Christian Imperialism

One example of religious imperialism can be seen in the era following the Age of Discovery which began in the fifteenth century. European kings, and later the United States, used a legal fiction known as the Doctrine of Discovery to justify their acquisition of new territories outside of Europe. Following this doctrine, Christianity is seen as superior to all other religions and therefore Christian monarchs (and later Christian republics such as the United States) have a legal and religious right and even an obligation to impose their rule on all non-Christians.

It should be noted that the Doctrine of Discovery applies only to Christian nations in their dealings with non-Christian peoples. In his book American Indians and the Law, law professor Bruce Duthu writes:

“Only Christian colonizers in their encounters with non-Christian peoples could invoke the discovery doctrine. An indigenous seafaring tribe, by contrast, could not plant a flag in the British Isles or on the beaches of Normandy and make comparable claims to England or France under the doctrine.”

Law and its interpretation by the courts regarding American Indians in the United States are based on two concepts: (1) the U.S. Constitution, and (2) legal precedents from international law, primarily a legal fiction known as the Doctrine of Discovery.

In 1787, the United States adopted a constitution which is considered the supreme law of the land. Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 delegates to Congress the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes” and thus dealings with the tribes are to be federal. Most of the litigation regarding Indian matters concerns this clause. However, it has not been unusual for legal scholars, including one Supreme Court Chief Justice, and for many politicians and government leaders to ignore this clause.

The Doctrine of Discovery is not well-known to people who are not: (a) historians, (b) legal scholars, or (c) American Indians. In brief, this is an ancient European Christian legal concept which says that Christian nations have a right, if not an obligation, to rule over all non-Christian nations. Thus, the European nations, and the United States after 1787, felt that they had a legal right to govern American Indians. The Doctrine of Discovery gave Christian nations, including the United States, the right to take land away from indigenous peoples paying for it with the gift of Christianity.

The Popes and Spanish Law

The Catholic Pope in 1452 laid the foundation for the Doctrine of Discovery by issuing the papal bull dum diversas which instructed the Portuguese monarchy “to invade, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ, to put them into perpetual slavery, and to take away all their possessions and property.” The ideas found in this papal document were later woven into U.S. Indian law and continues to guide U.S. Indian policy.

A papal bull is a special kind of patent or charter issued by a pope. It is called a “bull” because of the seal (bulla) which was appended to the end of it and served to authenticate the document.

The original papal bull, which is still in force, was strengthened in 1455 with another papal bull, Romanus Pontifex, which sanctified the seizure of non-Christian lands and encouraged the slavery of natives. Following the discovery of the Americas by the Europeans, Papal bulls by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 granted Spain and Portugal all of the lands in the Americas which were not under Christian rule. This began the European assumption that the native people of the area didn’t really own the land because they were not Christian. The Pope decreed that:  “barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.”  The Inter Caetera papal bull stated: “We trust in Him from whom empires, and governments, and all good things proceed.”

This laid the legal foundation for assuming that government comes only from the Christian god and therefore Christian nations have a legal right to rule over non-Christian nations. Indian writer Vine Deloria would later comment:

“Thus armed with a totally bogus title issued by God’s representative on earth, the Spaniards then began a brutal conquest in the Americas which virtually obliterated the native populations in the Caribbean within a generation.”

The Doctrine of Discovery provided Europeans with the legal right to claim the Americas. While non-Christian Indian nations owned the land, the European nations, as Christian nations, had the right to rule Indian nations. If the Indian nations failed to recognize this right, then the Christian nations could wage a just war against them.

