We're All In the Same Boat

In the beginning was Columbus. Everything else in the Americas is prehistorical, pre-Columbian. So goes the creation story of the Americas from the perspective of the European conquerors.

Every great social project needs a creation myth. The myth of origin that undergirds the United States, pointed out sociologist Robert Bellah during the country's bicentennial, is loosely based on the biblical stories of the journey of a "chosen people."

Anchoring the myth are the fabled "crossing voyages" that brought the European to the Americas, from Columbus to the Mayflower to Ellis Island. (Other voyages, such as slave ships or Drake's pirating, are just as fundamental to the story, but are of course suppressed in the idealized myth of "discovery.") According to this archetypical story, unknown seas were sailed by determined heroes, often fleeing persecution, who endured great danger and hardship to arrive in the Promised Land.

Tragically, however, when coupled with ideologies of cultural superiority and economic exploitation these origin myths provided the justification for an unparalleled apocalypse (from the perspective of the indigenous people of the Americas) of European conquest and occupation. This legacy should be doubly distressing for Christians: The biblical stories were misappropriated in the service of domination, and the historical project of genocide was carried out in our name.

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