Is Theological Education Becoming Post-Christian? (Roger Green)

With minimal edits, this post was delivered orally for a panel discussion at The American Academy of Religion at the San Diego Convention Center in November 2019. Tink Tinker asked the author to present a response in line with Tinker’s thinking and scholarship. Tinker had been invited but refused to participate at the conference for reasons mentioned below. That said, Dr Tinker approved the statement in advance of the conference. For more clarification on the meaning of the term ‘eurochristian’, see Tinker’s “What Are We Going To Do With White People?” published on The New Polis a few weeks ago.

Today, my presence on this panel is itself an educational experience, though not a theological one.  They do not make “What Would Tink Tinker Do?” bracelets so far as I know.  Dr. Tinker (wazhazhe, Osage), emeritus professor of Native Traditions at Iliff School of Theology, honored me by suggesting that I give an answer in line with his thinking as a Native person on this panel, precisely because I do not pretend to be Native or avoid my own eurochristian deep framing.  

Dr. Tinker left the American Academy of Religion in the early 1990s due to a lack of receptivity to Indigenous-led panels and frustration that non-Indigenous scholars at times build their entire careers without understanding the emic concerns of Indigenous peoples and their traditions.  

As a result, the situational complexities here necessitate a heightened attention to my own embodiment and an active avoidance of the narcissism that pervades so much self-conscious whiteness in academic settings.  In part, I think my friend and mentor was chuckling at me when he asked me to speak on his behalf. But if so he is nevertheless chuckling in all seriousness, because he has put me into a position where I must speak publicly to this meeting and actually do something to speak to ongoing eurochristian domination.   

The brief answer to the question framing this panel — “Is Theological Education Becoming Post-Christian?” — is emphatically, “No, theological education is not becoming post-Christian, especially for Amerindian people who continue to be dominated by eurochristianity.”  Because we are so entrenched within the paradigm of eurochristian domination, the thought of anything “post-christian” is inconceivable. Rather, like the ‘post’ in ‘postmodernity’ or ‘postsecularism’ we see radicalizations of these phenomena.  This fact has been obscured by a binary between the “religious” and “the secular,” which inevitably conditions even strictly theological education in the contemporary world.  

I realize that my answer may be disconcerting both to liberal Christians and non-Christians who might welcome the idea of a “post-Christian” theological education, but especially for Indigenous Peoples, the concept of ‘post-christian’ is a problem because they continue to live under a political-theological frame of eurochristenDOMination.

The term ‘post-christian’ is slippery.  Protestant Evangelicals at times invoke it to signal the fracturing of “Christianity” through the apparent decline of the Christian Right in the United States.  Liberals at times embrace it signaling a self-conscious awareness of Christianity’s historically arrogant claims to power.  But as a terminological screen, it continues to frame in terms of Christianity, even if through negation. That’s why claiming post maintains a eurochristian frame.

To my premise – that we are entrenched within eurochristendomination – let me begin.  We are still very much caught up in what Willie James Jennings has identified as The Christian Imagination, an operation informing the outset of the slave trade in Africa with a theological justification for eurochristian superiority and emergent notions of civilization built on a modern nostalgia for the Roman Empire.  

Jennings says, “Christianity [after the mid 1400s] will assimilate this pattern of displacement. Not just slave bodies but displaced slave bodies, will come to represent a natural state. From this position they will be relocated into Christian identity.  The backdrop of their existence will be, from this moment, the market” (22).

Emergent international law, which was largely papal in design, drew on Augustinian notions of “just war” and Scholastic discussions of “natural rights” in order to legitimate the conquering and subduing of all “Saracens and pagans” before the so-called “discovery of the new world.” Robert A. Williams, Jr. has traced this intellectual and legal history admirably in The American Indian in Western Legal Thought. 

