Rewriting History — History of America Mega-Conference: Part 7, Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon
HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. For more information about Ahab, see his blog’s About page. Part Seven of this series was originally published on July 18, 2013.
Also in this series: Part One: First Impressions | Part Two: Doug Phillips on God in History | Part Three: “Religious Liberalism” And Those Magnificent Mathers | Part Four: Kevin Swanson Is Tired Of Losing | Part Five: Messiah States and Mega-Houses | Part Six: Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century | Part Seven: Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon | Part Eight: Closing Thoughts
The History of America Mega-Conference schedule was packed with workshops that sounded interesting (or disturbing), but I could not observe them all, sadly. Fortunately, a kiosk in the Radisson grand ballroom was selling audio recordings of of keynote speeches and workshops, so I purchased CDs of “The Early Explorers: Sea Kings and Vikings” and “The Providence of God in the Age of Exploration”. The former painted Norse voyagers as Christians carrying out a Biblical dominion mandate, while the latter imagined the European “discovery” and colonization of the New World as willed by God.
“The Early Explorers: Sea Kings and Vikings” was presented by Col. John Eidsmoe, the same presenter who delivered “The Rise of Religious Liberalism” workshop. Eidsmoe asked aloud “why men climb mountains” — that is, why they explore. He explained human exploration as a product of two forces: the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:28, and the great commission to convert the world of Matthew 28:19-20.
Earth has likely been explored many times over through human history. One example of ancient explorers was the Phoenicians, who were genetically and linguistically related to the Hebrews. However, he quickly reminded listeners that the Phoenicians lived under a “totalitarian” god-king and followed a “religion of paganism and fertility and human sacrifice”.
The Phoenicians, Eidsmoe explained, carried out sea expeditions along Africa’s eastern coast, Britain, and possibly North America. To lend plausibility to the latter, Eidsmoe cited the “Mechanicsburg stones” (also known as the Phoenician Stones or Susquehanna Stones) found in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna Valley, allegedly with Phoenician writing upon it.
Eidsmoe shared stories of northern Europeans who set sail, reminding listeners that such stories might be fanciful concoctions or actual historical events that were later embellished. He spoke of the legend of St. Brendan the Navigator (St. Bréanainn), an Irish monastic who embarked on an sea journey with fourteen monks in the 6th century. According to Irish legends, he recounted, St. Brendan and his traveling companions found the island of Paradise, discovered an island of monks with magic loaves that prevented aging, faced a volcanic island with demons, and came face to face with Judas Iscariot.
Another northern European traveler that Eidsmoe discussed was Prince Madog, a Welsh “sea king” who allegedly came to the New World. During the Elizabethan era, when England and Spain competed for the New World, English writers used the Madog legend to justify England’s claim to the Americas, Eidsmoe added. Legends also claims that Scottish nobleman Henry Sinclair explored North America in the late 14th century, nearly one hundred years before Christopher Columbus’ arrival.
Many of these examples were fanciful legends — something Eidsmoe admitted — rather than solid historical fact supported by evidence. I wondered why Eidsmoe was citing legends about men who may or may not have come to the Americas, rather than exploring known history.
Eidsmoe noted that Chinese and Muslim civilizations may have also visited the Americas centuries ago. Eidsmoe claimed that Nihad Awad, founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), alleged that Muslim expeditions from Morocco and Iberia may have visited North America centuries ago. However, Eidsmoe quickly dismissed this claim as being based in “political correctness” rather than historical evidence.
The Vikings, Eidsmoe explained, were the first pre-Colombian explorers whose visits to North America had “solid” basis in fact. Before delving into Norse expeditions to the New World, Eidsmoe briefly discussed the Christian conversion efforts of King Olafr and Thangbrandr, neglecting to mention the violence and threats that reportedly accompanied the Christianization of the Norse. (Doug Phillips sanitized Norse Christianization in a similar manner in his July 2nd opening speech.) He quoted Shane Leslie’s writings, which spoke glowingly of Christianity overcoming traditional Norse and Celtic religions.