By 1513, Palacios Rubios, Spain’s master jurist, had refined the Doctrine of Discovery into a document which was to be read aloud, in Spanish or in Latin, when new peoples and/or lands were encountered. The fact that the indigenous people might not speak Spanish or Latin was not seen as relevant. The document recited the Christian history of the world and then demanded that the Natives accept this version of history and submit themselves to the authority of the Christian Spanish King. The indigenous people were told that God has declared that the Pope rules all people, regardless of their law, sect, or belief. This includes Christians, Moors, Jews, Gentiles, or any other sect. The Native Americans were to come forward of their own free will to convert to Catholicism or

“with the help of God we shall use force against you, declaring war upon you from all sides and with all possible means, and we shall bind you to the yoke of the Church and Their Highnesses; we shall enslave your persons, wives, and sons, sell you or dispose of you as the King sees fit; we shall seize your possessions and harm you as much as we can as disobedient and resisting vassals.”

Furthermore, the Natives who resist are to be held guilty of all resulting deaths and injuries from the “just” war waged against them. The idea of a “just war” is based upon the word of Saint Augustine. Under this concept, a just war was one that was waged to right an injustice or wrong by another nation. One of these wrongs, according to the Christian view, was not being Christian. Thus, if an Indian nation were to fail to let missionaries live and preach among them, then they were committing a “wrong” which would have to be set right through a “just war.”

American Law

The Doctrine of Discovery entered into American jurisprudence in 1823 when the Supreme Court ruled on Johnson and Graham’s Lessee versus McIntosh. The Court found that the Doctrine of Discovery gave sovereignty of Indian lands to England and then to the United States. Indian nations, under this Doctrine, have a right of occupancy to the land. Christian nations, such as England and the United States, have superior rights over the inferior culture and inferior religion of the Indians. According to the Court, Indians have been compensated for their lands by having the gift of Christianity bestowed upon them.

The Supreme Court’s use of the Doctrine of Discovery in Johnson and Graham’s Lessee versus McIntosh laid the foundation for Indian law that still continues. The decision reinforced the superiority of Christianity as a governing philosophy and paid little attention to either Indian history or the possibility of Indian religions.

In an article in This Week from Indian Country Today, Steven Newcomb, Director of the Indigenous Law Institute, writes:

“From the perspective of Western Christendom, it was the ‘god-given’ right of all Christian sovereigns to locate and dominate (“possess”) all non-Christian lands on the planet.”

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in the Tee-Hit-Ton case. The government argued that under international law Christian nations can acquire lands occupied by heathens and infidels. In an article in Indian Country Today, Steven Newcomb writes:

“This is a religiously premised argument. It is also racist, to be sure, but it is an argument made by the United States government on the basis of the Christian religion.”

In their argument, the United States government not only cited the nineteenth century case of Johnson v M’Intosh, but also the Papal bulls of the fifteenth century and the Old Testament from the Bible.

In 1955, the Supreme Court announced its decision which denied the Tee-Hit-Ton any compensation for the taking of the timber. According to the Court:

 “The Christian nations of Europe acquired jurisdiction over newly discovered lands by virtue of grants from the Popes, who claimed the power to grant Christian monarchs the right to acquire territory in the possession of heathens and infidels.”

Legal scholar Steven Newcomb, in an articles in Indian Country Today, writes of the government’s brief:

“It is a gem of religious racism that fully documents the illegitimate foundation of U.S. Indian law and policy.”

The Tee-Hit-Ton case reaffirmed the Doctrine of Discovery as the basis for U.S. law with regard to Indian nations. It reaffirmed this Christian doctrine as the principle to be used in judging American Indians and discounted American Indian history and religious traditions. It denied that Indians had any legal rights as pagan nations. Attorney Peter D’Errico, in an article in This Week from Indian Country Today, sums up the case:

“It reaffirms Christian Discovery as the basis of U.S. law regarding Indian nations; and it says this racist religious doctrine is still in full force and effect. It also says that Indians as people are not covered by the U.S. Constitution, which undermines the arguments of those who believe the Constitution ‘protects’ Indians.”

In 2005, the Supreme Court once again cited the Discovery Doctrine in City of Sherrill v Oneida Indian Nation of New York. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote:

“Under the ‘doctrine of discovery,’ fee title to the lands occupied by the Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign—first the discovering European nation and later the original States and the United States.”

