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Most interesting, however, was Mann's observation that if the boat Jaguar Paw sees is indeed the 1519 landing party of Cortes (who pushed quickly through what remained of Mayan territory on his way to the bloody battle of Tenochtitlan), the man holding up the cross was no particular friend to the indians. It was not until 1537, Mann said, that, after considerable debate both ways, Pope Paul III got around to proclaiming that "Indians themselves indeed are true men" and should not be "deprived of their liberty." In the intervening 18 years roughly a third of Mexico's 25 million indigenous population died of smallpox the Europeans brought with them, and the Spanish had enslaved most of the remaining six million able-bodied men. And that's not counting the 100,000 Aztecs Cortes killed at Tenochtitlan alone.
So here is the conundrum. If you had to choose between a culture that placed ritualized human slaughter at the center of its faith, but that only managed to kill 4,000 people a year, and a culture that put the sacrificial Lamb of God at the center of the universe but somehow found its way to countenancing the enslavement of millions and the slaughter of hundreds of thousands in the same neighborhood, which would be more appealing?
Perhaps Gibson's problem is with the institutional church after all. Not the institutional church of Vatican II, but the church that managed to get so mixed up with worldly power that it was able to side with the centurions rather than with Christ for those crucial 18 years.
And perhaps he was right to have Jaguar Paw, having sampled the worst that the first civilization had to offer, take one look at the arrival of the second, and head back into the woods.