Eidsmoe celebrated other Christian Norse leaders, including Norweigan King Sigurd I the Jorsalafari (“Jerusalem-farer”), who vowed to lead an army of 10,000 warriors on a Crusade. After sailing around Europe’s coast and battling Moors, King Sigurd I received hospitality from King Baldwin I of Jerusalem upon reaching the Holy Land. During his stay with Baldwin, Sigurd I reportedly vowed to take any Muslim city. After Baldwin encouraged him to conquer Sidon, Sigurd I’s forces took control of the city. Siggurd I’s greatest regret, Eidsmoe claimed, was that he never had the opportunity to directly engage the Turkish fleet in a sea battle.
Eidsmoe depicted the Norweigan Crusade as a swashbuckling adventure, failing to mention the looting and massacres of non-Christians that it entailed. The fig leaf of faith cannot hide the realities of war, slaughter, and looting.
Eidsmoe delved into accounts of Erik the Red and his son, Lief Erikson, who converted to Christianity during a visit with King Olaf. After sharing stories of Norse expeditions to Greenland and New England, as well as violent encounters between Norse voyagers and skraelings (indigenous North Americans), Eidsmoe offered speculation as to why no permanent Norse colonies succeeded.
“Why were these Viking colonies unsuccessful? I’m going to suggest to you why. Because even though they were Christian, they showed no interest in sharing Christ with the natives. They spoke derogatorily about them with a term of derision, skraelings. Sometimes when they came upon Eskimos in Greenland, they simply called them ‘trolls’. In other words, they followed the dominion mandate, but they ignored the great commission.”
I found this theory darkly amusing. First, it ignores the fact that the Norse were intruders on Native American soil, which might explain the lack of interfaith dialogue. Second, it disregards other possible roots of Norse colony failures — disease, difficulties adapting to a new land and climate, lack of critical mass, ongoing hostilities between Norse colonists and Native Americans — in favor of a dominionist Christian narrative. Finally, Eidsmoe’s comment could be interpreted to mean that later European colonists succeeded because they proselytized to the Native Americans, regardless of the conquest and ethnocide it entailed.
Toward the end of his talk, Eidsmoe spoke of the Kensington stone in Minnesota and the Newport Tower in Rhode Island, arguing that these could be remnants of Norse visits to North America. While he did mention that evidence is not fully conclusive, he argued as to why these could plausibly be Norse artifacts from pre-Columbian Nordic visits to North America. He dismissed claims that the Kensington stone is a hoax, apparently eager to show that Norse explorers had an extensive presence in North America.
Eidsmoe’s history of early European travelers wove together history and legends into a decidedly Christian narrative about ancient voyagers and evangelists. In doing so, I feel that he downplayed the violence inherent in that narrative, sugar-coating conquests and crusades as Christian “dominion”. Eidsmoe’s talk, like many others at the History of America Mega-Conference, serves as a reminder of the problems inherent in a narrow view of history.
“The Providence of God in the Age of Exploration” was presented by Marshall Foster, founder of the World History Institute (formerly the Mayflower Institute). Foster began the workshop with a statement about God’s intent for human exploration.
“God, from the beginning of time, has made us adventurers. He has made us explorers, and there really is no age of exploration, there is simply unbelief and belief in the power of God to explore. Depending on the time, depending on the age, there has been an ebb and flow of an understanding of God;s purpose for mankind, and during specific times — that’s why we call it the age of exploration — there was an explosion of exploration and settlement of places around the world. and it took place in the 15th and 16th century, coming out of Europe.”
Exploration and settlement by whom? I thought. Plenty of those places were already explored and settled before Europeans came along. These were stories of European conquest.
A series of events over the centuries brought forth America as we know it, Foster explained. To understand this history, we must go to the root of history, he said. Everything must be seen in context of who God is, who we are, and what our purpose is in relationship to God. Everything one needs to know about God and oneself is written in the Bible, he argued, and to the extent that people understand their purpose, they will become “mighty warriors for God” who transform nations.
