By David Barton https://wallbuilders.com/discovering-columbus/
- “The Life of Columbus From His Own Letters and Journals and Other Documents of His Time” by Edward Everett Hale (Free Kindle Version) https://amzn.to/34n74hf
- “The Northmen, Columbus and Cabot, 985-1503” by Various (Author), Edward Gaylord Bourne (Editor) (Free Kindle Version) https://amzn.to/3iuFVy5
- “The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus – Volume I” by Washington Irving (Free Archive Version) https://archive.org/details/historyoflifeand01irviiala/page/n5/mode/2up
- “The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus – Volume II” by Washington Irving (Free Kindle Version) https://amzn.to/2F1qL5Q
- “The People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn (Free Online text) https://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinncol1.html
- “Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem: How Religion Drove the Voyages that Led to America” by Carol Delaney (Kindle Version) https://amzn.to/33s0hUj
- “Columbus & Cortez, Conquerors for Christ” By John Eidsmoe (Paper Version) https://amzn.to/2SpUpEI
- “Christopher Columbus The Hero: Defending Columbus From Modern Day Revisionism” By Rafael Ortiz (Kindle Version) https://amzn.to/3cTfeC7
- “Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation Against America” by Mary Grabar (Kindle Version) https://amzn.to/2FcYKbydsfasdfd