Nothing 'Spiritual' about Imperialism

Article excerpt

It's easy to get into trouble when you're talking about imperialism, as Pope Benedict XVI recently discovered.

First, a straightforward definition of imperialism: "The practice of one country extending its control over the territory, political system or economic life of another country." That's from Marc Becker, an associate professor of history, specializing in Latin America, at Truman State University in Missouri.

The pope, skipping over the bad parts of the invasion of the Americas by the Europeans in the 15th century, said in a recent speech in Brazil to Latin American and Caribbean bishops that the indigenous population of the New World was "silently longing" for Christianity "without realizing it."

The colonial-era invasion and the subsequent millions of deaths, enslavement and destruction of native cultures was described by the pope as an "encounter" between "faith and the indigenous people."

Genocide, in short, wasn't all that bad, since those without "faith" got a chance to "encounter" the European version of theology. The natives, or at least those who weren't slaughtered, welcomed the Holy Spirit, "who came to make their cultures fruitful, purifying them," the pope said.

Actually, the supposed Holy Spirit was just along for the ride, a sideshow in a brutal and worldwide quest for power that had more to do with gold and slaves than purification and fruitfulness.

"The proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel," declared the pope, "did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbus cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture." In fact, the whole thing was foreign, including the European gunpowder.

Indian organizations expressed outrage at Benedict's statements. "Surely, the pope doesn't realize that the representatives of the Catholic Church of that era, with honorable exceptions, were complicit, accessories and beneficiaries of one of the more horrible genocides that humanity has seen," declared an association of Quechua Indians in Ecuador, one of South America's largest indigenous groups.

"The so-called evangelization was violent," wrote a Peru-based alliance of Andean Indians in an open letter to the pope. "Any cult that wasn't Catholic was persecuted and cruelly repressed."

A leader of the Makuxi tribe, Dionito Jose de Souza, stated, "The state used the church to do the dirty work in colonizing the Indians. …