God created man in his image, and created man and woman together so as to subdue the Earth, Foster said. He assigned Adam the task of naming the plants and animals in the Garden of Eden, thereby structuring the garden with the expectation that Adam would take the “wilderness” and transform it into a “city on the hill”. God designated humans as his “sub-regent of the universe”, making the dominion mandate a godly task. This command was established through families in the Old Testament, he argued, citing Adam and Eve, Noah and his descendants, and Abraham and his descendants. Foster stressed that the Biblical God devised a predestined plan for humanity, not the “god of the Muslims” or the “11,000 gods of the Hindus”. Foster seemed to have ignored the fact that the Quran clearly establishes Allah as the god of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.
When we understand this mandate, Foster argued, we can understand the great explorers. He lamented that humans quickly took the dominion mandate too far, with conquerors exercising dominion over other men. Ancient civilizations were plagued by five grave sins: tyranny, human sacrifice, enslavement of both one’s own people and foreigners (empire), the establishment of laws independent of God (autonomy), and persecution of believers.
“Mankind went out and took dominion. The only problem is that men took dominion and they went over what God said. God did not say take dominion over other men, he said take dominion over the plants and the animals. What men figured out through Cain and Abel, and then through the great tyrannies of the ancient world, from the Egyptians to the Babylonians to the Greeks to the Romans, was that you just simply needed to take dominion over other men and then you could make them your slaves. Come up with a false religion, guilt them into obedience to you, and have them build your pyramids, have them build your great tombs called the Seven Wonders of the World. And what you’ve got now is civilization structured on a perverted view of the cultural mandate.”
In making this argument, Foster ignored divinely-sanctioned slavery, patriarchy, conquest, and genocide in the Old Testament, reluctant to admit that the Israelites exercised a “perverted view of the cultural mandate” too.
Foster argued for the supremacy of the Christian faith in history. Rome was an unjust empire, but it now lies in ruins, whereas Christianity has risen from the catacombs to become a major world religion. As proof of its supremacy, Foster claimed that Christianity is the only truly world religion, having spread to multiple continents.
Um, Marshall? Islam and Buddhism would like to have a word with you, I thought.
Christianity allegedly exerted a “civilizing influence” over the ancient world, persuading people to give up their “pagan ways”. He likened ancient Christian evangelists to explorers, spreading Christianity far and wide. In the 15th and 16th centuries, “God put all the pieces together” following the Christianization of Europe, he claimed. Europe had lost its missionary zeal, much like modern America, he argued, and “God was going to shake up the troops”. This alleged shake-up took the form of the “Muslim hordes”, first unleashed in the 7th century, then later surging as the Ottoman Turks. After the Byzantine empire, the “greatest culture of the world”, fell to the Ottomans, many Europeans thought they were facing a “countdown to Armageddon”, he claimed. By frightening Christian Europe and forcing it out of its comfort zone, God was allegedly disciplining Europe and setting the stage for later exploration.
Foster cited Psalm 107, calling it a psalm of exploration that inspired Christopher Columbus. “God is in control of the wave of history,” Foster proclaimed, assuring listeners that God had supremacy over Satan in the world. If one walks with God, God will bless one’s culture, as history demonstrates, Foster asserted.
The travels of Christopher Columbus and other explorers led to the creation of America, Foster reminded the audience. He narrated a history of Columbus’ early life that included a vision to take Christianity abroad.
“[Columbus] goes on to have a vision of what God wants him to do, begins to read the scripture, and his vision is to go to the west and find the Indies, not only to find treasure, but to find a way to reach Jerusalem and take the gospel to the nations.”
Foster shared the story of Columbus’ commission, 1492 voyage, and eventual arrival in the Caribbean. Foster called Columbus a “good man” and a “godly man” while briefly acknowledging that he was a poor governor and witnessed evil take place under his management.
