[lit-ideas] Re: Hernando Cortez, Evangelist

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 21 May 2014 16:09:38 -0700

Let’s call it stupidly “sacrificing” to a god, which is what the Aztecs did.  
Here God is what you want, a sacrifice, now tell us what we want to know, bless 
our coming battle against the Spaniards, bless our crops, etc.  We are stupidly 
using the definition of sacrifice.  Here is Bing:  “Full Definition of 
SACRIFICE 1 : an act of offering to a deity something precious; especially : 
the killing of a victim on an altar 2 : something offered in sacrifice ...”

One doesn’t call killing apostates a sacrifice, not because people are afraid 
to quibble.  They aren’t; but because killing an apostate isn’t the same as 
sacrifice.  One just doesn’t kill an apostate out of hand.  One first says, as 
to the pregnant Somali lady, “Convert to Islam.  We’ll give you four days.  If 
you don’t, we’ll kill you.”  Fundamentalist Islam can turn to their sacred 
writings and find justification for killing apostates.  It is only “people of 
the book” who can get away with not believing in Islam, but since no modern-day 
Christian believes in the heretical view of Christianity that Mohammad declared 
to be Christian “people of the book”, there are no modern-day Christian “people 
of the book.”  Jews do qualify, however.


From: lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On 
Behalf Of Omar Kusturica
Sent: Wednesday, May 21, 2014 3:42 PM
To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: Hernando Cortez, Evangelist

Well, I don't know about you but, if I had to choose between the two, I'd 
rather be killed and eaten after death (if that part is even true), then 
tortured for many days, forced to admit to things I probably didn't do, and 
then burned alive at stake. The burnings of the supposed heretics were 
performed by religious bodies, for religious reasons, and with public ceremony, 
and as such bear all the marks of human sacrifice, unless one wants to quibble 
with the terms, or worse to stupidly claim that, because it wasn't officially 
called 'human sacrifice' it therefore wasn't. Most of the people thus killed 
were probably not heretics either, but they were forced to confess to being 
heretics by torture.

The Aztec human sacrifice was mainly performed on prisoners of war.