George Zebrowski, in an article in Free Inquiry, writes:

“In other words, the Sherrill decision was based in part on the Doctrine of Discovery, one of the rare principles of American law that came not from English common law or from the pen of some Enlightenment philosopher but rather from the Vatican.”

In 2008, the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers traveled to the Vatican to ask Pope Benedict XVI to rescind historic church doctrine—the Discovery Doctrine—that has encouraged the genocide of millions of indigenous people. Vatican police, however, claimed that the women were engaged in conducting anti-Catholic demonstrations.

In 2009, Onondaga Chief Oren Lyons asked Pope Benedict XVI to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery. While the Pope declined, thus indicating that this Doctrine continues as Church policy, the Episcopal Church adopted a resolution repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery. The resolution called on the United States to review its historical and contemporary policies that contribute to the continued colonization of native peoples. The resolution also called for Queen Elizabeth II to repudiate publicly the validity of the Doctrine of Discovery.

In 2010, “A Preliminary Study on the Doctrine of Discovery” was presented to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues by Tonya Gonnella Frichner (Onondaga). According to the study, the Doctrine of Discovery has been used to justify indigenous genocide and is one of the underlying reasons for the worldwide violations of the human rights of indigenous peoples. In 2012, the 11th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues discussed the Doctrine of Discovery.

On numerous other occasions, Indian leaders in the Americas have formally asked the Pope to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery. At the present time, it would appear that this is still the policy of the Catholic Church and is a part of American law.

Argentina, Catholicism, and Native Peoples

There is a common lie, told over and over again by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church– including the previous Pope–that when the Catholic missionaries landed in South America they were met by people eagerly awaiting the Christian faith. According to this lie, the indigenous people, who had no religion from the Catholic viewpoint, were anxious for the word of God and for conversion to the one true faith.  

In reality, the Catholic missionaries arrived in South America armed with guns, steel, germs, and a legal document-the Discovery Doctrine-which authorized a reign of terror and genocide against all who failed to convert. The Discovery Doctrine declared that Christian nations had a right, if not an obligation, to govern all non-Christian nations. Once an Indian nation had been read the Christian history of the world, even though it might be read to them in a language they did not understand, then they were obligated to be ruled by the “superior” Christian nation.

The Catholic Pope in 1452 laid the foundation for the Doctrine of Discovery by issuing the papal bull dum diversas which instructed the Portuguese monarchy:  

“to invade, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ, to put them into perpetual slavery, and to take away all their possessions and property.”

The Discovery Doctrine asked that the Native Americans come forward of their own free will to convert to Catholicism or

“with the help of God we shall use force against you, declaring war upon you from all sides and with all possible means, and we shall bind you to the yoke of the Church and Their Highnesses; we shall enslave your persons, wives, and sons, sell you or dispose of you as the King sees fit; we shall seize your possessions and harm you as much as we can as disobedient and resisting vassals.”

Furthermore, the Natives who resist are to be held guilty of all resulting deaths and injuries.

What the Catholic missionaries found in South America, in places such as the area which would become Argentina, were American Indians who already had religion and were not eager to abandon their way of life to conform to Catholic standards. What followed were centuries of religious suppression, not of Christianity, but of the Indian religions as well as both cultural genocide-an attempt to eradicate all aspect of indigenous cultures-and physical genocide.

Among Argentina’s Indian nations, groups such as the Diaguita, had successfully prevented the Inka from expanding their empire and these groups vigorously opposed the expansion of European empires into their lands. They carried on a prolonged campaign against Spanish colonization and rule. They stopped several attempts by the Spanish to establish a colony at Buenos Aires and in 1516 killed the Spanish explorer Juan de Solis. It wasn’t until the late sixteenth century that the Spanish gained a firm foothold on the country. Spanish domination came not from the superiority of their religion or their weapons, but from the diseases which they had unknowingly brought with them. These diseases, such as smallpox, decimated the Native populations.