That’s an understatement, I thought. Kidnapping, exploitation, and colonization aren’t exactly the legacy of a “good” man.
However, Foster was quick to demonize the indigenous people that Columbus ruled over as cannibals, likening their alleged cannibalism to modern-day abortion. I wondered if this was intended to soften Columbus’ sins in the eyes of the audience by depicting the colonized Native Americans as monsters.
“The natives were not exactly super-friendly. In their second and third voyage they found the Carib Indians, who created children so that they could string them up, abort them, and eat them for bacon, and so … they were cannibals … This is not unnatural, and I’m not looking down on those Native Americans, because this was a way of life for the Romans, for the Greeks, for most civilizations throughout the world, for the Aztecs, for the Incas, and so when people are found in pagan cultures, they almost always are involved in human sacrifice, and then as Christian cultures become more pagan, what do they do? They go back to that human sacrifice, and there are 58 million babies dead today in America because we have forgotten our vision as a Christian nation.”
Baby bacon? Has Hannibal Lecter heard about this? I thought.
Foster briefly recounted the travels of explorers such as Amerigo Vespucci, Balboa, Vasco de Gama, Magellan, and Ponce de Leon. Foster wove these voyages and their subsequent cultural upheavals into a Christian narrative, arguing that God arranged these events to create a Christian nation.
“Now, those who had a vision for the world, the great commission, the cultural commission had a whole other continent, a wilderness to turn from a wilderness to a city on a hill. And isn’t it interesting that it took five thousand years for the civilized world to discover these continents? You think that maybe providence has set aside for such a time as this for the past four hundred years, the development of the world’s first [inaudible] republic since ancient Israel? Do you think it might be providence that set aside America to be the fountainhead of evangelical Christianity, that creates even to this day 80% of the money that goes for missions in the world? Do you think that even to this day that America is set aside as a land that still can and has represented Christian law to the nations by the fact that our constitution still rises from its base every morning and can be seen and should be understood? Could it be that God has us, at this very moment, as explorers for our day? It’s quite obvious.”
Foster left out many disquieting historical facts from the European colonization of the Americas. First, the Native Americans were erased in Foster’s narrative. The New World was discovered and “civilized” by Europeans, in Foster’s narrative, instead of having been already discovered and settled by the ancestors of the Native Americans. Even more egregiously, Foster ignored the ugly realities of European conquest, colonization, genocide, and ethnocide in favor of a glorious Eurocentric, Christocentric vision. Finally, he shoehorned divine providence into the European colonization of the New World and misrepresented America as a Protestant Christian nation with a “Biblical structure of government”. In doing so, Foster refused to acknowledge that the United States was founded as a secular democratic nation, informed by Enlightenment ideas, and shaped by a religiously diverse populace past and present.
In Foster’s eyes, the European colonization of the New World proved that an “army of compassion” could conquer a land by faith instead of by the sword, ignoring the use of both faith and sword to subjugate indigenous populations. Furthermore, he argued that the history of the Americas showed that a nation could be built on Biblical principles and sola scriptura, ignoring the absence of both concepts in the United States’ founding documents. The fingerprints of God, he argued, are all over the history of the New World.
“God planned the location of the continents, the direction of the sea breezes, the theology of the explorers, all in such a way that America, the America we know, the United States of America, could be developed a few hundred years later.”
In conclusion, Marshall Foster’s account of history was one in which Christian proselytization, exploration, and colonization were all part of a divine plan. By holding up a Eurocentric, Christocentric narrative as the only valid one, Foster effectively erased Native Americans, non-Christians, and non-Protestants from the history of the New World. Foster’s version of history does not force us to wrestle with atrocities of the past, or face the effects of colonization and ethnocide that still linger today. In short, Foster’s history is a shame-free history that absolves us from having to learn from the mistakes of our predecessors.
Stay tuned for closing thoughts on the History of America Mega-Conference.
To be continued.