On Thu, May 22, 2014 at 12:23 AM, Lawrence Helm <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx> 
You’d need an extremely broad brush to make that work.  Engaging in human 
sacrifice and cannibalism is a far cry for executing infidels. Putting people 
to death for apostasy or engaging in a false religion was performed in the West 
up until the Peace of Westphalia, for the most part, in the West.  Muslims are 
still doing it.  Note the Pregnant Somalian woman who though born a Christian 
is under a sentence of death unless she converts to Islam.  Her husband is a 
U.S. citizen so she is going to get a lot of attention.  A friend of mine 
thought she ought to convert in order to save her life; which reminds me of 
what some of the Jews did during the Spanish Inquisition.  They even had a name 
for it: Conversos.  And even before then there was a Roman emperor who after 
gaining power declared Christianity illegal and many renounced their belief in 
order to save their lives.  There was controversy (after the emperor’s death) 
about whether such people, people who renounced their faith in order to save 
their lives, could be accepted back into the church.  It was eventually decided 
that they could if memory serves me, but it wasn’t a simple matter.  
The Spaniards were more extreme in their religious practices to a large extent 
because of their centuries-long battle to rid their land of Muslim invaders.  
Actually they rather liked enlightened Muslims, off and on, but the Berbers and 
Arabs of North Africa decided the enlightened Muslims in Spain had gotten soft 
and apostatized, so they came across and took over.  No longer, for example, 
were the Jews tolerated.  “Under the Almoravides and Almohades they were 
severely persecuted, and many of them emigrated to Castile, where for the time 
being they were well received.  The Mozarabes [Spaniards that had converted to 
Islam] were also persecuted, and in increasing degree with the advance of the 
Christians, for they aided not a little in the reconquest.  Many of them were 
taken north by the Christian kings when they returned from their invasions, 
whereupon those remaining in Moslem territory were all the more harshly 
treated.  The Almohades were particularly intolerant.” [Charles Chapman, A 
History of Spain, page 84]  
From: lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On 
Behalf Of Omar Kusturica
Sent: Wednesday, May 21, 2014 2:39 PM
To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: Hernando Cortez, Evangelist
The funny thing is, the Spanish also practiced human sacrifice at the time. It 
was called the Inquisition, and millions of heretics were burned at stake, 
usually after suitable torture. No doubt, the Aztecs had some other name and 
some other explanation for their practices.
On Wed, May 21, 2014 at 11:21 PM, Lawrence Helm <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx> 
Cortez was warned that if he took his troops into Mexico, he and all of them 
would be killed, some of whom would be sacrificed to idols and most would be 
eaten.  Despite that he and his 550 men entered Mexico and were welcomed by 
Motecusuma.  Motecusuma earlier sent word that Cortez should not come,  but 
when Cortez told him that he needed to come to complete his mission, Motecusuma 
had his priests consult the Aztec gods and their response was that Cortez 
should be allowed to come.  Motecusuma got along fine with Cortez and most of 
his men.  One or two were disrespectful to Motecusuma and Cortez had them 
whipped.  Most like Bernal Diaz treated Motecusuma with great respect, even to 
the point of saying that he and the others loved Motecusuma.  And Motecusuma 
reciprocated.  Motecusuma was eventually taken prisoner by Cortez, but it was a 
gentle imprisonment.  Motecusuma had the freedom to carry on his business as 
usual, he just had to do it in the Spaniards quarters and presence.  When 
Motecusuma’ s nephews plotted to attack the Spaniards and free Motecusuma, he 
informed on them to Cortez.  His argument was that if the Nephews attacked 
there would be a great slaughter which he wanted to avoid, but his actions do 
sound as though he were experiencing the Stockholm Syndrome.  
One doesn’t see religion mentioned prominently in modern historical references, 
or perhaps I didn’t notice it as much, but it is extremely prominent in Bernal 
Diaz’s The Conquest of New Spain.  William Prescott and perhaps most moderns 
will make light of the conquistadores and say their primary motive was loot, 
but it is hard to see that in Diaz’s narration.  Gold is important but less so 
than the commission they were on and even less so than religion.  Wherever 
Cortez went he preached to the natives telling them they should quit human 
sacrifice and that there gods were false and their statues needed to be pulled 
down.   A priest was along with Cortez and kept telling him to curtail his 
evangelism, and that more time was needed, but he kept on, despite being 
overwhelmingly outnumbered in Moctecusuma’s Mexican city.   One day in 
Moctecusuma’s holiest shrines, Cortez preached to him again telling him that 
all the gods there were false and Motecusuma took terrible offense.  Cortez’s 
priest urged Cortez to give it up and return to his quarters; which Cortez did. 
 I thought this would have been an ideal time for Motecusuma to escape to his 
generals and order them to annihilate the Spaniards, but he didn’t.  He 
returned to captivity.  
If one doubts the sincerity of Diaz and Cortez; which seems a very difficult 
thing to do if one actually reads The Conquest of New Spain – at least in 
Kindle which has the complete narration.  An abridgement exists published by 
Penguin Books which may have some of the religious accounts deleted, I don’t 
know, but what about the religion of the Aztecs.  Not only did the Aztec 
priests sacrifice humans, but afterwards they and the population at large 
perhaps, or at least the upper classes, ate the remains.  Something like a 
butcher shop existed where those allowed to eat these remains (which may have 
been everyone) picked out the cuts they wanted.  
Cortez ordered the Motecusuma and the Mexicans to stop their human sacrifices.  
Motecusuma agreed, but the sacrifices went on anyway and Diaz wrote that they 
had to turn a blind eye because they were in no position to force them to stop.
It is common to day to scoff at religious motivation: the Conquistadors must 
have been in it for the gold.  Crusaders must have been in it for the loot, but 
post-modern (not intended as a technical term) theory suggests otherwise.  
Nicholas Wade in 2009 wrote The Faith Instinct, How Religion Evolved and Why it 
Endures.  He isn’t the first to hypothesize that we all have a religious 
instinct.  This isn’t to say that it can’t be denied or rejected, but it is 
there and it does provide its adherents with an advantage.  Where is the war 
where one or both sides weren’t motivated by their religion?  And lest the 
non-religious are inclined to feel superior, the sincerely religious will fight 
with more single-mindedness and self-sacrifice than the modern-day (or any 
previous day) sceptic.  Thus, if sceptics ever did mount an army, believers 
would be sure to beat it (everything else being equal).
But, someone might object, the sincerely believing human-sacrificing Aztecs far 
outnumber the sincerely believing Roman Catholic Spaniards, a million plus to 
about 550; how is it that Cortez and his conquistadores survived?  Well to some 
extent it was due to their being an Aztec prophesy which foretold that men 
would one day arrive from the direction of the rising of the sun and conquer 
them.  Motecusuma and who knows how many other Mexicans had no doubt but that 
Cortez’s arrival fulfilled that prophesy; so what good would it do to fight 
them? The Gods had foretold that they would lose.
One in my opinion shouldn’t disparage the intense religious conviction of the 
Conquistadors.  They prayed fervently, especially when they had to fight 
against the enormous numbers that the Indians and especially the Aztecs could 
bring against them.   Cortez knew in whom he believed and felt the obligation 
to confess Him in the presence of his enemies.  There is a verse some place 
where Jesus says something like, “if you confess me before men, then I’ll 
confess you before my heavenly father, but if you will not confess me before 
men I will not confess you before my heavenly father.”  That Cortez would 
preach to Motecusuma is, I suspect, an application of that verse.
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