Steven T. Newcomb (Shawnee/ Lenape), co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute documents the historical implementation of The Doctrine of Discovery (Inter caetera) within United States Law, pinpointing the inclusion of the right to discovery in Supreme Court Justice John Marshall’s 1823 ruling in Johnson v. M’Intosh, resolving a legal dispute that went back to the early post-Revolution years.  Drawing on cognitive science and the linguistic work of George Lakoff, Newcomb has argued in Pagans in the Promised Land:

Cognitive theory provides the kind of insight necessary to realize that when dominating forms of reasoning (categorization) found in the Old-Testament narrative are unconsciously used to reason about American Indians, Indian lands metaphorically become – from the viewpoint of the United States – the promised land of the chosen people of the United States. Cognitive theory teaches us that a conceptual metaphor is formed when a target domain is conceptualized in terms of source domain, such as when love or life is conceptualized in terms of a journey, thus creating the conceptual metaphors LOVE IS A JOURNEY or LIFE IS A JOURNEY. (xxii)

It is with Newcomb and Tinker in mind that I formulate the term eurochristenDOMination. Thus:

In the conception of Christian discovery, Indian lands become “promised lands”; American people become the elect or “chosen people”; and American Indians become Canaanites; thus “the conceptual metaphor AMERICAN INDIANS ARE THE CANAANITES OR PAGANS IN THE PROMISED LAND.” (xxiii) 

This metaphorical conceptual framing is more than mere language play.  As Lakoff’s work attests, conceptual metaphors not only reveal the ways people think but over time forge the very neuropathways by which our bodies come to make sense of the world.  This creates “deep structures” of metaphorical framing that are themselves physical.  

It is not just a matter of a “worldview” but a matter of emplacement from the time a human is born.  Deep framing operates within the socializing process of human bodies in their environments.  Displacing, removing, or asserting a dominating conception onto other peoples will inevitably produce ruptures in their deep framing. Simultaneously, when nurtured and maintained, inherited deep frames are intergenerational and aggregative:

Cognitive theory enables us to realize the federal Indian law is the result of non-indigenous cognitive processes, social practices and conventions, and cultural patterns, and of the way that members of the dominating society imaginatively project taken-for-granted categories and concepts onto indigenous peoples. The overall effect has been the traumatic intergenerational domination of American Indian existence. (Newcomb)

Riding an emotional high at the recent ejection of Muslims in Spain, Christopher Columbus brought the slave trade to the Caribbean and extended this thought consciously through the ritual baptism of land and people that would be more formalized in the Inter caetera bull and the Treaty of Tordesillas. The legacy of these agreements still falsely underwrites national entities’ claims to legitimacy in their occupation of Turtle Island.

Anthony Pagden’s The Fall of Natural Man gives a detailed account of Thomist readings of Aristotle and a shift toward faculty psychology.  He also covers the famous 15th century debates about Amerindians’ “humanity” and the Valladolid controversy between Juan Gilnés de Sepúlveda and Bartholomé de Las Casas, who followed Francisco de Vitoria’s thought.  

What emerges from Pagden’s careful analysis is how in deciding that Amerindians were indeed human, the eurochristians had internalized a faculty psychology that moved Aristotle’s descriptions of the “natural” slave mentality of the “barbarian” in his Politics to the “childlike” mentality of those “uncivilized” men deemed rationally “capable” of “natural religion” but “in need” of Christian domination for their salvation.  Thus, we can see that the Idealized Cognitive Model (ICM) of the conqueror mentality was not one of mere violent and subjugating force, but also one carefully refined through the tradition of eurochristianity that channeled that violence to serve its own ends:

The effect of [Francisco de] Vitoria’s arguments was to render the natural slave theory unacceptable while still retaining the original framework of Aristotle’s psychology.  The suggestion that the Indian was a child was not a novel one.  It echoed the unreflective opinions of countless colonists and missionaries who had come face to face with real Indians . . . By couching his argument in terms of Aristotle’s bipartite psychology he had explained just what it had meant to be a child, and by doing so he had opened the way to an historical and evolutionary account of the Amerindian world . . . (106)

As Pagden notes, this “evolutionary” view would change again during the Romantic period, after Hugo Grotius and Samuel Pufendorf developed theories of “minimal morality” and Adam Smith had developed his “four stages” development that would come to inform approaches the “world religions” and nineteenth-century anthropology.  That “universalized” view, which attempted through historicism to place all human development into “stages” could then be superimposed onto various peoples and regions of the world “scientifically.”  

