Despite Las Casas’s vigorous defense of the Indians, what prejudices and assumptions of his own did he bring to bear in this work?
Bartolome de las Casas, a Spanish Catholic priest, spent most of his life in the Americas. He was appalled at the treatment the American Indians received at the hands of the Europeans, who thought they were nothing more than savages to be enslaved. Las Casas made it his mission to defend the natives from this prejudice, oppression, and cruelty.
He had his own agenda for doing so, though. Although he advocated for the natives’ right to fair treatment and freedom, he didn’t recognize them as a civilized culture in their own right or consider their spiritual beliefs to be valid. Like most Catholics and other Christians at the time, las Casas assumed that his own religion was the only true faith and that once the natives received the Christian message, “natural law” would take its course, and they would willingly convert. Las Casas thought that it was his God-given duty to introduce the natives to the Catholic faith. He reasoned that they were more likely to be receptive to the Bible’s teachings if the Europeans introduced Christianity to them peacefully and respectfully, rather than trying to force conversion upon them.
“The Indian race is not that barbaric, nor are they dull witted or stupid, but they are easy to teach and very talented in learning all the liberal arts, and very ready to accept, honor, and observe the Christian religion and correct their sins (as experience has taught) once priests have introduced them to the sacred mysteries and taught them the word of God.”—Bartolome de las Casas, In Defense of the Indians
The website below offers a lot of information about las Casas’s life, opinions, and essays.