Sibley Volcanic Park; the Doctrine of Discovery

Today — yet another pleasant day in the Bay Area, sunny and 74 degrees Fahrenheit — we went for a hike in the Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, an area in the hills north of us where an actual volcano erupted some 10 million years ago. More photos in my Facebook post today.


From a few days ago, two takes about a newly published book about the “Doctrine of Discovery” — the Catholic Church’s presumption, in the 1500s, that it could claim for itself any previously undiscovered (by Europeans) lands outside Europe, no matter who else might already be living there.

The book is The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy: And the Path to a Shared American Future, by Robert P. Jones. A book I’m not likely to read, but which I think worth noting.

NY Times, review by Ned Blackhawk, 5 Sep 2023: Tracing the Origins of American Racism as a Path to Healing, subtitled “In ‘The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy,’ Robert P. Jones explores the harmful legacy of a 15th-century Christian doctrine used to justify expansion and colonization in the New World.”

Citing Biden’s use of the term “white supremacy” in 2021, which encouraged “national reflection and reassessment””

Robert P. Jones’s stimulating new book, “The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy,” examines a series of such reckonings. In lucid prose and evocative detail, he contextualizes these attempts at racial healing within a broader, and much older, history of injustice and moral failure, suggesting that in order “to understand who and where we are, we need our ‘in the beginning’ to start much earlier.”

To his credit, Jones centers both African American and American Indian oppression, avoiding “the myopic Black/white binary” that silos much contemporary scholarship. “Upstream from the stories of violence toward African Americans,” he writes, “were the legacies of genocide and removal of the land’s Indigenous peoples.” Full of urgency and insight, his book is a compelling and necessary undertaking.


Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin, 5 Sep 2023: Opinion | We’re experiencing another desperate wave of willful amnesia

No author has written more insightfully and candidly about white Christian nationalism than Robert P. Jones, chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute. His latest book, “The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy: And the Path to a Shared American Future,” out this week, discusses three cities that explored racial atrocities committed against Black people and Native Americans and then worked across ideological and racial lines to educate and heal the communities. Here is my recent interview with him, lightly edited and condensed.

The bulk of the piece is an interview with Jones. One selection:

Our nation has always struggled with a fundamental contradiction. We built the philosophical framework for a democratic society on a foundation of mass racial violence. And we attempted to paper over the conflicts between these ideals and our actions with an audacious religious claim, rooted in a set of 15th-century church edicts known as the Doctrine of Discovery: that this nation was intended by God to be a promised land for European Christians.

As a result, White Christian Americans have always proffered a skewed history that can only be characterized as a counterfactual myth of impossible innocence. When social movements and other voices threaten to expose these contradictions, White Americans have acted powerfully in their defense. After the Civil War, for example, the United Daughters of the Confederacy organized to build their version of American history into granite, bronze and into public school textbooks. More recently, we’ve seen similar reactions following the retreat of White students into Christian segregation academies following school desegregation. And in the wake of the election of our first African American president and the Black Lives Matter movement, we’re experiencing another desperate wave of willful amnesia and historical denial.


Now this is completely understandable given the motivations of the tribal/Savannah morality/mentality, which prioritizes tribal cohesion above all else. Our tribe good, always good. Other tribes bad. Rewrite the past to emphasize our goodness. (Think how often the Bible was rewritten, and re-translated, of course for the Church’s benefit.) That this comes at the expense of reality, of honesty, is irrelevant. Only current survival matters.

Are reality and honesty luxuries of a post-tribal, multi-cultural society? This seems to be the prevailing assumption.

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