June 9, 2023

“Eurochristian”, Or What Are We Going To Do With White People – Revisited (Tink Tinker And Roger Green), Part 4

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

This brief, but complex, reading of American Indian history under colonialist attack leads me [us] to this socio-cultural descriptive usage of eurochristian as more specific and descriptive and more accurate than the other more common possibilities. And remember that we use the adjectives christian in this regard as a socio-cultural descriptor and not as a religious identifier.

If we were using it as a religious adjective, it would raise all sorts of other questions. People largely cannot agree on what the word christian actually means, who is christian and who is not. We want to argue that all european heritage folk are indeed sociologically and culturally christian, even if they might not any longer accept that designation as a religious descriptor, or even including those, as lynn white already argued in 1967, who might want to call themselves post-christian. On the other hand, european folk, and european derivative folk like those in the u.s., have been shaped by nearly two millennia of christian social and cultural life together. That is to say, some definitive aspects of christianity through the past centuries of european development have permeated the entire social life of people, including the academic, the political, and the business worlds, and is eventually definitive of the values held in the social whole, including scientific values and knowledge, and the critical/analytical languages of the arts and humanities and the social sciences.

To call the worldview of this colonizing Other “eurochristian” is to argue for a descriptor that identifies conventional behaviors that are habitual and self-understood across the colonizer’s population. So american folk today are particularly eurochristian in terms of societal habits of behavior and thought. This, perforce, includes those who would characterize themselves as “pagan” or “non-christian.”[1]

Reaction-formations against eurochristian hegemony, including the eruption of neo-pagan movements of the late nineteenth-century such as wicca, merely reassert by negation the eurochristian frame.  Worldview is not a matter of choice or ideology.  If one can maneuver out of a particular ideology, more power to them; but it does not follow that such positioning means one has adopted another worldview. Our insistence here has to do with our more general argument that distinguishes “worldview” from ideology.[2]

The latter, we would argue, can and most often does involve human choice, a clear disposition for one ideology over another. The former, in our view, is not at all a matter of personal choice; rather it consists of conventional behaviors and perspectives that are embedded in each person from birth and reinforced by social norms in the larger community (the social whole) where one lives out life, just as much as one develops language abilities in the language of one’s birth.[3] Worldview is perhaps best measured by what one does and how one does it rather than what one thinks or believes. For instance, one does not think or believe in one’s language of birth; one merely speaks it automatically without thinking it through. One’s imagination happens again automatically in one’s birth language.

These worldview actions are habitual in one sense, and as soon as one learns to perform, say, ten acts habitually in another culture, one must also realize that there are another billion or so habitual actions about which Natives to that culture are almost unaware but automatically perform and to which outside observers often remain relatively blind. That begins to get at the substance of worldview.

The english colonialists may have criticized the “Black Legend” of the spanish conquistadors, but they habitually perpetuated those same sorts of crimes in their own invasion of Turtle Island just as readily without a second thought. Committing the atrocities against pagan Natives was a presumed eurochristian right and the usual method of adjudicating territorial rights for eurochristian occupancy. The conventional and habitual foundation that ties together spanish, dutch and english invaders is the glue of the general societal christian discourse, including the church institutions themselves but not dominated by them. We should add that this deep structure embeddedness? of culture and worldview is not unique to eurochristian folk. Rather, it has analogies in all other human community contexts.

One prominent example is that many of my korean friends (colleagues and graduate students) have reported to me the impossibility of removing the confucian deep structure from any contemporary korean whether that person be self-identified as buddhist or christian.  That is, the vast majority of the habitual actions of korean buddhist or korean christian folk are rooted in the confucian foundation of their culture. One of my doctoral students, korean born and educated, wrote a dissertation on mudang, the korean indigenous religious tradition, arguing that korean people are equally imprinted by mudang, regardless of their formal religious affiliation. So, it is also with eurochristian folk—and equally so with American Indian folk whose habitual actions are rooted in Native traditions, languages and culture. Indeed, it is the case that the worldviews of eurochristian and Indian are distinctly disparate.[4] As Seneca scholar Barbara Mann would remind us, “none of the metanarratives of the two cultures coincide.”[5] And then she concludes: “It should be clear by now that the value systems of Europe and Iroquois could not have been (or still are) further apart….”[6]

This difference between worldviews leads to the argument that culture and worldview give us a firmer ground for critical analysis than do morphological signifiers like skin tone or the metonymic use of the color White. As we name eurochristian worldview and culture, we open up important avenues of academic investigation that can begin to clarify why these colonialist Others have acted the ways we can historically observe.

