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Friday, January 23, 2015

Judging the past

Is it unfair to judge the past for things we supposedly know better now? Possibly, but that it not the question, really. Part of the problem is that we are not better than the past in the way we think we are. So really, what we need to do is judge ourselves.

In other words, it is the same ideology that persists in us that must be examined.

Let's say, for example, the idea of making Junipero Serra a saint. We who had fourth grade in California knew of his missions up the coast, from San Diego to San Francisco. He was a Franciscan, and the current Pope chose the name of Francis for himself.

It is unfair to blame him for mistreating the Indians, we are told, because nobody knew any better at the time. Now, of course, we know it is wrong to enslave people and destroy their culture, impose your religion on them, kill them with epidemics. Easy for us to say!

But to excuse him from this on the grounds that he brought Christianity to them (supposedly a good thing) and that the Europeans were going to colonize anyway, so it was good to have Christianity soften the blow, well, that is said by someone in the present who should know better. Really, Serra is dead so he won't care if he is judged harshly. When we claim to be sparing him we are really sparing people in the present.


Vance Maverick said...

I made a highly "relativist"-style comment on this at Lawyers, Guns and Money. But at the moment I'm inclined to consider present-day marketing. The RC church is choosing to give its highest retrospective honor, today, to that particular life and career. This is a public act, toward both members and non-members, and the church itself can't control how it's going to be taken. "This is what we approve of", they say loudly, and any qualifications to the broad construction of "this" are inaudible. The project of imperial expansion may not be what they mean to bless, but that's how it shakes out.

Jonathan said...

It's interesting how relativist argument get used in apologetics for institutions that claim to have had the absolute truth always and forever.