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Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing…

Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of… (edition 2019)

by Mark Charles (Author)

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Title:Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery
Authors:Mark Charles (Author)
Info:IVP Books (2019), 235 pages
Tags:Religious: Culture

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Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery by Mark Charles



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The past few years have seen many contributions from people of color regarding their experience in America in light of its heritage of white supremacy, especially as it relates to the Christian faith; this work is an important contribution to that end, featuring the perspective of a Native American regarding the "doctrine of discovery" and its implications in Western civilization ever since.

The author brings to the fore the principle which undergirded the colonization of America: the "doctrine of discovery," enshrined in papal bulls granting the Portuguese and Spanish dominion over any lands they would "discover," even though the lands they discovered already had Native populations within it. It was presumed that the Europeans "discovering" these lands were superior in belief and nature to those who would be "discovered," and from this principle would come the ungodly, dehumanizing, and genocidal treatment of the Native Americans at the hands of Europeans from the 16th century into the 20th. The author describes how the "doctrine of discovery" became enshrined in American legal precedent in the Johnson vs. M'Intosh Supreme Court decision in 1823, and has remained live and active to the present, used in a justification of denying a Native claim to land in New York in 2005.

The author speaks of the transgressions of the nation: the forced deportation of Natives from their lands to places out West; the dire conditions of the reservations; the massacres at Sand Creek and Wounded Knee; the boarding schools and the desire to "get the Indian out of the man". He likewise views "Western" civilization through critical lenses: its white supremacy, its "Christendom" and Christianity's compromise with empire, its dysfunctional theology of domination and conquest, its colonialism, its claims to exceptionalism, and the ugly side of its heroes, especially Abraham Lincoln. He also speaks of trauma and its effects. He yearns for conciliation in truth.

It's a challenging read for the white American, but a very necessary one. Many will be offended at the way in which the author approaches many of the subjects, but the reader ought to step out of his or her perspective and consider how it would all look to Native Americans whose legitimacy in the land was denied for nearly 400 years, and to thus be open to the prospect that he is not wrong, and has a clearer view to an ugliness we would rather not see.

The author's desire for truth in conciliation is good, wise, and appropriate. That conciliation would, no doubt, lead to a restoration of some land to the Natives. But it is hard to square the posture of the author to be working for an America "for everyone" with wide-ranging thoroughgoing land claims that would come at the expense of plenty of others who are here in America. The means by which land was taken from Native Americans was, without an argument, unjust and wrong. Then again, for generations before Europeans came (and even afterward!), Natives would dispossess other Natives through war. Based on genetics and records it would seem that human history is one long series of migrations (or invasions): in many instances, the newcomers genetically assimilated into the local populations, with either the newcomers or the locals assimilating culturally into the other; yet in many other instances, the newcomers wiped out the local populations and replaced them on the land. For that matter, the Bible itself testifies to the same piece of land being possessed, at different times, by different peoples.

So what do you do with land claims and land ownership? I do not think it is an easy question with an easy answer, and worthy of more meditation.

Regardless, invaluable and important reading. Highly recommended.

**galley received as part of early review program ( )
  deusvitae | Nov 9, 2019 |
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