BUT FIRST, THIS:
Pope Benedict XVI wants marriage annulments speeded up. I'd be interested in hearing from Catholics who got annulments about the church's process. Is it fair? Right? Necessary? All (or none) of the above?
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As regular readers of this blog may recall, I'm auditing a Christian history class as Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Kan. In fact, the second semester of this two-semester course started this past Tuesday.
One of the books we are using is Christianity: A Global History by David Chidester. Every once in awhile I run across information in the book that makes me feel deeply ignorant. I had that experience the other evening while reading about the Spanish conquest of Latin America, especially Mexico.
Starting with Columbus, the Spanish explorers came to preach Christianity and convert anyone they could. That much I knew. What I didn't know in detail was what Chidester describes this way:
"While the indigenous people were subjected to military conquest, dispossession of land, forced labor and large-scale reduction in population through imported European diseases, a demographic disaster that reduced the native population of Mexico, for example, from 25 million to 1 million within a century, they were also drawn into the systematic project of Christianization."
From 25 million down to 1 million? Could that be right?
Indeed, I located that very figure on a Minnesota State University Web site describing the Spanish conquest. Here's part of what you'll find there: "Relegated to practical slave labor within sugar cane plantations and mining caves, the native population of Peru declined from 1.3 million in 1570, to 600,000 in 1620. In Meso-America (Tammeus note: essentially from today's central Mexico to Costa Rica) the circumstances were no different. The population of Indians went from 25.3 million in 1519, to a scant 1 million in 1605."
Today one frequently hears criticism of Islam for the aggressive techniques it used to expand in its early days, and some of those criticisms are valid. But such strategies as forced (or essentially so) conversions were not unique to Islam. I'm not suggesting that the loss of 24 million residents of Mexico in the 16th century can be attributed entirely to Christianity. But the processes of colonization, conversion and conquest all played a role. No one's hands are very clean.
To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here.
Today's religious holiday: Chinese New Year (Jan. 29, Confucian, Daoist, Buddhist)
(PS: Looking for a good religious holiday calendar? For the one on Beliefnet.com, click here.)