COLUMBUS: EVANGELIST OR WAR CRIMINAL
October 1, 2023 | View PDF
During a recent speaking engagement in Columbus, Ohio, I asked to see the Columbus statue near City Hall.
My hosts sadly informed me that, after a protest that claimed Columbus had engaged in violence and enslaved Native Americas, in 2020 the statue had been placed in storage and will be replaced by “a work of art that better represents the people of Columbus.”
Why, we should ask, did Columbus come to America? It wasn’t to prove the world is round; every educated person in 1492 knew that. Isaiah 40:22 speaks of the “circle of the earth,” and the Hebrew word means “sphere.”
So did Columbus say to Queen Isabella, “Send me west so I can brutalize and enslave natives”?
Hardly. The voyage to the west was to reach the Orient, preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Great Kahn, and form a Christian alliance that could stand against the Islamic powers that posed a formidable barrier between Europe and East Asia.
In his Book of Prophecies Columbus wrote:
“It was the Lord (I could feel His hand upon me) who put into my mind to sail to the Indies. ... There is no question that the inspiration was from the Holy Spirit, because He comforted me with rays of marvelous illumination from the Holy Scriptures...”
When Columbus first landed on October 12, 1492, he named the newfound island San Salvador (Holy Savior), he found friendly people known as the Taino or Arawaks. He wrote of them in his October 12 Journal entry, “They remained so much our [friends] that it was a marvel...I believe that they would easily be made Christians, because it seemed to me that they belonged to no religion.”
Four days later, on October 16 he wrote, “I don’t recognize in them any religion, and I believe that very promptly they would turn Christians, for they are of very good understanding.”
But not all relations with Native Americans were friendly. A warlike tribe was moving northward from the southern islands, called the Caribs (Caribbean) or Canibs (cannibal). The Canibs were literally eating the Arawaks alive, and they made war on the Spaniards as well. As he and his men defended themselves and the Arawaks against the Canibs, he reluctantly decided that enslavement was the only way to subdue them. Unfortunately, those who came after Columbus did not differentiate between the Arawaks and the Caribs and indiscriminately enslaved both. This was indefensible, but it was not what Columbus had intended. As Admiral of the Ocean Sea, Columbus was a great explorer and discoverer; as Governor of the Indies he was less effective in restraining the impulses of those who came after him.
In the Spanish conquest that followed, millions lost their lives, but mostly to disease, primarily smallpox, against which Native Americans had not built up immunities. This is tragic beyond proportion, but can moral blame be attached to it? No one at that time knew how disease was spread. Contact between the two worlds was inevitable, whether by Spaniards discovering America or Aztecs discovering Spain.
So the question remains: Should Columbus Day be celebrated or mourned? To answer that question, we need to look at the facts, going back to the original sources such as the diaries, journals, and letters of the explorers and those who came with them. Columbus’s Journal and Book of Prophecies deserve our attention, as does The Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Diaz del Castillo, One of Its Conquerors (5 vols). I have cited these and other works extensively in my own 1992 book, Columbus and Cortez, Conquerors for Christ.
But we interpret facts through our world view. To a cultural relativist, the Spanish Conquest is often condemned as one culture displacing and destroying another. If there are no absolutes, if cannibalism just a matter of dietary preference, and if human sacrifice might be either good or bad depending on which end of the knife you are facing, then the Canibs should have been allowed to continue eating the Arawaks and the Aztecs should have been permitted to continue sacrificing Toltecs and those of other tribes upon the pyramid altars to their gods. (But if there are no absolutes, then what is wrong with that? The relativist world view always ends up shooting itself in the foot.)
But what if you believe absolute truth does exist, and it is found in the Bible, the Word of God? What if you believe Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God who died for the sins of the world, and eternal salvation is found in Him and only in Him?
If you believe this, then the significance of Columbus Day must be judged based upon the millions of souls that are in heaven as a result of the way God used flawed instruments like Columbus, Cortez, and the rest of us, to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to this western world.
Colonel Eidsmoe is Professor of Constitutional Law for the Oak Brook College of Law & Government Policy (www.obcl.edu) and Senior Counsel for the Foundation for Moral Law (www.morallaw.org). He may be reached for speaking engagements at email@example.com. Those with constitutional concerns may contact the Foundation at 334/262-1245.