I grew up in Minnesota and so am always surprised when the banks are closed and the mail doesn’t come on Columbus Day. I just have a hard time thinking of Columbus Day as a real holiday. Now Leif Ericson Day (Oct. 9), that’s a day for real celebration of European discovery! That I can understand. Moving to the NYC area, where I lived for eighteen years, was a cultural shock, not because of the size of the city but because of the enormity of Columbus Day, and I never did learn to appreciate it to the satisfaction of my friends and colleagues. Of course the popular thing today is to celebrate with one hand while thumping the chest and crying mea culpa with the other. After all, wasn’t Columbus the key to the rape of the Americas by avaricious Europeans?
I wonder if we might consider a couple of points here. First, along with other less well documented voyages of discovery, Columbus accomplished something quite remarkable that opened up all kinds of avenues for new discoveries in all sorts of ways. It’s worthy of celebration. Second, expansion of territory by conquest was not a moral question in those days, not even for the indigenous peoples of the “new world.” The morality of conquest was not seriously questioned until the 19th century, and the issue not fully resolved until the 20th. What is clear to our eyes as being something reprehensible was, except for a few, invisible to theirs.
Now we more clearly see how offensive much of what the European invasion of the Americas was not only to the indigenous peoples but, for us Christians, to the gospel of Christ and in the eyes of God. Good for us. We’ve got wonderfully acute hindsight. Big deal. How about foresight? What is it today that we simply cannot or will not see that future centuries will find morally appalling and wonder how we ever did what we did and still claimed the name of Jesus Christ? I don’t have really good answer, but I think it is a question we need to ask.