Implicitly, however, the persistence of the ICM within Christendom informed the civilizing desire and “evolutionary” trajectory, as Pagden summarizes: In time, Indians and all other ‘barbarians’ will become ‘civilised’ beings, just as the Europeans climbed up from barbarous beginnings via Greece and Rome until finally they reached the condition of the Christian homo renatus” (141).  This historical trajectory and “evolution” is put forth as an ascension situated on a rebirth; thus, civilization was implicitly Christian, carrying with it, its own pagan history from which it had risen.

I am certainly sympathetic to more nuanced readings of the conquest of Turtle Island, such as Patricia Seed’s Ceremonies of Possession in Europe’s Conquest of the New World 1492-1640.  Seed argues for interpretive differences made by English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese colonizers.  However, such a work’s helpful detail does not counter the eurochristian social movement that Robert A. Williams, Tink Tinker, and Steven Newcomb identify with emergent international law discourse.  

This is crucial because, despite cultural differences among modern European nation states, their claims to colonizing privilege all stemmed from the same source, and legally speaking, that source continues today to underwrite legal decisions.  Again, Francis Jennings notes the similarities in rhetorical positioning for acquiring “legitimate” reasons to wage war and take over Amerindian villages and cultivated lands in the North.  

Even today, the rhetoric of “convert, assimilate, or perish” is one that ceaselessly targets Native peoples through evangelism and “good intentions” designed to erase their cultural existence. In South and Central America especially, the re-evangelization, generation after generation, persists under the name of “development.” Journalists Gerard Colby and Charlotte Dennette have especially tracked the evangelical intimacies between U.S. politics and capitalist hegemony in Thy Will Be Done. It’s important here to take a transnational perspective not to be confused with cosmopolitanism.

Like their counterparts in South America, New England whites were consistently doubtful that their missionary work had been effective with Natives. Eduardo Viveiros de Castro has thematized the profound cultural differences between European invaders and Amerindians by noting that, while eventually violence took place on both sides, for Amerindians (especially in what’s now called “South” or “Central America”) the problem was to determine whether or not these invaders were indeed “gods.” On the contrary, for the invaders, the essential problem was whether or not Natives were fully “human.” The cultural conditions for tolerance should be readily apparent despite the “god-language” derivative of European theology.

If your deeply framed disposition is to view invaders as possible “gods,” you are way more likely to be accommodating, even as they infest you and your kin with nasty diseases upon contact. If, on the other hand, your deep framing always already conditioned by a bracketing of of “barbarians” and less-than-human “others,” this predisposes you to a position where you eradicate Indians as easily as one eradicates “pests” of any sort. Despite any binaries, such hoary incongruent positions continue to affect Indigenous Peoples today.

Christianized “state aid” on the one hand recedes to allow a globalizing evangelism at the local levels.  Eurochristians benefit from the rhetoric that they’re “not political.” They only care about “salvation.” Drug wars and competition for Venezuelan oil produce the causes for “just war” and pipeline building in the North that connects both the northern and southern hemispheres in a zero-sum game of Empire building even today.

It is not only Indigenous scholars who articulate this reality. Jeremy Schott, for example, argues “for a consideration of pagan polemics and Christian apologetics not simply as sites of ‘religious conflict’ or the production of ‘self-definition’ but also as both constituted by and constitutive of Roman imperialism.”   With respect to South America, Schott argues, citing Bartolomé de las Casas:

The identification of the indigenous peoples of the Americas as “new gentiles” authorized the militant, often violent, extirpation, of traditional religions as “idolatry.”  Certain colonialists, such as Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda went so far as to deny that natives possessed the capacity for natural religion at all; as such, they were subhuman and could be exploited as slaves.  At the same time, however, others located the native cultures along a spectrum of “civilization.” (166)

Moreover, as Robert Williams’s The American Indian in Western Legal Thought evidences, the articulation of Aquinas-influenced humanism in Pope Innocent IV, Sepúlveda’s assessment was a legalistic one.

We know that Queen Isabella of Spain was appalled at Christopher Columbus’s treatment of Natives as potential slaves and his initiation of the transatlantic slave trade on his first voyage.  As subjects of the Spanish royalty, presumably Native people had the same rights as any other Spanish subjects.  But in order to justify the subjection of Natives, colonizers turned toward the same international concepts of “just war” that Innocent IV had used against “infidels.”[7]  As Francis Jennings detailed through explicitly stated colonial sources more than forty years ago, both Protestants and French Catholics drew on papal doctrine of donation to claim sovereignty along the northeast coast.

