Using Christopher Columbus as a Politically Correct Hammer

Each October, Christopher Columbus is hammered for his voyages of exploitation of native peoples and supported for proving the earth was round instead of flat. (More about the flat earth claim below).

For example, Seattle, Washington, has designated “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” to replace the every-federal-government-worker-gets-the-day-off -with-pay-while-the-rest-of-us-don’t Columbus Day paid holiday.

I’m against all of these “government holidays.” Send the bureaucrats back to work. If they want to celebrate Columbus or unnamed and faceless indigenous peoples, let them do it on their own dime and time.

Like Martin Luther King, Jr. Day hasn’t done a thing for black people, Indigenous Peoples’ Day won’t do a thing for the descendants of Indigenous Peoples who displaced previous Indigenous Peoples.

It’s a myth that the peoples of the Americas lived a Garden-of-Eden-like existence. This is no to exonerate anything Columbus did, but it does help to nullify some of the animus of the Left.

Latin American history expert Christopher Minster writes:

Columbus was neither a monster nor a saint. He had some admirable qualities and some very negative ones. He was not a bad or evil man, simply a skilled sailor and navigator who was also an opportunist and a product of his time.

On the one hand, Christopher Columbus is despised by the Left for his glaring faults, but on the other hand he used by the Left to slam people the Left claims once believed the earth was flat based on their religious beliefs. Supposedly Columbus wanted to take his voyage to prove the religious illiterates wrong.

We’ve seen John Kerry, Charles Osgood, and others bring out the old canard that if a person rejects certain scientific theories based on science (e.g., global warming) that they are like people who believed the earth was flat.

John Kerry said the following in a speech he gave at a graduation ceremony at Boston College:

“If the US does not act and if it turns out that the critics and naysayers and the members of the Flat Earth Society — if it turns out they’re wrong, then we are risking nothing less than the future of the entire planet.”

The best book on the subject of the flat earth myth is Jeffrey Russell’s Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians. The claim that Columbus had to convince the scientists and cartographers of his day that the earth was round is pure fiction, manufactured by Washington Irving in his 1828 two-volume biography of Columbus. Samuel Eliot Morison, a noted Columbus biographer, describes the story by Irving as “misleading and mischievous nonsense, . . . one of Christopher-Columbusthe most popular Columbian myths.”

The dispute with Columbus in the 15th century was over how big around the earth was not whether the earth was round or flat. Columbus was wrong; the map makers were right.

For decades, the flat earth slam was standard historical mythology that was written into our nation’s textbooks and is pulled out as an ideological hammer every time some liberal lie is questioned.

One critic of Russell’s book claims that evidence for the belief in a flat earth can be found in the Hereford Cathedral, located at Hereford in England, and the 13th century Hereford Mappa Mundi (Map of the World).

This would be similar to an archeological dig a thousand years from today finding a cache of vinyl maps hanging in public schools from the 1960s and concluding that people in the 20th century believed in a flat earth. Are our GPS systems globes or are they flat with four corners?

In the eleven-volume Our Wonder World, first published in 1914, the editors offered the following undocumented claims: “All the ancient peoples thought the earth was flat, or, if not perfectly flat, a great slightly curving surface,” and “Columbus was trying to convince people that the earth was round.”

Even the Encyclopedia Britannica perpetuated the myth of a round-earth solution for Columbus’s voyages as late as 1961: “Before Columbus proved the world was round, people thought the horizon marked its edge. Today we know better.” The people knew better in Columbus’s day.

A 1983 textbook for fifth-graders reported that Columbus “felt he would eventually reach the Indies in the East. Many Europeans still believed that the world was flat. Columbus, they thought, would fall off the earth.” A 1982 text for eighth-graders said that Europeans “believed . . . that a ship could sail out to sea just so far before it fell off the edge of the sea. . . . The people of Europe a thousand years ago knew little about the world.”

Prominent scholars like John D. Bernal (1901–1971), in his four-volume Science in History (1954), and Daniel J. Boorstin (1914–2004), prize-winning author and Librarian of Congress from 1975 to 1987, propagated the myth without any historical substantiation. Boorstin spills a great deal of ink inventing a history of flat-earth beliefs that he traces to an obscure sixth-century monk, Cosmas Indicopleustes, who, according to medieval scholar Jeffrey Russell, “had no followers whatever: his works were ignored or dismissed with derision throughout the Middle Ages.”

Earlier attempts to present Columbus as a scientific iconoclast can be found in two standard nineteenth-century anti-Christian works pitting science against religion. John William Draper claims that Christians had no concern for scientific discovery. Instead, “they originated in commercial rivalries, and the question of the shape of the earth was finally settled by three sailors, Columbus, De Gama, and, above all, by Ferdinand Magellan.”

While Columbus and other informed sailors who regularly sailed beyond the horizon believed in “the globular figure of the earth,” such an idea was, “as might be expected . . . received with disfavor by theologians.” A similar argument appears in Andrew D. White’s A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. The “shape of the earth” was not in question in Columbus’s day. “Columbus, like all educated people of his time, knew that the world was round. . .”

Boorstin asserts that from A.D. 300 to at least 1300, Europe suffered under what he describes as “scholarly amnesia” due to the rise of “Christian faith and dogma [that] suppressed the useful image of the world that had been so slowly, so painfully, and so scrupulously drawn by ancient geographers.”

Bede (673–735), monk of Jarow and “the Father of English history,” maintained “that the earth is a globe that can be called a perfect sphere because the surface irregularities of mountains and valleys are so small in comparison to its vast size.” He specifies that the “earth is ‘round’ not in the sense of ‘circular’ but in the sense of a ball.”1

The Columbus myth is another example of historical revisionism, the attempt by secularists to cast the Church in a negative light. Liberal historians relish the fact that schoolchildren all over the country are being taught that Christians are ignorant, flat-earth kooks who will not listen to reason and science. When the facts of history are accurately surveyed, however, we discover true science never conflicts with the Bible. Scientific misinformation is never promoted through an accurate understanding of the Bible. Instead, the manipulation of truth always occurs outside the biblical worldview.

  1. Russell, Inventing the Flat Earth, 20. []
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