Category Archives: Christianity
The Doctrine of Discovery is Enshrined in American Law …
… and that is very, very, unjust
I was aware of the as yet unretracted series of papal bulls that made up the Doctrine of Discovery in the mid 15th century. I knew that the Roman Catholic Church authorized the invasion and subduing of any land anywhere not ruled by a Christian monarch. I knew that it justified genocide in the name of the Prince of Peace. It was the basis and rationale for European conquest and colonization.
What I did not know until recently was that the Doctrine of Discovery has been embedded and enshrined in American law since 1823 when Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall stated “that the principle of discovery gave European nations an absolute right to New World lands.” As late as the mid-2000s, the Supreme Court issued rulings that Native people have no right to their ancestral lands because the Doctrine of Discovery gave those lands to the United States of America. According to American law, Native Americans have already been fully compensated for their land, culture, livelihoods, and wellbeing because they have received “civilization,” and “Christianity.”
Historically, Christian missionaries were ambassadors of western (and in their view, superior) culture. “Pagans” had to “civilized.” Missionaries paved the way for entrepreneurs to extract valuable resources from the land.
That’s a far cry from the gospel of Messiah Jesus. Jesus defined the gospel as good news to the poor. Good news to the poor involves four things: liberating prisoners, giving sight to the blind, setting the oppressed free, and proclaiming the acceptable year of the Lord. (See Luke 4:18-19) Proclaiming the acceptable year of the Lord is a reference to Jubilee (Leviticus 25). Land was rested, crops rotated, debts forgiven, and property equitably distributed.
Because the Doctrine of Discovery is embedded in American law, anyone, or any corporation, with enough money can buy land anywhere in the world and legally extract anything of value for their own profit without consideration for the effect on the people who live on or near the land. I’m not just talking about mining and drilling operations.
Consider the Great Black Swamp that covered what is now much of Ohio. It belonged to indigenous people for at least 10,000 years. Using the Doctrine of Discovery, Europeans legally seized the land, cleared the native trees, drained the wetlands, and farmed. As cities grew, developers bought some of the farmland, scraped off the topsoil, destroyed what was left of the native plants, and built houses. Farms and suburbs pour chemicals on the land – chemicals that drain into waterways and pollute them. Automobiles and industries pollute the air. Native habitat is gone.
None of that is what God intended. God created us embedded in a closed economic system. Once we pollute all the water, there won’t be any pure water. Once we destroy the atmosphere, we can’t trade it for a new one. We humans do not have the ability to destroy life. We do, however, have the ability to destroy all human life.
Part of the problem is the uniquely American focus on individuals. “Freedom” in America too often means doing whatever I please. Our brand of Christianity is all about individuals coming into right relationship with an individual God. We have little sense of being connected to the vast web of life. We read the Bible through the lens of American individualism, but biblical culture is communal, not individual. I am affected by choices made in past generations. My actions will affect future generations. Trees and dolphins are my siblings. Every sunrise is a gift from God.
The earth and everything on and in it belong to God. I am required by the Creator to respect creation because it don’t belong to me. I should be treating the natural world like I would treat someone else’s valuable piece of art.
Handle with utmost care.
Why are so many people abandoning churches?
I was part of the Jesus Movement, the Jesus Revolution. I personally knew the people in the movie by that name. Many of those folks are gone now. Some, though aging, retain sweet, loving, Christ-like hearts filled with compassion for those Jesus called “the least” of his siblings. Sadly, others have morphed into ridged supporters of ultra-right-wing politics diametrically opposite the hippies we were.
The Jesus Movement was an amazing, worldwide outpouring of God’s love. We were so very young, fresh, full of joy, and love after our initial encounters with the living Christ. Church was a place that welcomed everyone, judged no one, focused on love and grace.
Now, evangelical churches in North America are hemorrhaging members. Most of those leaving still love Jesus and want to follow his teachings. Many are having a hard time finding a community they can be a part of. Those who are thoughtfully reconsidering their faith and affiliations often have prophetic voices to which it would behoove us to pay heed.
Some reasons given by people who have left or are leaving evangelical churches in North America include (in no particular order):
- Many churches are known only what they’re against
- Some churches support far-right-wing politics and are tied to the GOP
- Some actively promote homophobia
- Some are not doing much to end racism
- Women’s issues are ignored or opposed in many conservative churches
- Women are forbidden to use their gifts in some churches
- Some churches seem to not care about the environment
- Many people feel like they just can’t fit in unless they completely conform
- People feel like there isn’t a safe place to ask honest questions
- Megachurches are sometimes seen as full of corporate hype, as a big show
- The leadership of some churches seems more interested in power than service
- Some churches are not committed to social justice – alleviating poverty, promoting universal healthcare, eliminating homelessness, helping the mentally ill, addicted, disenfranchised, and marginalized.
- Some churches are actively participating in white capitalism rather than redistributing wealth with equity by participating in some form of jubilee.
- Many conservative churches support war, the death penalty, and the gun culture while claiming to be pro-life.
- Churches are criticized for their lack of support for immigrants and refugees
- CEO pastor salaries are obscenely high. It is ludicrous for a pastor to make $500,000 to a million dollars a year, yet many do.
- The idea of hell as eternal conscious torture is incongruent with a God of love
- Many people are scandalized by creationism, which holds no scientific validity
- Some churches are anti-science, anti-vax, and promote conspiracies
- There has been sexual abuse by clergy preying on innocent kids
- Single people say they feel like second class people
- Abused women were counseled poorly – told to go home and submit, for example
- The central issue of theodicy: Why would a good, all-powerful God allow suffering?
