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Cutting Columbus Some Slack

Violence, it turns out, is not a European import to the New World.

Just about every year around this time - Columbus Day (yes, I know, but better late than never) - some wag will rail against the Italian explorer and all things European as being the ruin of the New World. All that death and disease - as if native Americans north and south didn't know anything about violence or sickness before Ferdinand's charge parked off the coast of Hispanola.

But while certain diseases may have been, violence, it turns out, is not a European import to the New World. Science News reports (Nov. 6, 2010) on a horrendous massacre among Pueblo Indian tribes at a place called Sacred Ridge in the American southwest, somewhere around 500 years before Columbus arrived. The numbers aren't all that big - 35 or so victims - but the means of death were truly horrific. Smashed and shattered bones, bodies sliced and diced, men, women, and children - all thrown into a common grave: hardly the stuff of the near-Eden we're sometimes encouraged to believe was America before Europeans. Hardly exceptional, either.

Commenting on this recent discovery, archaeologist James Potter said, "The extreme level of violence came as a complete surprise." But why should that be so? Have we not seen such violence in our own day? Were our human ancestors any less sinful than we?

Sin is the common catastrophe of all human beings, and those inhabiting these shores before the European invasion knew their fair share of it. Violence - in war and human sacrifices, chiefly - was the order of the day among many native tribes. Other "massacre" sites have been unearthed in which it's not clear - as in the Sacred Ridge massacre - precisely why such wanton slaughter was perpetrated. Sin's like that, yeah, it is. Left unchecked, it can break out in some pretty awful ways, quite suddently and inexplicably.

And that's why - as Andrew Delbanco argued in The Death of Satan - our nation cannot afford not to face up to the reality of sin. And why pastors must not forsake preaching about sin and calling for repentance from sin, and why they must begin to take more seriously the demands of holiness for the life of discipleship.

Because if the Church won't stand up to check sin, who will?

T. M. Moore

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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