Under the close scrutiny of cultural analysis, the deep affect of the eurochristian worldview becomes more transparent. For example, we might more fruitfully analyze the american eurochristian rigid attachment to their “second amendment” and the right to bear arms in terms of deep culture and habitual responses to the world as rooted in worldview. Historically it seems to derive from a particular aspect of that amer-eurochristian worldview born on this continent. It was most likely, we would argue, a response to the perceived threat of Native resistance to eurochristian invasion and violence.[7]

At the same time, eurochristians (to wit, both eurochristian scholars and the general eurochristian public:  media, movies, popular books, etc.) have habitually caricaturized American Indians as warlike, blood thirsty savages who live warrior cultures. Yet that begs the question. We might in turn ask which culture was the more warlike in reality, opening up analyses of why eurochristian folk developed such ferocious war making technologies. Why exactly did europeans kill some eleven million of one another in the early 17th century (just at the time they were invading north american Lands) to determine which version of christian supremacy might rule the european continent?

On close examination, however, it certainly seems that european proclivities for making war are deeply rooted in their cultural and particularly their religious identity. Indians have long been appalled at the intense sacrifice of human life—and other life—in euro-christian warfare. Even as early colonialist Henry Spelman criticized virginia Natives for their lack of killing instincts, Europe was beginning a long war to determine which brand of their religion was true and deserved to rule the continent. The Thirty Years War, we are told, resulted in a war casualty figure as high as eleven million people across central Europe.

This war was preceded by the french civil war, again over religion, between catholic and protestant huguenot adherents (1562-98) that cost some three million lives. These long and deadly religious wars, we must remember, come on the heels of a half millennium of Holy Wars, crusades, declared by the popes ruling christendom through the middle ages and fought against non-christian peoples (the infidel!) and so-called eurochristian [are the hyphens intentional in here?] heretics (lithuanians, albigensians). The one thing jared diamond gets right in his highly flawed disaster of a book, is that eurochristian folk had far outpaced Natives in the americas in that one crucial category of war technologies, of efficient expertise in killing other human beings.[8] But then, they had plenty of practice, centuries of practice.

To justify their own violence in the americas, these eurochristian invaders developed an imaginary in which the american Native Peoples were even more violent than themselves. Demonstrating the principle of “projection” which would be developed much later in their own psychological discourse, the eurochristian invaders back then, and professional historians yet today, Indians became bloodthirsty savages, warlike, practicing warrior cultures, even though the Native languages of Native Peoples completely lacked language for war or warriors. At other times, the invaders could describe Natives’ lack of civilization in their inability to engage in useful warmaking.

Henry spelman, who was one of the english peonage on the ground in virginia (from 1608-1623), reports with utter disdain, “they [Natives] might fight seven yeares and not kill seven men….” Spelman’s commentary on the military prowess of the Indian peoples that the english were actively trying to displace and replace concluded that Indian warfare had no “dissipline” about it. When they fought there was never any “greater slawter of nether side But…having shott away most of the arrows and wantinge Vital weare glad to retier.”[9] That’s the eurochristian take on Indian “warfare” revealing simultaneously the eurochristian deep taste for bloodshed—a true war culture. For an Osage village, the death of a single person in a military contingent meant that the whole group was not allowed to reenter the village on their return until they had explained themselves to the nóhonzhinga and then performed the necessary ceremony to reenter civilian life.[10] These examples alone should discourage the usual eurochristian self-justifying imaginary of the “warrior cultures” of Native Peoples.[11]

At this point we need to be clear that this interest in and efficient development of war technologies has nothing to do with skin color, or the color White in particular. Rather it seems more closely related to the long theological interest in “just war” theories that stretch from augustine to vitória and beyond. Undoubtedly, the eurochristian proclivity for warmaking is also rooted in the historic shift from an oppressed minority community to an imperial cult following the so-called conversion of constantine.

While it becomes clear that these european and american White folk are at an end point trajectory of centuries of cultivated violence, there is nothing inherent in skin color that might be identified as generative of that history of violence. Any productive study must get at cultural factors that might give us a better vantage point for deeper critical analysis. Hence my argument for naming the cultural whole as eurochristian rather than continuing to use some masked metaphoric invention of skin color as if that color coding really meant something.

We do need to substantially shift our language usage in reference to these eurochristian folk and their history on this continent. It is time to abandon the color code, the use of the word White, words like settler and pioneer, to get at the starker historical truth, to begin to talk history from the vantage point of Native Peoples, of those who were invaded and dispossessed. It is time to stop erasing that violence with those coded words intended to soften the invasive impact. Even the frequently-invoked notion of White privilege should be invoked here.  While many may reject such a notion, others are increasingly aware that however inclusive a cultural “call” is for such engagement among Indigenous Peoples, the compromises so often advanced toward Indigenous folks underwrite the demise of Indigenous life, no matter how well-intended they are. A focus on “White privilege,” no matter how well-intentioned, is itself a furthering process of erasure for Native Peoples because it focuses on a eurochristian drama rather than what Native People face daily.  