In current times, the previous two popes and the Catholic hierarchy have been asked on numerous occasions to rescind the Discovery Doctrine. By their silence and their inability to acknowledge the truth of the genocide which they committed, the doctrine continues today as church policy. Several protestant churches, including the Church of England, have already renounced the Discovery Doctrine. Native American groups have already indicated that they plan to ask the new pope to rescind what they see as an evil doctrine. According to Tonya Frichner, president of the American Indian Law Alliance:

“Now is the time for the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church to extend a hand and talk about these issues.”

Source: http://www.nydailynews.com/new…

Stephen Rex Brown, writing for the New York Daily News, reports:

The protest against the Discovery Doctrine won’t fade once the white smoke dissipates from the Sistine Chapel chimney. In August, Native Americans will embark on a 13-day canoe trip from Albany to New York City to symbolize the common ground they share with European settlers – a relationship that could be improved with the renunciation of the heinous papal declaration.

There are some today who say that the Latin American people have waited twenty centuries for a Latin American pope. This continues the mythology of Indian people eagerly awaiting Catholicism. It denies the validity of American Indian religions and ignores the genocide perpetrated against them.

Today, the people of Argentina are overwhelmingly of Spanish and Italian descent (97%) and less than 2% can claim indigenous heritage. The many native languages which were once spoken in the country have become extinct, as well as most of the Native American ceremonial practices. Many of the Indian nations which once called this area home have also gone extinct.

Christian Doctrine and Dehumanization

( – promoted by navajo)

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has released a report which looks at the roots of the Christian domination over indigenous peoples. Forum member Gonnella Frichner, an attorney and member of the Onondaga Nation, indicated:

The first thing indigenous peoples share is the experience of having been invaded by those who treated us without compassion because they considered us less than human.

The central theme of this Christian domination has been the Discovery Doctrine.

http://www.streetprophets.com/…

Background:

Christian nations have assumed that they had a right to govern the indigenous nations they encountered. This right stemmed from the legal and religious Doctrine of Discovery which declares that Christian nations have a right, if not an obligation, to govern all non-Christian nations. Once an indigenous nation had been read the Christian history of the world, even though it might be read to them in a language they did not understand, then they were obligated to be ruled by the superior Christian nation.

The Catholic Pope in 1452 laid the foundation for the Doctrine of Discovery by issuing the papal bull dum diversas which instructed the Portuguese monarchy

“to invade, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ, to put them into perpetual slavery, and to take away all their possessions and property.”

In 1455, the Catholic Pope issued a papal bull, Romanus Pontifex, which sanctified the seizure of non-Christian lands and encouraged the slavery of natives.

A papal bull is a special kind of patent or charter issued by a pope. It is called a “bull” because of the seal (bulla) which was appended to the end of it and served to authenticate the document.

In 1500, the Spanish began using The Requirement, a document which stated that God has declared that the Pope rules all people, regardless of their law, sect, or belief. The Spanish explorers were to read the document to all non-Christian people they encountered and ask them to come forward of their own free will to convert to Catholicism or

“with the help of God we shall use force against you, declaring war upon you from all sides and with all possible means, and we shall bind you to the yoke of the Church and Their Highnesses; we shall enslave your persons, wives, and sons, sell you or dispose of you as the King sees fit; we shall seize your possessions and harm you as much as we can as disobedient and resisting vassals.”

The requirement was drawn up by Palacios Rubios, Spain’s master jurist, and provides the legal basis for the Spanish conquest of the Americas. All Spanish expeditions were required to carry a copy of the document.

The idea of a “just war” is based upon the word of Saint Augustine. Under this concept, a just war was one that was waged to right an injustice or wrong by another nation. One of these wrongs, according to the Christian view, was not being Christian. Thus, if an Indian nation were to fail to let missionaries live and preach among them, then they were committing a “wrong” which would have to be set right through a “just war.”