Simultaneously, the “glocal” aspects of the Catholic church, as Robert Orsi argued at a recent University of Denver lecture, are able to preserve the sexual exploitation of people of all ages, genders, and sexual orientations intergenerationally through a culture of denial and corruption by declaring injustices to be locally specific while moving and harboring perpetrators around the globe.

Such is an extension of the same phenomenon that has been genocidal for Indigenous Peoples.  As a social movement, eurochristianity is inherently genocidal to Amerindian peoples with its more than five-hundred-year-long assault on non-christian ways of being among the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island.  To cite Robert Cross, a Lakota elder who lives in Denver from a recent conference on this issue, “they took all of our possessions and gave us their God.” 

I have come to employ some of Tinker’s terminology.  We use the term ‘eurochristian’ to designate a social movement, not a religion.  The reason for this is that the concept of ‘religion’ is in itself Christian, but people who are not working in the field of Religious Studies might not readily see this.

Religious Studies scholars of both ancient and modern times have said as much in recent years.  Jeremy Schott and Daniel Boyarin note the narrowed use of religio as arising with a Christian identity in Rome that distinguished itself from its Jewish roots.   Citing Lactantius, Schott writes, “religio marks sets of theological propositions and is theoretically identifiable transhistorically among all peoples” and therefore “we should locate the ethnological and historical rhetorics of Christian apologetics in the political context of (Roman) imperialism” (167).  

Daniel Boyarin argues in Borderlines that “a significant amount of heresiology, if not its proximate cause, was to define Christian identity – not only to produce the Christian as neither Jew nor Greek but also to construct the whatness of what Christianity would be, not finally a third race or genos but something entirely new, a religion” (4).  He goes on:  

While Christianity finally configures Judaism as a different religion Judaism itself, I suggest, at the end of the day refuses that call, so that seen from that perspective the difference between Christianity and Judaism is not so much a difference between two religions as a difference between a religion and an entity that refuses to be one. (7-8)

Boyarin usefully points to the aspect of performative recognition in religion: 

In the end, it is not the case that Christianity and Judaism are two separate or different religions, but that they are two different kinds of things altogether.  From the point of view of the Church’s category foundation, Judaism and Christianity (and Hinduism later on) are examples of the categories of religions, one a bad example and the other a very good one, indeed the only prototype.  But from the point of view of the Rabbis’ categorization, Christianity is a religion and Judaism is not. (13)

Early Christianity set itself up as categorical prototype by which other “religions” could be named and compared, much like the ethnocentricism that underwrote Aristotle’s sense of Greek superiority.  This was exacerbated by Enlightenment conceptions of “Natural” religion in thinkers such as David Hume and Charles de Brosses.

To explicitly cite non-Native scholars here, Tomoko Masuzawa, David Chidester, and Brent Nongbri have all examined the modern invention of religion as being wrapped up in the drama of Christian colonization.  In particular, as Chidester details in Empire of Religion, Christian colonizers in Africa and the Americas initially describe the native inhabitants as having no religion and only later come to recognize their practices as “something like religion.”  

Chidester writes: “in the history of religions, the great divide between natural, savage, or primitive religions and civil religions was the basic principle of classification” (305).  Masuzawa argues, ‘religion’ was “endowed with all the weight and moral cathexis that was once proper to liberal Protestant theology.  This load of ideational energy has now been dislodged from that original site and transferred to ‘religion itself,’ now that the very theology has run up against the wall of its own undeniable history” (320).  

The World Religions model, which grew out of an ethnocentric notion of “rationalism” that assumed Christianity to be the most “evolved” religion, came to designate and locate other “faiths” from a pretension to whitely, “civilized” space that claimed notions of “neutrality” while ignoring, forgetting, and minimizing not just what the eurochristian Marx called the “prior accumulation of capital,” but – as Glen Sean Coulthard writes in Red Skins White Masks – an unending exploitation of Native peoples and their lands to serve eurochristians today.  

The divide and conquer approach to these identity locations through denominational schisms by the “white” father are coupled with the superimposition of the Christian Basileia onto the world through its infinitely accumulating global capitalism, despite even the well-intentioned work of recent liberal Christian theologians such as Katheryn Tanner and Catherine Keller.

