OK so I’m old enough and cynical enough to realize that where there’s a profit to be made there will be war. I don’t like it but there it is. But when killing and reaping the financial benefits is done in the name of God, something’s wrong with one’s theology.
I’m at the point in the church history book where the Spanish conquistadors arrive in the Americas. (BTW the title above is a takeoff on the latest internet meme and I don’t mean it to be irreverant. It just seemed to fit.)
Our history takes place in the 1500s and 1600s. That’s (mostly) before the Puritans arrived in New England. While the Protestant Reformation was gathering momentum in Europe and the reformers were being martyred, other Europeans were making their way across the Atlantic and finding more people to kill. Mass murder, rape, pillaging, wiping out entire tribes of indigenous people.
The list of places alone is astounding. Their modern-day names are: Puerto Rico. Cuba. Jamaica. Mexico (Aztec). Mexico (“New Spain”). Baja. California. New Mexico. Texas. Arizona. Panama. Costa Rica. Florida. South Carolina. North Carolina. Virginia. Georgia. Colombia. Venezuela. Peru (Incas). Ecuador. Bolivia. Chile. Argentina. Nicaragua. Paraguay. Parts of Brazil.
In less than 200 years they had conquered South and Central America and then some, and claimed them for crown and Pope, and were shipping home anything they could find of value, from gold to sugar. And when there weren’t enough local Indians left alive to meet the European settlers’ demand for slaves, they imported more from Africa.
And then (as if genocide wasn’t enough) they sent in priests and bishops to teach the survivors this was all God’s will for them and they should be baptized and be happy to serve the newly arrived Europeans. From the textbook:
“It took many years even for those who were baptized to gain a basic understanding of the Christian faith. Even then, priests [were paid to make] certain that this faith was understood in such a way that it made them docile.”
Those two sentences stunned me into silence.
Even the priests turned their backs on the poor and oppressed. The ones who should have known better. The ones who knew the scripture: “blessed are the poor… blessed are the meek…” They took money to prevent their parishioners from understanding what Jesus was all about.
God have mercy on us all.
To be fair, there were a few Christians who cared about the fate of the native peoples. They were the monastics — Jesuit, Franciscan, and Dominican missionaries. But more often than not they were hunted down and killed for their efforts by their fellow Spaniards, and their native followers taken as slaves.
Those of you who know me know I’m far from anti-Catholic, and have often defended the Catholic church against its detractors (including Catholics!) so please don’t interpret this post as Catholic-bashing. Nonetheless there have been some very ugly episodes in the history of Catholicism, and this is one of the ugliest.
And I must add: on a less physically lethal scale I still see this kind of practice going on from time to time. Good people live in fear of breaking this church rule or that church rule or getting on the wrong side of a priest, when it is the duty of the clergy to serve, not to be served. To obey (God) not to be obeyed. I have met priests who were more concerned about how the furniture was arranged in the sanctuary than they were about their parishioners’ souls.
The net result is where clergy leave an opening, unscrupulous people will always — always — take advantage and use the Church as a covering for their sins. “It doesn’t matter how I live,” they reason, “I can always go to confession and go to mass and I’ll be fine.”
Bullshit. Sacraments don’t make you a Christian any more than circumcision makes you a Jew, any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car. And it’s high time the Pope stood up and said so, as clearly and unequivocally as he said “we’re the only true church” the other day.
Please note: I’m not saying the Catholic Church has cornered the market on ecclesiastical corruption. Not by a long shot. Anytime a pastor says to you “don’t ask questions, just do what I tell you” he’s taking your money and trying to keep you docile. Anytime a church leader says “you must have some unconfessed sin in your life” when your prayers don’t seem to be answered, he’s trying to keep you under his thumb. Anytime someone asks “are you sure you’re saved?” when you’ve already identified yourself as a Christian, they’re trying to control you.
Beware wolves in sheep’s clothing… and don’t be afraid to confront them. You’ll be doing someone a favor.