Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Colonialism, past and present 

An utterly ignorant post at the American Prospect blog, with an equally ignorant sequence of comments appended to it, mocks the Pope and Catholicism. It is interesting to note just how utterly ignorant are liberals of the "oppressed" people in the global south that they claim to want to "help."

Background: the Pope said that the indigenous people of pre-Columbian Latin America had been "silently longing" for Christianity. Now, this is not exactly well-put--and understandably offended some of the Indian Catholics who heard it. What the Pope should have said was that they were "longing" for Christianity as opposed to the murderous conquerors who brought the religion.

Now, I am not defending the Pope's statement. The Pope was wrong not to distinguish sharply between the religion and the conquerors. This is something that he is obliged to do as a Christian. And he is obliged to remember and denounce the forced conversions. It shows terrible insensitivity not to mention the brutal context of Latin America's Christianization (a context which is connected to the present-day disparities between Indian and European in Latin America). However, it should also be noted that, just as the Pope errs in not distinguishing between the conquest and the evangelization, so do the incredibly ignorant posters over at the American Prospect. For them, Christianity just is genocide.

These intelligent liberals seem to be unaware of the role some priests and missionaries played in moderating the atrocities (this is not at all to defend the practice of forced conversion, it is simply to note that Bartolomeo de las Casas is not Hernando Cortez).

More importantly--this is really why I am bothering to put this up--these awfully smug liberals seem not to care, at all, that Latin Americans today are actually Christians. Hundreds of thousands turned out to see the Pope. Of course many Latin Americans have turned from Catholicism to Pentecostalism. But they are virtually all Christian.

What this means is that Latin Americans don't look at their religion as just one more thing inflicted upon them by the conquerors. Latin Americans who profess the Christian religion do not thereby say that the conquest was a good thing.

The entire tenor of the post and comments at the American Prospect is that Christianity is just one more thing that the conquerors "did to them." No one at the American Prospect seems to grasp that this might be felt by Latin Americans themselves as a bit insulting. Can't they, after all of these hundreds of years, choose their own religion?

The attitude at the American Prospect is entirely colonialist. It is assumed that the colonized have no agency, no intelligence, no beliefs. If they are still Christian, that is because they are still suffering from what "we" did to them--as if "we" are all powerful.

Remember--when the Pope said that the Indians had been "silently longing" for Christianity, he was talking to Christians, people who think that Christianity is true. And so of course he, and they, think that Christianity fulfills a need and embodies a truth that the pre-Christian religions did not. If saying this makes the Pope an advocate of genocide, then believing this--that is, believing in Jesus--makes Latin Americans suicidal.

I stuck this comment at the end of the thread:

"I have to say that the ignorance and close-mindedness of the comments in this thread, and the post above it, are mind-boggling.

Do you people even care to know what form of Christianity is professed by the Pope?

Do you think that all Christians are like the fundamentalists in America?

Do you care that the people of Latin America BELIEVE in Jesus Christ, and not in the pre-Columbian religions?

Again, do you think that a Latin American Christian would be more offended by the Pope, or by YOU, blithely equating the Latin American religion of today--Christianity--with genocide and murder?

Do you really think that Latin Americans of today are too STUPID to distinguish between the religion they love and the terrible crimes they were subjected to by the conquerors?

This thread is a joke, this post is a joke.

Colonialism takes many forms. ONE is the ignorant dismissal of Latin American Christianity.

Why do you think 150,000 people came out to see the Pope yesterday? Because they're suicidal and want to celebrate the murderous conquest?

Or because they're grateful to God that the murderers of the 16th century, DESPITE THEMSELVES, brought Christianity to Latin America?

By the way, it's not coincidental that the Vatican has continuously denounced neo-liberal free trade, which destroys Latin American lives, with much more vigor and interest than we North Atlantic liberals.

It was Clinton, and not John Paul II, who inflicted NAFTA on those benighted brown-skinned worshippers of Jesus."

North American liberals are far, very far, from playing any sort of constructive role in the necessarily global movement of resistance to North American capital.


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