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Sepulveda VS. Bartolome de Las Casas

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  • Pages: 5
  • Word count: 1213
  • Category: Religion

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The argument of Juan Gines de Sepulveda is that of negative feedback to what was experienced in the first encounter of the Spaniards and American Indians in the Sixteenth Century. Also, Sepulveda demonstrates through his opinion that war against the Indians is a rightful act due to the fact that the Indians are seen as lower beings. The proof that Sepulveda uses to support his position is the glimpse the Spaniards noted in the short time they observed the Indians. Sepulveda thought that the Indians were uneducated individuals that were uncivilized in the way they conducted their lives. This can be seen in that Sepulveda comments on how Indians are not educated because they seem not to have an alphabet, any knowledge of the sciences, or any means of preserving their history as the Spaniards do. Due to the reason of not understanding the ways of the Indians Spaniards such as Sepulveda came to conclusions that were unjust to the Indians.

The Conquistadors believed that the “little men” they encountered were inhumane in that for purposes of sacrifice the Indians killed their own people by taking out their hearts and placing them on alters. Sepulveda sees this as disgusting and unimaginable for a human being. In order to support his views Sepulveda turns to Aristotle’s doctrine of natural slavery and agrees that those more powerful are made to be masters to rule over the weak. Another point that is being discussed by Sepulveda is that of the Indians not being in charge of their own destiny, that they leave their lives to be ruled by their gods.

This goes against all of the Conquistador’s beliefs in Christianity and the faith they contain in God. Sepulveda looks upon the Indian’s way of life, such as them not having their own land but sharing it with one another, as a ridiculous notion. He does not comprehend how the Indians can be slaves to their King and still have to pay taxes when Spaniards have rule over their own lands. In all, Juan Gines de Sepulveda’s argument supports the idea that some human beings were created by God to be slaves and concludes that the New World natives were in this category.

Don Fray Bartolome de Las Casas disagreed with Juan Gines de Sepulveda’s argument in many ways. Las Casas refutes this argument by saying that a proper goal for the Spaniards was to convert the Natives by peaceful means and to make them Spanish subjects. He saw that the Spaniards were in the wrong to want war against the Indians just because they were not as educated and civilized as the Conquistadors. Casas supports his argument and beliefs with the Christian faith and the beliefs of the church. Bartolome declares that God did not command war against idolators, he clarifies his position by saying that if the Spaniard can punish the Indians for their religion then any other religious group can punish the Spaniard for being non-believers. Las Casas does not support the idea that Indians are not civilized and uneducated for he states that the Indians have a rich, vibrant civilization and sophisticated culture.

Also, it is seen that he believes that a person is only considered a slave when he/she has taken an oath of loyalty to another. As a result, the Indians can not be seen as subjects to the more powerful Conquistadors. The Spaniards believe that the only means of conversion is by force when Bartolome’s opinion is that peaceful conversion is the most effective means of spreading Catholicism. Although human sacrifice is evil, Las Casas declares that indiscriminate warfare is more evil. The Spaniards see human sacrifice as an evil act upon another human being, but Bartolome believes that “the death of an innocent is better than the destruction of an entire kingdom.” It is seen as unnatural to cause war against the Indians for that particular reason. Finally, Las Casas states that the Indians are not as dangerous as other enemies of the Spaniards may be, all they wish to do is to keep their ways of life.

The Spaniards believed that they had a right to rule over the Indians and they had justification for war against them. Their first belief that supported their views is that the Indians have many sins, especially idolatry which is seen as going against their God. Second, the rudeness of the natives which made it necessary for more “refined” people like the Spanish to educate them. Even though the Indians were seen as uneducated because they were different it is in no way a reason to justify the Spaniard’s goal of waging war against them. In contrast, the Indians were able to learn new ways from the Spaniards such as getting new weapons to protect themselves with, learn about the sciences, record keeping, and the alphabet. Third, the Conquistador’s justified their opinion by their goal of spreading the Christian faith. This can be seen as an unnecessary disturbance upon the Indians because they did have their own faith which they followed religiously.

The natives didn’t need a different type of faith because they had their own beliefs. On the other hand, the Spaniards could educate the Indians to live better under the Christian faith and also teach them new ways of thinking. Fourth, the Spanish found it imperative that they provide protection of weaker Indians who were subject to human sacrifice and cannibalism. The Spaniards believed that they could help those who were being oppressed by taking over the oppressors. This can be seen in a negative way also because some Indians voluntarily sacrificed themselves and weren’t subject to do it. The authorities that the Spaniards relied on were the bible, the church and the beliefs of their King. Las Casas relied upon the church and God to justify his beliefs.

Pope Alexander VI’s stance was that people needed to follow God in his ways. He believed in one God, the Creator in heaven. Pope Alexander wanted the Indians to be sufficiently disposed to embrace the Catholic faith and be trained in good morals. Pope Alexander’s goal was for the Spaniards to bring residents and inhabitants to the Catholic faith. Forced conversion as can be seen above was both agreed upon and disagreed upon. The significance of the argument of religion was to form a way of life that was seen as a compromise to both sides, the Spaniards and the Indians.

From the perspective of the historical period in which each of these documents was produced, I believe that the document that Juan Gines de Sepulveda wrote was most persuasive. My opinion is supported by the experiences that many people encountered when they came in contact with the Indians. In the sixteenth century many looked upon the Indians as an uncivilized society because of their different ways of living. The Indians reacted to newcomers in an aggressive way because of the past harm that people had brought upon their civilization such as bringing diseases which killed hundreds of their population. In sum, both the Spaniards and the Indians were two very distinct groups of people with different views, but based upon the experiences of other individuals the Indian civilization was seen as barbaric.

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