Stop using religion to justify murder!
Though 2nd grade teachers across America emphasize Columbus’ “great courage” or “unrelenting perseverance,” I would argue that his most striking quality is his extreme devotion to Christianity. Columbus used Christianity to justify the enslavement and killing of countless natives. On the very first day he encountered natives, he wrote, "They should be good servants .... I, our Lord being pleased, will take hence, at the time of my departure, six natives for your Highnesses."
This is perhaps clearest in The Spanish Requirement of 1513, a declaration that Spanish conquers would read to the natives, informing them of the terms by which they will enslave, rape, and kill them, in a language they cannot understand,“"I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their highnesses; we shall take you, and your wives, and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him; and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us” (Cook).
Unfortunately, Columbus isn’t alone in his use of religion; religion has been used to justify numerous atrocities throughout history. For example, in no particular order: The crusades in the 11th century killed over 500,00 Jews and Muslims. Alexander the Great killed around a million people. The Ottoman empire murdered two million Armenians over the years. A million people have died in Rwanda, half a million in Darfur. The Aztecs practiced human sacrifice, killing around 20,00 people a year. Followers of India’s Thuggee sect sacrificed up to 2 million people over the years (religioustolerance.org). This list is in nowhere near comprehensive; it only serves to demonstrate just how many people have been killed in the name of religion.
American history is plagued by its own share of religiously fueled crimes. The wars between colonists and Native Americans killed 98% of the Abenaki people and 95% of the Pocumtuck and Unquachog tribes. Of course, Christianity was used to justify the practice of slavery for decades in America. Slave owners often quoted portions of the Bible that seemed to approve of the ownership of other human beings, like Leviticus 25:44-46: "Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids” and Ephesians 6:5: "be obedient to them that are your masters.” (Zinn)
Unfortunately, in today’s world religion is still often used to justify oppression and murder. In modern day America you can justify any kind of prejudice, bigotry, sexism, or intolerance if you cite the Bible. George W. Bush famously stated that “God told me to invade Iraq” In many ways, the invasion of Iraq is similar to Columbus’ exploitation of the Americas: where Columbus used the spreading Christianity as a cover for his money-grabbing quest, Bush used the spreading of Freedom. Every day, people are opressed and killed in the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. Religion is the ultimate rationalizer. It has the power to blindly unite people, for better or worse. However, it remains that any atrocities committed in the name of religion are still crimes committed by people. The failings of religion are the failings of people.