We must see this in the context of deep framing. Tinker notes, “As the interest of the old mediterranean cults shifted away from communal well-being, the so-called mystery religions introduced a newly developing concern for individual salvation.  It is this shift that eventually won the heart of greco-roman Christianity.”  He then goes on to state:

The synoptic gospels’ metaphoric paradigm for the good, the goal of all life, the basileia tou theou (the so-translated kingdom of God) is consistently interpreted in individualistic terms.  The basileia, we are told, has to do with the individual’s relationship with God or with the individual’s call to decision.  Any communitarian notion of it being many people together, or all peoples, or all of creation, is little mentioned. (77)

Except, one might argue, in the body politic of the Church in the singular or the later political ideal of Christendom.  This is how we come to conceive the idea of eurochristian in the singular, whether Protestant or Catholic, religious or secular.

Tying this to the Doctrine of Discovery allows us to treat Christianity as a unified concept rather than an infinitely dividing identity restructuring typical of Protestantism. That unified concept then creates cognitive space for conceiving Indigeneity not as the “other” to a Christian gaze but as one that has turned the mechanism of colonial Christian empire against itself.

Well-intentioned contemporary Christians nevertheless have no credibility with respect to the situations Indigenous Peoples face because the Doctrine of Discovery remains firmly situated, both in the Catholic Church with a Pope who will not renounce it – despite a face-to-face request from Lenape legal scholar Steven Newcomb supported by his analyses in his book, Pagans in the Promised – as well as in the arrogant underwriting all land and property claims of today’s Rome, the United States.  

Again, Robert Williams Jr. in The American Indian in Western Legal Thought, has traced the genealogy of the Doctrine of Discovery to papal bulls and emergent international law designed to legitimate the Christian Pope as the one true god’s sole authority on Earth, justifying the invasions of the Holy Land to bring about the Second Coming.  Christian notions of linear temporality and millenarian thought also remain an issue entirely antithetical to Indigenous way of being, which as Tink Tinker argues, are largely spatially oriented.

Tinker emphasizes locality and balance as essential to Native Peoples identities:

By local and cosmic we mean to say that Indian folk experience their own place at the center of a cosmic whole, but that their experience of the cosmos is not an experience they would be in any way tempted to impose on other peoples who experience the cosmos in other local places.  To that extent, Indian communities were never evangelical or proselytizing. (207)

Nor did the schisms of the Reformation significantly alter the eurochristian claims to the Discovery rights by which they reduced Amerindian peoples to only the same right of occupancy as wildlife.  Instead, the devastating religious wars in Europe led to proxy wars in Indian lands.  As wealth-building companies brought emergent capitalism to these areas under the “civilizing” promises meant to entice Europeans to venture into the “new world,” feudal carryovers, such as the enclosure system were transplanted to the colonies where Indians were forced into reducciones and reservations, giving the legal precedents for what we now call concentration camps or, in polite speech, “detention centers.”

As Tinker addresses in Missionary Conquest, which also gives case studies for both Catholic and Protestant eurochristian endeavors, the spiritual “salvation” of Indian souls carried with it little obligation to provide material conditions for survival of Indian converts.  Addressing Native Americans in the opening pages, Tinker argues that despite traditionalist revival since the 1960s, “Most Indian people in North America have been Christianized, even if only nominally. A good portion of Indian people have been Christian for several generations, and more than a few are very faithful to the denominations in which they have been evangelized” (5).  Tinker also argues, however, that all Christian missionaries working with Native Americans are complicit in genocide, despite good intentions.  He writes:

what I call cultural genocide functions at times as conscious intent, but at other times at such a systemic level that it may be largely subliminal.  In such cases, the good intent of some may be so mired in unrecognized systemic structures that they remain unaware of the destruction that results from those good intentions. (5)

According to Tinker, “it is clear that the missionaries were myopic concerning their own cultural biases,” but of course this “does not exonerate the missionaries.  It merely serves to explain behavior that is finally inconsistent with the goal of salvation they proclaimed, and as responsible human beings they must be held accountable for the disastrous consequences of their actions” (15-16).  In this context, the idea of “post-Christianity” is itself an act of erasure of Amerindian peoples and an extension of the amnesia of genocide so that eurochristians may fuel yet another round of evangelical domination.  

