Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Religion and Genocide
The natives of New England had never been exposed to these particular viral diseases. They contracted them as adults. Measles in particular is often fatal to an adult who has no acquired immunity. Entire population of villages would come down with measles and would die. The European settlers were actually welcomed when they occupied the villages that had been emptied in this way. No one in those days understood that diseases are caused by tiny living things, like bacteria and viruses. Things not understood were ascribed to God. God was very near. God took care of His people, the people who worshiped the Bible as God's Truth, and punished their enemies. The Bible contained stories of how the Israelites, God's chosen people, had come out of the desert into a fertile land, already occupied by another people, and had slaughtered the occupants to make room for themselves. Arranging for the native Americans to die of measles was thought to be the act of God, who was preparing the new land for his chosen people.
By 1900 the descendants of the Europeans realized that it wasn't the work of God at all but the result of this "European" disease that had killed the native population. The idea that we descendants of Europeans were somehow responsible for a great killing began to take root in our thinking. Today we try to make amends by creating museums devoted to the culture of the now-vanished original inhabitants, recording as much as we can of the native languages and oral literature, and romanticizing the lost people. We congratulate ourselves that at least we admit that we caused the extinction of tens of millions of people. Some of regret what happened. Others believe still that it was inevitable that the superior European culture would replace the native cultures. Perhaps it was. At least we do not censor writers who study this great genocide and report for future historians the facts available about it.