This is the ninth part of a 13-part German documentary mini-series covering the history of Christianity from its beginnings to the modern-day. Although the series is a German production, the narration is in English. It was filmed at many different holy and historic sites. In this episode, the locations used are throughout Central and South America, which gives a good frame of reference for those of us who haven’t been able to visit this part of the world.
The focus in God and the Burdened shifts to the effect of Christianity on the New World. First up is Guatemala. The ruins are visited where the native deities were worshipped. The Aztec history and religion are examined through a codex found and preserved in Paris. Along with the conquerors came the priests and forced conversions. It is very interesting to see how they depicted the arrival of Christianity as well as the ceremonies which accompanied it from the point of view of those conquered and forced to accept Christianity to survive.
Another codex has been preserved in Florence, however, it is mostly depicting the arrival of the Spanish conquerors on their sailing vessels. They bring with them firepower never before heard by the natives as well as diseases that wiped out at least one-third of the population. In the Bahamas, a population of about one million a generation later had eleven survivors. Only one voice was raised against the genocide from the Christian camp, Bartolome de las Casas.
In some cases, the two religions combined, such as areas where the Mayan religion and Christianity were worshipped side-by-side. That still exists today as the camera crew came upon someone making a burnt offering at an altar representing both who ran away as the cameras approached.
Ceremonies that are still carried out are shown in the present day. There is a good contrast made between the toil of the worker with the religious ceremony – bearing a burden on their backs. The blurring of the line, and indeed at times the outright co-opting of traditional Native ceremonies and beliefs is shown. In one chapel, known as St. Simon’s, the Saint is actually watching as another deity is worshipped through a series of very different ceremonies and rituals. Outside, a man preaches the Gospel.
By far I have found this to be the weakest part of the series. Most of what is shown here are shown in the present day, illustrating how the conquering of the New World by the Europeans ultimately affected the native populations. The transition between the time of the conquering and the present day isn’t touched on, however. It seems more like the producers of the documentary managed to get some very interesting modern-day footage and wanted to use it, forgetting what the original intent of this series was.
I would have liked to have learned more about Bartolome de las Casas. The one lone voice speaking up against what the Spanish were doing to the native populations was fascinating to me. Instead, I had to look for information for myself. This usually doesn’t bother me – I like films that motivate me to look up the true history of an event depicted by Hollywood. However, this series isn’t a Hollywood film, it’s supposed to be a documentary and I felt God and the Burdened really left out too many facts it could have told about this time in history.
The argument at the end is that this is all part of a personal expression of Christianity. I don’t know if I bought into that. I will wait and see what the final four episodes of the series look like before I pass judgment on the second half of the series as a whole. So far, it has seemed pretty weak to me. There’s really not much here to prompt discussions, nor much history as a whole. While some of what is shown in God and the Burdened might be interesting, it doesn’t seem to fit with what the producers set out to do originally.
Previous episode of the series (link): 2000 Years of Christianity Episode VIII: Heaven and Hell
Next episode of the series (link): 2000 Years of Christianity Episode X – Altar of Reason