Friday, December 5, 2014

Literalism, colonization, and conquest

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The previous post explored some of the important issues raised by Mark Plotkin's recent TED talk entitled "What the people of the Amazon know that you don't."

Specifically, it explored the contrasts offered in Dr. Plotkin's talk between those who are acting as part of the world-encompassing western system and those who have thus far managed to avoid being that system and whose people have called the Amazon rainforest their home for centuries or for millennia. 

It suggested that contrast may spring from the fact that one group is characterized by harmony with the natural world and the spirit world (and indeed, it could be said that this group sees no hard-and-fast distinction between the visible, material, natural world and the invisible, immaterial, spirit world) and that the other group is characterized by a disconnection with the world of nature (if not an antagonism towards it) and an almost total disregard for the spirit world (if not an antagonism towards the very idea of a spirit world, as understood in shamanic cultures).

It further noted that this antagonism in earlier centuries stemmed primarily from literalist Christian dogma and in later centuries has stemmed from the "ideology of materialism" which has in some important western circles become a replacement religion for literalist Christianity).

This divide can be seen as central to the very different approaches highlighted in the TED talk between "western medicine" and shamanic healing, between living in harmony with the rainforest and clearing it out to create grazing land for a few skinny cows, between pursuing the old ways while avoiding western contact and pursuing uncontacted groups in order to take pictures with them, enslave them, or  try to convert them to literalist Christianity.

Regrettably, there is a very real and ongoing doctrine among literalist Christians that they are under divine commission to reach every people group on the planet in order to attempt to replace the indigenous or traditional belief with literal Christianity. For an example of the seriousness of this ongoing belief, and the numerous groups that have been organized to pursue this "mission" or "great commission" of converting some members of every culture on earth to literalist Christianity, simply type the words "reaching the unreached" into a decent search engine and visit some of the links that come up as results.

This doctrine of a "great commission" to convert everyone is regrettable because, as it turns out, there is substantial evidence that the Biblical scriptures were never intended to be understood literally, being built upon a foundation of celestial metaphor (see for example this recent video, as well as some of the Biblical stories listed in this index of "Star Myth" explanations on this blog).  Ironically, I believe that there is extensive evidence to suggest that this exact same system of celestial metaphor can also be shown to be the foundation of the sacred traditions of nearly every culture on the planet, including those in the so-called "New World" (some of those are discussed in the Star Myth index linked in the previous sentence). 

For this reason alone (along with many others which have to do with not trying to conquer other men and women), I believe that the idea of aggressively working to teach "unreached" people to reject their traditional sacred knowledge and replace it with literalist interpretations of the Biblical scriptures is profoundly misguided.

Among some literalist Christians, this mission is also joined to an apocalyptic vision regarding the end of the world, the end of the age, and the prophesied return of the literal and historical Christ. This connection is generally based specifically on words attributed to Jesus in Matthew 24:14, which declare: "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." 

In fact, it can be demonstrated that Christopher Columbus wrote quite extensively on his own belief that the scriptures teach that end of the world and the return of Christ require the conversion of the people of the new continent to the Christian faith, as well as the physical rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem -- and he believed that his voyages to the Americas were instrumental in both of those requirements (the second he felt would be aided by the opening of a new westward route to the Holy Land for the western European monarchs, bypassing some of the obstacles of the eastward route from western Europe, and aided as well by the gold which could now be brought back from the Americas and put to good use in facilitating the rebuilding of the Temple).

In his Libro de las Profecias ("Book of the Prophecies"), which Columbus wrote in the years 1501-1502 in Spain, in conjunction with a monk named Gaspar Garricio, he explains his belief that the Americas serve this important apocalyptic purpose in fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, and cites extensive scriptural references from the Old and New Testament to back up his claims, often commenting on them to tie them to his thesis. Strangely enough for a work of such apparent historic importance, it has only very rarely been translated into English, and even those translations can be difficult to obtain (it's not as though Columbus is some kind of marginal figure of minimal historical importance, so the scarcity of this work in easy-to-access online English translations is somewhat puzzling and perhaps worthy of comment -- especially in light of the fact that one of the most important sources Columbus cites in his work, the medieval Joachim of Fiore, is also rather difficult if not impossible to find in English translation as well).

But, the link above will take you to an online transcription of the original text as it was written in Spanish, albeit with frequent archaic spelling conventions (for instance, places in which the letter "i" would be used in the Spanish spelling of a word today often use the letter "y" instead, and some words which today would be spelled using the letter "v" contain the letter "b" where we would expect to see a "v," which is consistent with the pronunciation but not the modern spelling -- and that in some places we would expect a "b" we find a "v" instead). However, it is fairly readable for those who can read modern Spanish. There, you will find that Columbus declares that: 
El abad Johachin, calabres, diso que habia de salir de Espana quien havia de redificar la Casa del monte Sion (see Folio 6, "B").
This translates roughly to: "The abbott Joachim [of Fiore], of Calabria, said that he has to come from Spain the one who is going to re-build the House of the Mount of Sion [or Zion]."

Earlier, at the end of the first side of Folio 5, Columbus states of the prophet Isaiah (according to the interpretations of San Geronimo and Saint Augustine) says that, "Este puso toda su diligencia a escrevir lo venidero y llamar toda la gente a nuestra santa fee catolica" which I translate roughly to mean "This one exerted all his diligence to write of what is coming and to call all the people to our holy catholic faith."