In 1529, Pope Clement VI wrote to King Charles of Spain:

“We trust that, as long as you are on earth, you will compel and with all zeal cause the barbarian nations to come to the knowledge of God, the maker and founder of all things, not only by edicts of admonitions, but also by force and arms, if needful, in order that their souls may partake of the heavenly kingdom”

The Discovery Doctrine as U.S. Law:

When the United States came into existence in the late 18th century, it simply followed the precedent of the English. Since the English, as a Christian nation adhering to the Doctrine of Discovery, had assumed that it had a right to rule over Indian nations, the United States simply assumed that it had acquired this same right with independence. There was no question in the minds of the founders of the new country that they had a legal and moral right to govern the Indian nations within “their” territory and, in fact, to assume that Indian territory was “their” territory.

In 1823, in Johnson and Graham’s Lessee versus McIntosh the Supreme Court found that the Discovery Doctrine gave sovereignty to England and then to the United States. Indian tribes, under this Doctrine, have a right of occupancy to the land. Christian nations, such as England and the United States, have superior rights over the inferior culture and inferior religion of the Indians. According to the Court:

“The tribes of Indians inhabiting this country were fierce savages, whose occupation was war, and whose subsistence was drawn chiefly from the forest. To leave them in possession of their country, was to leave the country a wilderness.”

Indian nations, according to the Supreme Court, have been compensated for their lands by having Christianity and civilization bestowed upon them.    

Steven Newcomb, Director of the Indigenous Law Institute, writes of the legal doctrine expressed in McIntosh:

“Based on this bizarre theory, our very existence as Indians is now assumed to be subordinate to, ruled by, and possessed as property by, the political and legal successor of the first Christian ‘discoverers,’ namely, the United States.”

The Discovery Doctrine is the legal foundation for American Indian law in the United States.

In 1954, the U.S. government, in the case of Tee Hit Ton, argued before the Supreme Court that under international law Christian nations can acquire lands occupied by heathens and infidels. The Tee Hit Ton, a Tlingit clan, were seeking to recover damages from timber taken by the United States from Indian-occupied lands. In their response the United States attorneys not only cite Johnson v McIntosh, but also the Papal bulls of the 15th century and the Old Testament from the Bible.

The Supreme Court once again affirmed the Discovery Doctrine as the foundation for the supremacy of the United States government over Indian nations. The court denied compensation and asserted:

“No case in this Court has ever held that taking of Indian title or use by Congress required compensation.”

In its finding, the Court viewed the Indians as nomads who have not developed the land:

“The Tee-Hit-Ton were in a hunting and fishing stage of civilization, with shelters fitted to their environment, and claims to rights to use identified territory for these activities as well as the gathering of wild products of the earth.”

More recently (in 2005), United States Supreme Court in City of Sherrill v Oneida Indian Nation of New York decided against the Oneida. In the decision, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited the Discovery Doctrine:

More recently (in 2005), United States Supreme Court in City of Sherrill v Oneida Indian Nation of New York decided against the Oneida. In the decision, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited the Discovery Doctrine:

“Under the ‘doctrine of discovery,’ fee title to the lands occupied by the Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign-first the discovering European nation and later the original States and the United States.”

The United Nations:

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues report looked at the Discovery Doctrine primarily in the United States. They feel that this should be the first step in a broader consideration of the Discovery Doctrine which has resulted in the dispossession and impoverishment of indigenous peoples and unlimited resource extraction from their lands. The Forum is looking at the Discovery Doctrine within the scope of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Kuriakose Bharanikulangara, the observer for the Holy See, responded to the report by saying that the Papal Bulls had paved the way for European expansion. He insisted that the Church had upheld the rights of indigenous peoples to their ancestral lands, regardless of whether the inhabitants were Christian or not.