Many who learn about the clash between native and newcomer in the Americas note how evil, or wrong or terrible the behaviour of Christians was – as it is felt that native cultures should have been left alone. This may well be true, depending on your point of view. But…. the task of the scholar who studies history is to understand.
I will give an example from a very different time period and place.
Many historians spend their careers studying Nazi Germany. This does not mean they are Nazis – nor are they doing this in order to publish op-ed pieces in remembrance of the Holocaust – they do this in order to understand this period and to grasp why and how it happened. You simply cannot do this effectively without setting aside your own ethical sense for a time – ‘holding your nose’ as it were. You must be able to at least temporarily adopt a neutral attitude – play Mr. Spock on Star Trek – and look at a time period with a coolly analytical attitude. In this manner you will gain a deeper understanding.
Understanding the missionary effort – the conquest of native peoples by Europeans – is also to understand a large part of the history of the human race — for roughly a million years, humanity has been migrating – and once initial settlements were made in different parts of the world, others migrated and cultures already formed clashed –
In other words, this descriptive word syncretism is describing something that has occurred in many times and many places in the past – and no doubt will again. The only difference here is we have written records and living communities to study. Who knows how the neanderthal felt when Homo Sapiens Sapiens moved into the neighbourhood? The Christianity brought by the Spanish, French and English to the Americas was itself a product of a sycnretism of Germanic tribal culture and this eastern Mediterranean religion called Christianity. In the territories of the Rus – the ancestors of the Slavic peoples of eastern Europe – in the year 988, the local ruler forced his people at sword point into the Dnieper river to be baptised – and in 1988 the Ukraine celebrated a millennium of Christianity. To add to this, we even know now that much of the native Buddhism of south east Asia was forced on people by rulers…..
So, understanding the how, the why and the what of the migration of human cultures is the goal…..