It does this by bracketing of a Christian “past,” marking a new space contested and lamented by the deconstruction of eurocentrism, which paves the way for new “interfaith” projects to situate more enlightened views, at times embracing ant-colonial thought but simply not doing enough to account for the atrocities of the past that underwrite the binding nature of educational, government, and legal institutions. 

In years before the founding of the United States, this amnesia was already at work in the romantic nostalgia for the “noble savage” in American literature, which preceded the so-called French and Indian War or “Seven Years War.”  Like so many other decisions, this war was supposedly settled by European powers in France with no Indian present. And because of this, for some Natives this war has persisted for more than two hundred and fifty years, longer than the so-called “republic” of the United States.

 On the west coast of what’s now the “U.S.,” the Franciscan Junípero Serra supported the American Revolution, despite the “Black Legend” rhetoric employed to wrestle Florida from Spain and justify the invasion of Mexico, which brought about the arbitrary border that has today been the rationale for a new wave of concentration camps.  Despite the Catholic-Protestant division, a eurochristian social bond allowed consent to a “civilizing” project on Turtle Island.  

Later, Thomas Jefferson employed Doctrine of Discovery law leading up to the Revolution and with marked intent in the Louisiana Purchase and Lewis and Clark expedition, long before the 1823 Supreme Court decision, solidified the eurochristian political theology that still underwrites all property law in the United States.  As Robert Miller has tracked, by directly invoking the Doctrine of Discovery, the eurochristian social movement was bound into the newly formed nation state.  

Nevertheless, such laws remain in effect both theologically and politically that deny any pretensions to “post-christianity.”   Liberal christians want to “escape” their past entrenched in domination, but that impulse is really about letting them off the hook.

The notion of postsecularism, on the other hand, speaks to its own eurochristian framing with the notion of the secular, which speaks to eurochristian temporality wherein static transcendent notions of ‘religion’ appear as discreet “systems,” comparable under the supposedly neutral notion of rationality promoted by F. M. Müller.

But should I not address “theological education” more specifically?  Even if we forget the god-invoking cognate of the term ‘theological’, the deep framing of the eurochristian worldview – one which cannot be escaped by atheistic rejection, denominational restructuring, or personal disavowal – has been “educating” through an enculturation based on a hierarchical and vertical model of domination for too long.  When a notion like ‘post-christian’ comes up, it works more like a terminological screen furthering erasure.  

Among Amerindians throughout two continents and various religious “awakenings,” we see that the eurochristian desire for evangelism and conversion is as unending as capitalism’s desire for more profit, even at the expense of the earth we live on. In American Indian Liberation Tinker calls for a moratorium on twentieth-century style evangelism. Nevertheless, those who claim “stewardship” rhetoric still impose an androcentric vertical domination structure.

In fact, I expect that some of my readers will find difficulty in conceiving that power could move in ways that are not “top-down,” as Eduardo Kohn has mentioned with respect to our being colonized by ways of thinking about relationality in his wonderful study of Quechua linguistics, How Forests Think.  As Tinker writes in “Why I Do Not Believe in a Creator God”:

Here, I am not simply objecting to the language of god and creator as language embedded in a european worldview or christian ideology.  It is much more crucial to notice that imposing these religious metaphors of a hierarchical divine as an overlay on Indian cultures irredeemably distorts Native culture and destroys the intricacies and the beauty, that is, the coherence of the Native worldview.  An up-down linguistic cognitive image schema functions to structure the social whole around vertical hierarchies of power and authority.

Tinker and Newcomb have both articulated this structure through George Lakoff’s work on Idealized Cognitive Models to help articulate deep framing structures that persist intergenerationally. As Steven Newcomb writes:

The ICM of ‘the Conqueror’ within eurochristian deep framing posits a central figure, such as a king, monarch, or pope, who is considered to come from or be derived from a divine source.  The presumption of the conqueror’s divinity leads to the additional presumption that the conqueror has “divine right” to exert control or force, which is understood as being UP, as reflected in the metaphor POWER IS UP.

Conversely, those peoples whom the conqueror has subjected to his control are conceptualized as being DOWN in relation to the conqueror, as reflected in the metaphor LACK OF CONTROL IS DOWN.  Look honestly at class and racial disparities and inequities faced by Amerindian Peoples throughout both continents today as evidence of the deep framing and its very real impact on the world.

