While people are in the business of tearing down monuments to slave traders and brutal colonisers, why not go further and turn people’s ires on Roman Catholic Church buildings and statues? After all, the Catholic Church has as blood-soaked a history as any other global imperial empire.
The crucifix, for example, was a potent symbol that rallied people to perpetrate hideous atrocities, perhaps at scales that likely dwarf the numbers of lives lost to Nazism and American and European slavery. But unlike, say, the swastika, the crucifix still hangs at the altars and facades of the Catholic Church’s towering edifices. And why not? The Roman Catholic Church is one of the winners of centuries of genocidal religious warfare and ethnic cleansing.
Why, for example, are Native Americans not offended by the crucifix when this was a symbol hoisted on poles and displayed in fluttering flags when Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro brought to bear the full force of the Inquisition upon the Inca people in the 16th Century in what is now modern-day Peru? Fast forward to more recent times and consider the case for the proposed canonization of Pope Pius XII who many criticise for being silent on Nazi atrocities as a wartime sovereign of the Vatican. In his article “The Holocaust and the Catholic Church” published on The Atlantic, acclaimed author James Carroll wrote;
If Pius XII were to be named a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, more than the restoration of his reputation would result. His policy of silence about Nazi atrocities would be justified.
Perhaps it is because the Catholic Church is far more clever. Where it failed to decimate heretics and pagans, it, instead, converted people to believers. So successful were they and the broader Christendom at justifying themselves, in fact, that the most powerful military societies of today stretching over much of Eurasia and North America were founded upon Christian values. In this way, the Church had installed a vast global insurance against vilification by the people it had oppressed over two millennia.
It would, of course be impractical to take the Church to task on its history of oppression seeing that most of the people it had oppressed had not only moved on but embraced its dogma and built successful societies founded on its core principles. The point is, history moves only one way — forward. The past remains inaccessible to change beyond the imperfect record of it kept in human-created artifacts. Obliterating these artifacts may make the record inaccessible to future generations, but it will not change the outcomes of what happened in the past.
Those who seek satisfaction in destroying historical record that they deem “inappropriate” should step back and think about what they really aim to achieve. In changing people’s perceptions of the past, do they really think the future their current trajectory is taking them will change? Food for thought right there.
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