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God & Country & Gold

August 29, 2011

At age 76, In the  year 1568,   Bernal Diaz del Castillo, who had been a captain in the army of Hernan Cortes, and the last survivor of the  Spanish conquistadors  who  overthrew the Aztec Empire in 1521, eulogized his fallen comrades thusly:

“Where are now my companions? They have fallen in battle or been devoured by the cannibal, or been thrown to fatten the wild beasts in their cages! They whose remains should rather have been gathered under monuments emblazoned with their achievements, which deserve to be commemorated in letters of gold; for they died in the service of God and of His Majesty, and to give light to those who sat in darkness–and also to acquire that wealth which most men covet.”

Born over five hundred years ago in 1492, the year of Colombus’ first voyage, Bernal Diaz identifies three motives:

1. Christian Piety: bringing the light of the One True Faith to the heathen who “sat in darkness.”

2. Patriotism/National chauvinism:  expanding the wealth, power, and  greater glory of one’s country

3. Individual, Worldly Ambition:  to acquire wealth, property, position, titles,  prestige.

Bernal Diaz shows no awareness there might be a conflict between these three. It seems not to have entered his mind.

The Anglo-Saxon Protestant world tends to look down on the Spanish Catholic  conquistadores as brutal thugs wrapped up in Christian hypocrisy. But how different are we now?

How many 21st century Americans can even imagine any possible  tension, conflict, or contradiction between (1) individual worldly ambition, (2)Christian piety, and (3)national chauvinsim?  How many of us question the presence of an American flag up front in our churches? Or whether Jesus really was an American and urged people to get rich?  Did Jerry Falwell or Billy Graham? Does Mitt Romney ? Michelle Bachman?  Prosperity Gospel Preacher  Joel Osteen ?

How different are we from the 16th century Spanish conquistadores?

How different are our motives and our presumptions?





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