Columbus then begins to cite extensive passages from the scriptures on the subject of the end of the world, as well as passages from the writings of Augustine and others. When he gets to the important passage from Matthew 24:14 quoted above (regarding the requirement for the gospel of the kingdom to be preached "in all the world" and then "shall the end come"), Columbus comments:
<<En todo el mundo>>: es evidente que antes de la destruccion de la ciudad [Jerusalen] por Tito y Vespansiano, el evangelo fue predicado en las tres partes del mundo, es decir, en Asia, Africa y Europa, pues viviendo todavia Pedro, la fe fue predicada en Italia &c. Hay que inquirir [estas cosas], si le place a uno.
My rough translation of this passage might be as follows:
"In all the world": it is evident that before the destruction of the city by Titus and Vespasian, the gospel was preached in the three parts of the world, that is to say, in Asia, Africa and Europe: even more, within the life of Peter, the faith was preached in Italy etc. It needs to be examined, if it pleases him to [have it preached] in one more.
While it is undeniable that the historical context of the writing of this Book of Prophecies by Columbus included his desire for the rulers of Spain to send him back on another mission to the Americas, no one who reads it can come away unconvinced that Columbus was deeply versed in the scriptures and that he possessed a thoroughly-developed framework of eschatology, predicated upon the rebuilding of the Temple at Jerusalem and the conversion of all the unreached nations of the globe to the literalist Christian faith -- and that he could back up his vision with an interlocking lattice of verses from both the Old and New Testaments. It is difficult to argue that this vision was not dominant (or at least extremely important) in his desire to undertake voyages across the Atlantic from the outset. 

In his most-recent book, Thrice Great Hermetica and the Janus Age, the insightful and extremely thorough researcher Joseph Farrell makes this very argument regarding the purpose of the voyage of Columbus: that it was part of a carefully-planned vision for bringing about the fulfillment of prophecy by powerful groups at the top of the power structure of western Europe (see pages 156-157 in particular). Of the reference to Joachim of Fiore, Dr. Farrell says:
Joachim, in other words, more than anyone else, is responsible for viewing prophecy as a code to be decrypted, and once decrypted, as a playbook or agenda to be followed by the power elite of his day. [. . . ] Thus, in terms of the hidden "prophetic" agenda driving Columbus and his backers, his voyage of 1492 was not a chance discovery, but a planned revelation whose every last detail was coordinated, including especially those details meant to exhibit "the fulfillment of prophecy." 156 - 157.
That there remain to this day those who continue to believe some version of this "playbook or agenda" and who see both the Americas and Mount Zion as important to that prophecy's ultimate fulfillment is hardly possible to doubt. Some of those who continue to hold to these beliefs may also tie the  "reaching" of every last "unreached" culture into their vision of the fulfillment of such "end times" prophecies.

Again, I believe that there is extensive evidence from within the Biblical scriptures themselves to support the conclusion that they were not intended to be interpreted as literally and historically as they are often interpreted. For example, both Joachim and Columbus published specific predictions for the year in which the Apocalyptic events predicted in the scriptures would take place on earth -- and yet I believe that the scriptures in general and the Apocalypse of John in particular (often called the Revelation today) are celestial in nature and were intended to convey esoteric teaching and not historical or literal predictions. 

Some discussion of the celestial foundations for the events described in the Revelation of John (particularly in chapter 9, where the celestial connections are very clear) can be found in this previous post, as well as in the three chapters of my book The Undying Stars, which can be read online here (see pages 9 through 13 of the book, which are part of the selection that is posted online).

Ultimately, I believe that the above discussion points to some of the very substantial evidence which suggests that literalist Christianity itself can be seen to encourage a kind of "colonizing mindset," in that literal misinterpretations of its content can lead to the regrettable conclusion that it should be "forced upon" others, either by persuasive or even aggressive arguments or -- in some extreme but by no means isolated instances -- by physical force or violence (see the record of Charlemagne in Europe, for example, as well as many other cases in later centuries). The connection between this mindset and the other forms of imposing the western world-system on others who might be more disposed to live without it or outside of it should be clear.

Further, I believe there is strong evidence to support the theory that literalist Christianity was deliberately designed as a vehicle for taking over the Roman Empire from the inside, and that it turned out to be a very effective vehicle for doing so (see previous posts such as this one and this one). If this theory is in fact correct, then we should hardly be surprised that it continued to be an effective tool for colonizing and taking over other cultures around the planet in subsequent centuries, and that it continues to do so today. 

Some may object at this point by saying that there have been plenty of non-Christian examples of conquest at the point of the sword, and colonization and cultural takeover of one people by another throughout history, and of this there is no doubt. But it is also extremely notable that western Europe, where the literalists who took over the Roman Empire had the most power and influence for the longest period according to the theory mentioned above, has proven to be the most aggressive and most "successful" (if taking over the culture of others can be measured as a success) colonizing entity the world has ever known (at least, as far as history is known to this point).

It might also be pointed out that, unlike sheer physical conquest by the force of arms, if Christianity was designed to take over a culture from the inside primarily by tactics other than physical force, it can be said to have a powerful "built-in" propensity for what might be called "mental colonization" or "mental conquest" -- or, to use a term which has been defined more precisely in other posts: "mind control."

Thus, I believe that it is no small item that Mark Plotkin mentioned the efforts of Christian missionaries alongside the other deleterious impacts of the western world-system upon the human and natural ecosystems of the Amazon. In many ways, it can be said that literalist Christianity is at the heart of this entire pattern, and has been for many centuries -- stretching back to Columbus, and perhaps even for centuries before that.