Personally, I’m grateful that the age of the megachurch and its corporate model is dying. Meaning is found for most people in small fellowships where people who consider themselves family meet, pray, read scripture, take communion, share meals, love and serve one another, and together reach out to others in need.
In the Jesus Movement, there was simplicity. I don’t wish to return to the theological naiveté or the toxic eschatology, but simple gatherings of people who love Jesus were, and are, nice.
How Deep Will You Go?
How deeply will I allow the Spirit of God to penetrate my being?
Spiritual direction involves spiritual formation that goes well beyond understanding foundational truths and developing spiritually healthy habits.
Seeds on a well-trodden path, among thorny weeds, on rocky soil, germinate but produce no leaf, flower, or fruit. Ploughed, disked, tilled, raked, fertilized, blended with vermicomposted organic material, slowly nurtured in nature’s womb – rich, fertile soil welcomes the seed, and, with the gifts of sunshine and rain, produces bud, leaf, flower, sustenance for bees, butterflies, birds, deer, and people.
The process of spiritual formation seems arrested in many of us. What hinders the seeds of divine love? Often, it is a fundamental, innate, unconscious worldview that has become the lens through which we see. We begin with assumptions that we absorbed from our families of origin, our ancestral cultures, and the zeitgeist. The seed hits our assumptions, our masks, our cultural identity, and stops growing.
“Enough! Don’t challenge my beliefs, so neatly folded, organized, and catalogued in the drawers of stifled thought. It’s plain to see I am right.”
It takes energy to think. We evolved to conserve energy so there would be enough to hunt for prey and run from predators. Our natural inclination is to shift into neutral and watch television.
Religions rest (non sequitur) on dogma. Secularism assumes (likewise, non sequitur) that reality consists of only what it can see. Paul Simon put it succinctly: “Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”
Whether biologically or culturally derived, humans share a collective unconscious, primitive shared memories imprinted from ancestral biology or experience. That collective unconscious is reinforced by myth and those myths shape our personalities and institutions.
Jung believed that all humans have in innermost longing to be connected with God, their Source, and are unfulfilled until they do so. He identified four subsystems of the personality, which he called archetypes.
1. Persona, the masks we wear in order to conform to society, peers, clans, faith-communities, etc.
2. Anima/animus, the feminine side of males and the masculine side of females; the anima begin devalued in a patriarchal culture.
3. Shadow, our animal side, similar to Freud’s concept of the Id – our base survival instincts to eat, drink, breathe, stay alive, reproduce, and so on.
4. Self – the inner, real person we were created to be; our innermost core, authentic being. The goal of spiritual formation is to intimately know, love, and follow God. The secondary goal of spiritual formation is actualization, selfhood, discovering and becoming our authentic selves, the people God intended us to be.
Fundamentalism, in religion, politics, or education, is made up of personas. Masks, smoke screens, rigid belief systems – rightness, absolute morality and ethics, a culturally crafted view of history, infallible texts. No room for deviation. Those masks become hard impenetrable ground. Certitude crushes humility and generates judgmentalism. Love-seeds can’t germinate.
The fundamentalist enjoys a truncated worldview in which all is explained, all is neat and tidy, all is safe. He lives in a box, safe from new ideas, safe from thought. Some folks are content with just enough religion to (hopefully) get them into heaven; others with enough dogma to persuade others to “make a decision for Christ.”
Theological systems may attempt to stuff all truth about God into neat boxes. “The one true church.”
Nationalistic and tribal myths shape our perceptions. “Land of the free; home of the brave.”
Along comes a seed that would, if it germinates, disrupt the worldviews and the myths. To allow it to sink in and bear fruit, I have to let go of the assumptions, give up the personas. That feels like death. It disrupts who I thought I was and challenges my identity. It may put me at odds with family, tribe, or faith community and lead to rejection. My neatly built belief system may unravel, leaving me with a chaotic tangle. My natural instinct is to reject the seed. The thorny weeds want to survive.
Humility includes teachableness, a willingness to change. Jesus began his ministry echoing the words of his cousin John: “Repent!” The word means to change your mind. It has little to do with guilt or regret, even less with self-deprecation. Change your mind – be willing to think differently, to challenge deeply held, tribally sacred, myths. Dying to self has been wrongly associated with asceticism. It is instead a willingness to let go cherished beliefs. The true disciple welcomes the unraveling, scary and uncertain as it may be.
It is so scary that I will not even begin unless I am first thoroughly convinced that God is in very fact, Unconditional Love, and will never forsake me. Only when I am secure in divine love can I risk questioning the unquestionable. Only when I am secure in my belovedness can I risk the rejection that might come from individuals and institutions. It hurts to be rejected by friends and family, or be shunned by your church. Once deeply convinced of God’s love, I can begin to look at my assumptions, cherished myths, and hitherto sacred ideas. It becomes ok to doubt and question, challenge, and scrutinize.
My world is rocked. I am deeply ploughed. The very content of my inner “soil” is transformed. Little sprouts appear. Someday, please, God, they will be beautiful flowers where swallowtail butterflies can feed.
Confessions of a Recovering Pharisee
I sincerely pray that all the people I’ve hurt in my life will forgive me.
I really thought I was being faithful to God when I kicked people out of church and Bible college because they had an affair.
I thought I was being true to God’s Word when I condemned LGBTQ+ folks from the pulpit.
I honestly thought God favored the United States of America above other nations.
I thought I was speaking on behalf of God when I proclaimed militarism, championed gun ownership, and waved my nationalism.
I was a hypocrite.
I am so sorry.
God, have mercy on me, a sinner.