Furthermore, the conqueror is presumed to have the divine right not just to rule, but also to spread or expand his reign or domination outward by expanding his rule to “new” lands by means of war or force of arms.  This conception is found in the term imperium, or “a dominium, state, or sovereignty that would expand in population and territory, and increase in strength and power.” In order to find or “discover” additional lands that the conqueror can subdue, he must send representatives forth to search out, discover, and find new lands to conquer and subdue. (24)

At the Iliff School of Theology, the Native American Justice Council with the support of Tink Tinker, Miguel De La Torre, and Iliff president Tom Wolf are still in the beginning stages of finding ways to be in relation with Native communities with regard to a book of Christian history that was bound in the flayed skin of a Native man, gifted to the school, and proudly displayed for eighty years until it was quietly taken off display.  In the early 1970s, under a nondisclosure agreement, the cover of human skin was repatriated to the American Indian Movement.

Only in recent years has the school, which is rather progressive when we think of Christian theology schools, been able to begin the process of publicly avowing its theological participation and complicity in Native American genocide.  Similarly, various Christian congregations have studied and locally disavowed the Doctrine of Discovery.  But in no widespread ways have eurochristians – be they Protestant, Catholic, atheist, or secular – done anything substantially widespread to make amends for their systematic attempts to erase Indigenous Peoples and their ways of life.  

It is important to see how, from a perspective like Tinker’s, which keeps in mind over five hundred years of genocidal practices that often go unacknowledged, that a move toward “post-christianity” looks suspiciously like another way of dismissing and minimizing the horrific effects that attempts to “civilize” Amerindians to eurochristian values have had.

Certainly, local congregations have raised their consciousnesses and developed some conscience, but again in no widespread and educational way are eurochristians informed publicly about this past. And part of that fault has to be within theological education where the original colonizing rationales were cultivated and disseminated to install colonizer superiority.  

Beyond local cases of acknowledgment, notions of Christian “civilization” persist widely and those avowed Christians who support it actively lament its so-called demise while invoking persecution-rhetoric that they and their values are “under attack,” that they can no longer be Christians anymore, that their own religious freedoms are being denied.  If what they mean is the freedom to dominate even through well-intentioned spreading of the “gospel,” yes, they’re under attack, and deservedly so, because their intention is inherently culturally genocidal.

On the other hand, and especially among white evangelicals, we see narcissistic public displays of “repentance” by eurochristians who have come late to the realization of their own investments in white supremacy.  They take the stage in places like the American Academy of Religion’s president’s address in 2018, where the acting president finally had a “come to Jesus moment” regarding inherent racism within his own conservative evangelical background.  Especially painful was watching this performance in front of a packed room of scholars of color who’ve been attending to racial disparity their entire careers looked on silently. Better late than never, for sure, but the public performance — the occupation of conversational space by narcissistic white guilt, which continues to seek its own exceptionalism in the face of its admission is evidence that they still don’t understand the problem.

SimilarlyCurriculum models and accreditation services adhere with good intentions to models of Inclusive Excellence that too often reduce people to sets of categories through liberal politics of recognition.  If we’re wondering whether theological education is becoming “post-christian” simply because we have more inclusion of identity-categories “other-than-Christian” ‘religion’ or students who do not “identify” as Christian, we have not done enough homework into the ways the Christian Imagination continues shapes power in the world, secular or religious.  In that case, we remain within a 1990s multiculturalist model based on a liberal politics of “recognition” that is in no way “progressive” in 2020.

As Christian ethicist, Miguel De La Torre has eloquently argued, Christian liberals have too much hope when they should be embracing hopelessness.  Liberal progressivism corresponds to Christian notions of “hope” when it sees things as getting progressively better overtime.  If we just have hope and wait things will sort themselves out…To Indigenous Peoples, this kind of thinking sounds like, “if we just keep waiting and hoping they’ll all convert or die, and if the planet dies in the process, well at least we know we’re going to heaven.”         

Roger Green is general editor of The New Polis and a Senior Lecturer in the English Department at Metropolitan State University of Denver.  He is the author of A Transatlantic Political Theology of Psychedelic Aesthetics: Enchanted Citizens.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *