July 19, 2024

“Eurochristian”, Or What Are We Going To Do With White People – Revisited (Tink Tinker And Roger Green), Part 2

The following is the second of a four-part series. The first can be found here.

And we could reiterate that marxist theory is plotted [either word works for me. But I had intended it as a structural metaphor from eurochristian Land surveying: plat.] along the same temporality structure as christian eschatology, the same sort of salvation dialectic. Indeed, as Russell Means (Lakota) said forty years ago in his rejection of marxian thought: “every revolution in European history has served to reinforce Europe’s tendencies and abilities to export destruction to other peoples, other cultures and the environment itself.”[1] We would simply qualify that such expressions of revolution are entirely eurochristian in their deep framing. Like the european disputes exported to the colonies after 1648, the liberties fought for by invaders who came to claim Turtle Island as home were motivated by foreign, eurochristian contexts.  

Our argument for using the appellation eurochristian works to avoid the classic casting of Indian-eurochristian relations as merely a race problem. It goes without saying, of course, race is a nasty problem in the eurochristian postcolonial/neocolonial/colonial world these days, especially for American Indians. We, however, really want to press beyond racialization.[2] For starters, as has become increasingly apparent, race is another eurochristian invented discourse. We are today clear that race does not exist in any biological or scientific fact; rather race leaps into full color in the socio-political contexts of daily life—and, we hasten to add, academic discourses. On the other hand, American Indian folk have long tried to point out that Native Peoples in the american landscape defy any attempted categorization as a racial whole.

If race is indeed a thing, then American Indians are some 500 plus races just in the north american continent. The lumping of all Indians into a single race category is merely a eurochristian racist convenience done to enhance colonialist control, particularly with the unspoken goal of making colonialist occupancy permanent. The notion of American Indians as a race, then, is a hyper-inventive act. At the same time, Indian folk will insist that despite morphological differences and surface structure cultural differences that Native folk in the Americas share a common deep structure worldview that is quite disparate from the eurochristian worldview. Much of the nineteenth century liberal colonialist effort (i.e., non-exterminationist) was directed at trying to impose the eurochristian worldview and culture on Indian Peoples and to snuff out the Indian worldview and cultures.[3] 

By using eurochristian as a more accurate classification, we avoid the color code, which is foundational to racializing. Instead, we are naming a cultural/worldview whole as more deeply formative for thinking, acting, and identifying. We also get a more accurate view of why modern racializing was itself invented and for whom it served. Hence, we need much more focused analysis on critiquing that cultural whole. Why would a human group with a particular shade of skin color find the need to kill or abuse another human group with a different skin shade, darker or lighter? What logic might drive that sort of communal action?

There is nothing in skin color or the color code that would appear to trigger racialized hatred or color-based supremacy. When we shift the analysis to geographical origin combined with what seems to be the most formative aspect of thought development for people in that geographical region, then we begin to see pieces of the puzzle fall into place. We can surely trace the cultural arrogance of a community that thinks its own worldview to be either normative truth or superior to others. Of course, we know that the overlay of european colonialism with Christianity fronted a persistent christian supremacy throughout the eurochristian colonial projects.[4] Adherence to the eurochristian worldview, then, becomes in the colonialists’ mind the singular center of value in the universe.

In naming this eurochristian cultural/worldview classification, we are actually building on the critical legal description of their own supreme court chief justice john marshall who specifically calls this invasive Other christian. He clarifies this as a legal definition in his unanimous decision in johnson v. m’intosh (1823) in his codification of the so-called Doctrine of Discovery.[5] The use of the adjectival “euro” then gives this metaphor an additional sense of discreteness. Indeed, it is largely the european strain of christian thinking and cultural grammar that came to dominate the violent colonization of the globe from 1492 to the present.

The absurdity of marshall’s legal invention, of course, is embedded in roman catholic canon law, particularly in rodrigo borgia’s legal bull of 1493.[6] Namely, the first emissary of a christian prince to set foot on a territory not yet ruled by some other christian prince has the whole right to conquer, occupy and rule that territory,[7] which leads Lenape scholar Steve Newcomb to insist that it be appropriately called the Doctrine of christian Discovery.[8] Our argument here is that the affectation of christian identity continues to shape the social whole, even a more secular or post-christian social whole. As Roger Green might insist, christendom is not yet dead; rather, secularization / secular society is another name for christenDOMination.[9]

At some point in the authors’ conversations about writing this book, Tinker remembered hearing a ucla historian (and self-proclaimed churchman) lecturing in berkeley back in the 1970s who proposed a somewhat analogous line of thought. lynn townsend white, jr., was a historian of medieval europe with a focus on technologies and science. White became convinced early in his academic career that the looming environmental crisis was directly connected to european christian thinking that had generated the new technologies that ever increasingly place humans in a hierarchical ascendancy over nature, with a mandate to use nature for the good of the human.[10]

Our science and technology have grown out of christian attitudes toward man’s relation to nature which are almost universally held not only by christians and neo-christians but also by those who fondly regard themselves as post-christians.[11]

This, argues white, made for a persistent sentiment across european cultures and across time, from theology to the natural sciences, that anything in the world not human was intended to be used for human good or comfort. While that cultural foundation of christian anthropocentrism is today being challenged ideologically by many eurochristian folk at the grass roots level, both u.s. foreign policy and the greater whole of the military-industrial complex continues to function wholeheartedly on that anthropocentric core. As a result, Indian peoples and our allies across the continent (and on other continents) are persistently finding ourselves acting in resistance to one extractive industry after another (oil and gas pipelines and mining are the biggest intrusions into Native territories) in order to protect Native Lands and communities.

We want to build on white’s analysis of the development of a cultural whole inclusive of religion and science (and all the university discourses in between) over a couple of millennia. For us, as for white, the issue is not the religious affiliation of particular colonialist folk. Rather, we propose the use of eurochristian to name the cultural systemic whole that has generated a class of euro-western persons and ways of thinking, particularly in north america. While some may find the designation simplistic, we argue that it is much less simplistic and much more accurate that the widely used color code system. American Indians are frequently charged with “essentialism” by eurochristian academics when they attempt to speak from either their own cultural knowledge or worldview.

Meanwhile, an entire body of literature recently produced by Indigenous academics has addressed the issue but remains discursively ghettoized by disciplinary categories in the academy and more overtly racist, armchair-intellectualism in legal environments among legislators who revert to their colonialist elementary school educations whenever anything to do with Indigenous Peoples arises.[12] The tu quoque and ad hominem fallacies fly as eurochristians claim that Native infighting existed before colonial invasion or that Indigenous peoples merely reproduce a binary mechanism of “Othering.” One of Green’s eurochristian students lamented a “reversion to tribalism” when confronting Indigenous critiques of eurochristianity. Beyond the racializing produced by eurochristian colonialism to establish its right to rule, and amid even eurochristian efforts to minimize racial violence as a distant thing of the past to claim “we’re all equal now,” how are we to account for deeply-framed cognitive differences that are not reducible to liberal politics of respectability or assimilationist notions of “inclusivity”? We believe this to be an effort that cannot be simplified by disciplinary expertise but that is best accounted for by attention to our specific articulation of worldview. 

How it works….

Often enough in historical examples from this continent, the connection is transparent and is a direct connection to Christianity itself as a discrete cultural expression. Let us take a specific example close to where we both currently live. During the 1860s, the territorial governor of what is today the state of colorado, john evans, was a renowned methodist layman who had been raised in a quaker household. His military associate, u.s. army col. john chivington, the murderer in charge at the Sand Creek Massacre (November 29, 1864), was an ordained methodist minister (on leave of ministerial call) and co-founding trustee with evans of what quickly became the largest colorado methodist church, trinity methodist church, the year before in downtown denver.[13]

Chivington’s adjutant during the Sand Creek Massacre, maj. jacob downing, leader of a prior genocidal attack himself and later chivington’s defense attorney, was also raised quaker and was also a member of the same methodist church as evans and chivington in denver.[14] Their christian attachment was deeply imprinted on their identities and can in no way be separated out from their murderous intentions toward Indian Peoples. If we can quickly conclude that these same men’s devotion to the abolitionist cause comes from their explicit faith connection, why would we even hesitate to connect their equally devoted commitment to killing Indians to their faith? In this scenario, of course, there is a more transparent connection to religion, but the deeper cultural (and, hence, less transparent) connection undoubtedly has more sway in their devotion. In other words, their deeply-framed worldview underwrote both their more consciously-expressed faith, including denominational membership, despite whatever humanitarian values those faith-orientations expressed as values.

But these men were not alone—neither in their murderous desires nor in their deep religious attachments. Even the rowdies and drunks recruited by Chivington to make up the temporary federal unit of the Colorado Third had that deep christian imprint on their psyches. Yet when we refer to these invasive european folk as euro-christian, we are not casting them merely as faithful members of christian congregations. Rather, we are trying to get at the deep structure sense of being, something that might not be self-conscious in every individual’s surface structure thinking but is nevertheless intimately involved in the production of each person’s thinking and languaging. In the same way, it leaves an indelible imprint on the entire horde of those who came from Europe across the great waters. Today, many eurochristians appeal to values of “religious freedom” espoused by early invaders, but such tolerance was not given to Indigenous “savages.”

It is very difficult for eurochristians today to understand just how disruptive the replacement of the gift economy by emergent capitalist mercantilism, with its money economy, was for Indigenous Peoples, yet as Barbara Mann has detailed, eurochristians intentionally used the protocols of the gift economy for biological warfare.[15] Current-day celebrations of “thanksgiving” in the u.s. are celebrations of genocide packaged with erasure of violence so gluttonous appetites can be filled to evidence eurochristians’ “rights” to occupy Native lands.

The literature has used various language to refer to this invasive Other: colonists and colonials (but never colonialists!?), immigrants, settlers, White People, or perhaps describing them in terms of their country of origin as english, spanish, etc., and eventually even “american.”  Sometimes we can usefully get at the underlying issues through an analysis of the category of Whiteness. These metaphors all share certain inadequacies that nevertheless served to obfuscate the reality experienced by Native Peoples. Of course, these Others were indeed colonialists, invaders and occupiers (what Memmi labels “usurpers”[16]), but their own histories have functioned persistently to erase that stigma and its history of violence.

Obviously, metaphors inculcate a certain imprecision, even as they pretend precision. On the one hand, we use them in order to help define as clearly as possible, at least with a semblance of accuracy. At the same time, we use them to conceal the actualities at hand. In this sense, we are able to see the deeply ethical framing expressed aesthetically as “value” – even while we might agree that that ethical framing is itself deeply unethical.  So the term “settlers” might conjure up romantic images of trekkers (dutch: Voortrekkers), wandering across the southern Africa terrain to establish euro-christian settlements in Zulu territory—after the english colonialist government had restored Zulu hegemony there.[17] 

In the u.s. the equally problematic vision, of course, is one of covered wagons, prairie schooners, making their way in long wagon trains across the american west, circling their wagons in order to defend themselves from (largely non-existent) Indian attack.[18] Pioneers might just as readily generate images of buckskin clothed frontiersmen wandering up and down the Ohio River Valley and establishing the first White colonialist homes in distinctly Indian territories. And indeed, the historical context did involve a huge cadre of euro-christian people—from europe—moving across the american terrain looking for places to “settle.”

While these colonialists were always squatters technically, the first of those hordes did indeed function more literally as pioneers—that is, as military peonage establishing military frontiers and advance settlement outposts as particular places for the hordes of colonialists to come. And they did establish colonies across the continent, albeit on someone else’s Land. That is the semblance of accuracy. But, of course, what is minimized constantly in such narratives is the quite intentional erasure at work in the pioneering action.  Aesthetics act intergenerationally upon “the senses” to “naturalize” a worldview, just as languaging does.

Tink Tinker is wazhazhe, a citizen of the Osage Nation. For 33 years he was a professor of American Indian studies at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, where he still holds the title emeritus professor. During most of that time, Tinker also was the (non-stipendiary) director of Four Winds American Indian Council in Denver. Tinker has abandoned christianity as a colonialist and Genocidal imposition on Indian Peoples in favor of recapturing the traditional worldview of Native Peoples. Although Tinker was trained in eurochristian theology and bible, he has come to see the Native experience of the interrelationship of all life and our ideal of cosmic balance and harmony as totally incompatible with eurochristian colonialist imaginary of hierarchy, one that sees reality as a manichaean hierarchical struggle of good versus evil. He is the author of American Indian Liberation (Orbis, 2008).

Roger Green is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English at Metropolitan State University of Denver.  He is the author of A Transatlantic Political Theology of Psychedelic Aesthetics: Enchanted Citizens (2019) and the recent dissertation Ayahuasca in the Wake of the Doctrine of Discovery (2020).  He has collaborated musically with Anne Waldman on Untethered I (Fast Speaking Music 2017).  He is also contributor to an edited collection by Miguel A. De La Torre, The Colonial Compromise: The Threat of the Gospel to Indigenous Worldview (2021), which celebrates Tink Tinker’s career and teaching.  He’s currently co-authoring a book with Tink Tinker on eurochristian worldview.

[1] Russell Means, “For the World to Live. ‘Europe’ Must Die,” archive.org July 1980, accessed November 30, 2019, https://archive.org/stream/ForAmericaToLiveEuropeMustDie/foramericatolive_read_djvu.txt.

[2] Our argument ought not be confused with “post-race” rhetoric, which attempts to minimize past racial violence by claiming that “we are all equal now” or that points to a few people of color in powerful positions to claim progress.  It is the power and the hierarchical positioning that remains eurochristian, despite the skin tone of those operating in the positions.  So-called “progressivist” rhetoric – “things are getting better” – is itself a kind of erasure because it implicitly accepts assimilation and naturalizes colonization as enduring and inevitable.  That said, this “progressivist rhetoric” is of course different than Critical Race Theory (CRT) and the more concerted efforts to ban CRT in current public education in the United States.  CRT attributes an enduring consistency to the problem of racism in society, which opens a host of different techniques with which to engage the problem.  Attempts to ban using CRT in educational settings, as well as attempts to discredit it or make it controversial in political discourse, simply amount to tactics of denial that racism is an ongoing issue within a society historically dominated by white (eurochristian) supremacy.  They are tactics to preserve White supremacy.  With due respect to the original CRT thinkers, our approach here takes a different approach.  CRT developed out of Critical Legal Studies during the 1970s, which sought to reveal inherent biases within the status quo of legal regimes that deemed themselves objective and impartial.  It intersected with then emerging movements in cognitive science that critiqued enlightenment-oriented conceptions of rationality.  Cognitive science has developed significantly since then, but its methods are not well-known to the commonplace discourses we have at the national level with respect to race.  Meanwhile, as Tinker asserts, in current political discourse CRT no longer has anything to do with theory. It has become a framing device for rightwing pundits to vilify and discredit both academic and broader social-justice discourse regarding persistent racial inequity. Rhetorically speaking, the rightwing conversion of CRT into a static-transcendent site of abstraction and scapegoating only further emphasizes a kind of eurochristian cathexis.

[3] See Ward Churchill, Kill the Indian, Save the Man: The Genocidal Impact of American Indian Residential Schools (City Lights Press, 2004); and particularly note my introduction in that volume: TT, “Tracing a Contour of Colonialism: American Indians and the Trajectory of Educational Imperialism,” xiii-xli.

[4] See, for instance: Luis Pagan Rivera, Evangelización y violencia: La conquista de América (San Juan: Cemí, 1990, 1992); A violent evangelism: The Political and Religious Conquest of the Americas (Westminster/John Knox, 1992). And T. Tinker, Missionary Conquest: The Gospel and American Indian Genocide (Fortress, 1993).

[5] Supreme Court Justice John Marshall incorporated the Doctrine of Discovery in 1823, denying Indian titles to land in the United States, he misconstrued existing international law – likely to serve more immediate purposes.  At the same time, he could align self-serving decisions with a Christian sense of moral purpose.  As Ali Friedberg writes, “in Johnson, Marshall disregarded the [international law] principles announced by Vitoria, and applied the Doctrine of Discovery as if the Indians were ‘nobody.’” The legal term here was terra nullius: “The United States […] at the dawn of the “manifest destiny” era, was guided by practical, utilitarian concerns for the acquisition of land. Although Marshall superficially attempted to interpret Spanish law and the Law of Nations, Marshall’s holding in Johnson clearly signified a departure from international precedent and its humanistic foundations. This departure was so influential, that it contributed to the omission of Indian rights from international legal discourse.” Ali Friedberg, “Reconsidering the Doctrine of Discovery: Spanish Land Acquisition in Mexico (1521-1821),” Wisconsin International Law Journal 17, no. 1 (1999): 106-108. Johnson’s attitude is not idiosyncratic; rather, it exemplifies but one instance of american exceptionalism in jurisprudence, an exceptionalism rooted in eurochristian worldview.  

[6] Borgia, an aragonese lawyer, is usually named according to his self-selected pseudonym and formal ecclesial title as pope alexander vi, the reigning judicial authority in all of europe at the time.

[7] Marshall wrote, “The potentates of the old world found no difficulty in convincing themselves that they made ample compensation to the inhabitants of the new by bestowing on them civilization and Christianity in exchange for unlimited independence. But as they were all in pursuit of nearly the same object, it was necessary, in order to avoid conflicting settlements and consequent war with each other, to establish a principle which all should acknowledge as the law by which the right of acquisition, which they all asserted should be regulated as between themselves. This principle was that discovery gave title to the government by whose subjects or by whose authority it was made against all other European governments, which title might be consummated by possession.” Johnson & Graham’s Lessee v. McIntosh, 21 U.S. 543 (1823) https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/21/543/.

[8] Steve Newcomb, Pagans in the Promised Land (Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishers, 2008).

[9] Roger K. Green, “Is Theological Education Becoming Post-Christian?” crafted the neologism christenDOMination in a paper presented at the American Academy of Religion, San Diego CA, November 2019, in press. Newcomb does a thorough job of tracing the etymology of dominium and all its derivative forms in his Pagans in the Promised Land, chapter Three. Particularly important is the meaning of the source metaphor “dom,” to conquer or subdue, in Latin and the earlier Sanskrit. Newcomb cites the analysis of dominium in William Brandon, New Worlds for Old: Reports from the New World and Their Effects on the Development of Social Thought in Europe, 1500-1800 (Ohio State Press, 1986).

[10] White’s clearest statement on the connection of christian thinking with the ecological crisis was his 1967 article in Science: “The historical roots of our ecological crisis,” Science, 155: 1203–1207. But one can trace his movement in that direction in earlier writings: Medieval Technology and Social Change (Oxford University Press, 1962); and “Christian myth and Christian history,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 3:2 (1942): 145–158.

[11] White, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis,”Science, 1206.

[12] The authors, and Tinker much longer than Green, fought this for years in colorado legislation to remove the racist columbus day holiday. There was a frequent dismissal of well-established indigenous academics such as Tinker and Glenn Morris (Shawnee) as well as the American Indian community in Denver. Legislators dismissively ate their dinners while Native children pleaded that they were tired of being called liars at school. One year, Green (a eurochristian man) was invited to speak for forty minutes of question and answer on historical details related to columbus after his five-minute testimony. He was more than twenty-five years the junior of Morris and thirty years junior to Tinker, with nowhere near the academic expertise of either of them. Yet Morris and Tinker, both of whom had extensive academic knowledge of columbus and colonial history, received no clarifying questions from legislators. One Native woman, Sky Roosevelt Morris, who had been repeatedly silenced by legislators – and who was respecting her recently departed memory [??] by not speaking herself publicly – reverted to reading personal correspondence between herself and Green as “testimony” because legislators apparently only had ears for “white men.” Such is the daily racism, erasure, and denial of American Indian perspectives and worldview.

[13] Trinity United Methodist Church, 1820 Broadway, Denver, Colorado. It should be noted here that Trinity as a congregation has done a good deal of work to confront these aspects of its own history.

[14] This was reported to me by Jeff Campbell, an interpretive ranger at the Sand Creek Massacre National Monument last summer. Campbell is a first-rate investigative researcher with a lifetime record in crime investigation (N.M. Attorney General’s Office), and he has spent many years focusing on the murders at Sand Creek in 1864.

[15] See Barbara Alice Mann, The Tainted Gift: The Disease Method of Colonial Expansion (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2009).

[16] Albert memmi, colonizer and colonized (beacon, 1965; french orig., 1957), 6, et inter alia. Note also the introduction by jean-paul sartre, articulating memmi’s position: “There are neither good nor bad colonists: there are colonialists.”

[17] See particularly anne mcclintock’s description in chapter ten: “No Longer in a Future Heaven: Nationalism, Gender and Race” in her Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (routledge, 1995). The classic is: oliver ransford, The Great Trek (John Murray, 1972).

[18] See Gregory’s depiction of the “circle the wagons” fallacy in his chapter “Circle of Lies,” in Leland Gregory, Stupid History: Tales of Stupidity, Strangeness, and Misconceptions through the Ages (Andrews McNeel, 2009), 209ff. For the american romance, read virtually any Wallace Stegner novel (to wit, Elizabeth Cook Lynn, Why I Can’t Read Wallace Stegner and Other Essays: A Tribal Voice, University of Wisconsin, 1996) or any of the (ostensibly) history books by “historian” Stephen E. Ambrose.

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