The discovery of the New World shook orthodox Christianity with difficult questions

columbus-discovers-new-world“Columbus’s voyages caused almost as much change in Europe as in the Americas… Perhaps the most far-reaching impact of Columbus’s findings was on European Christianity.

In 1492 all of Europe was in the grip of the Catholic Church. As Larousse puts it, before America, “Europe was virtually incapable of self-criticism.” After America, Europe’s religious uniformity was ruptured. For how were these new peoples to be explained? They were not mentioned in the Bible. [my note: in fact it took a hundred afer the discovery of the new world for Pope Paul III to publish a document (Sublimis Deus) that stated the Native Americans had souls.]

The Indians simply did not fit within orthodox Christianity’s explanation of the moral universe. Moreover, unlike the Muslims, who might be written off as “damned infidels,” Indians had not rejected Christianity, they had just never encountered it. Were they doomed to hell?

Even the animals of America posed a religious challenge. According to the Bible, at the dawn of creation all animals lived in the Garden of Eden. Later, two of each species entered Noah’s ark and ended up on Mt. Ararat. Since Eden and Mt. Ararat were both in the Middle East, where could these new American species have come from? Such questions shook orthodox Catholicism and contributed to the Protestant Reformation, which began in 1517.”

Catholic historian/sociologist James W. Loewen, in Lies My Teacher Told Me



Columbus was a “man of God” or a barbarous tyrant, depending on whos telling the story

There are a wide array of pictures of Christopher Columbus, some paint him as a saint with “superb faith in God” others as a genocidal maniac. Below are two of these portraits:

  • “He had his faults and his defects, but they were largely the defects of the qualities that made him great-his indomitable will, his superb faith in God and in his own mission as the Christ-bearer to lands beyond the seas, his stubborn persistence despite neglect, poverty and discouragement.” (1)
    (Samuel Morison, Harvard historian 1950’s)
  • “As soon as the 1493 expedition got to the Caribbean, before it even reached Haiti, Columbus was rewarding his lieutenants with native women to rape. Columbus himself wrote to a friend in 1500, “girls from 9-10…are in demand.” Bartolomé de las Casas who traveled with Columbus reported that he saw Columbus’s soldiers dismember, behead, or rape over 3,000 native people in a single day. Casas wrote “such inhumanities and barbarisms were committed in my sight as no age can parallel. My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature that now I tremble as I write.” (2)
    (James Loewen, Harvard historian/sociologist, contemporary)