We know that in making this case for designating America’s colonialist invaders as eurochristian, we leave ourselves open to protests of having overdetermined the relationship of religion to euro-western or amer-european culture; or to have over generalized some underlying definition of what christian signifies. To the first, we would reply that even the category “religion” has been invented and deployed by eurochristian academia most closely for their own colonialist academic purposes.[12] We understand that but remain wholly uninterested in religion, per se, in this particular discourse. Nor do we use the word.[13] Rather we are solely interested in how the long development of christian discourses (both theology and the corollary political/legal discourses) have shaped the thinking and the vision; the creativity and the legal thought; indeed, the culture and the worldview of the contemporary eurochristian world and its plethora of discourses. Such are so-called White people: eurochristian folk, one and all.

We hope that what follows helps to further articulate and nuance the incommensurability between Indigenous worldview and the eurochristian one. We know that many Indigenous people today identify as christians, but this work is not about identity or ideology. It is about underlying worldviews. Saying the two worldviews are incommensurable does not mean that communication across them is impossible. What would be the point in writing this book if that were the case? Indeed, we hope to create a discursive space so that eurochristian people may better reflect on their destructive and invasive presence and the fictions they have made up to maintain it.

The present state of life on the planet cannot sustain much more eurochristian obliviousness and willful neglect of balance. Worldviews are not static or transcendent. They can change over time, but only very slowly and gradually. If it is difficult for eurochristians to understand that other worldviews exist, it is due to genocidal erasure. Attempting to adopt an Indian worldview merely furthers that erasure. The point is to listen to and acknowledge a different worldview, giving the respect that all life is due instead of continuing to take. 

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] Indeed, those disaffected with eurochristian colonialism from new agers to new pagans have criticized the current state of things, but they generally tend to do so from an exclusivist position that minimizes the historical genocide of eurochristians against Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island, as if somehow the “paganism” present throughout western Europe were somehow comparable to Turtle Island worldviews. Such thinking illustrates more the eurochristian assumption that “animism” or “non-christian” expressions of the cosmos operate on an evolutionary scale of human development than it accounts for non-christian and non-pagan [neo-pagan?] people who continue to exist in the current-day u.s.

[2] The best argument for this discrete understanding of worldview is now Mark Freeland, Aazheyaadizi: Worldview, Language and the Logics of Decolonization.

[3] To wit, David Lewis, Convention: A Philosophical Study (Harvard University Press 1969); Max Köbel, “Lewis, Language, Lust and Lied,” Inquiry 41 (1998): 301-15.

[4] See, for example, Tinker’s essay “Why I Don’t Believe in a Creator,” in Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together, edited by Steve Heinrichs (Herald Press, 2013), 167-179.

[5] Barbara A. Mann, Iroquoian Women, The Gantowisas, 63.

[6] Ibid, 210.

[7] Gregory Ablavsky has written a compelling argument for the presence of Indians in the minds of the framers of the u.s. constitution. According to his argument, the necessity for a federal government and the ensuing tension with states was predicated on the shared sense of a common enemy among Indians to the west. Gregory Ablavsky, “The Savage Constitution,” Duke Law Journal 63, no. 5 (February 2014), https://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3412&context=dlj. We should also cite donald grinde and bruce johansen, Exemplar of Liberty: Native America and the Evolution of American Democracy (ucla american indian studies, 1991) .

[8] Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (W.W. Norton, 1999). Diamond rightly notes the advanced war-making technologies that had been developed in christian Europe and gives an explanation of that development. On the other hand, he fails to report and even denies the advanced state of agriculture in the Americas and that 60-65% of our modern world’s food production are post-colonial, post-1492, and american Native in origin. Jack Weatherford, Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World (Ballantine, 1989). Indeed, by weatherford’s measure (and many others) it was Indian technology and particularly agriculture that enabled eurochristian folk to generate the industrial revolution in europe. The potato alone totally transformed the european economy after the sixteenth century.

[9] Spelman lived with the Powhattan during 1609-1610 and was active in the english virginia colony until 1623. His Relation of Virginia was written during this time period—right at the beginnings of the long protestant-catholic war in europe that resulted in the deaths of eurochristian people measured in the millions. When pundits talk of Indian Peoples as “warrior societies,” we need to compare the death rate in the 30-years war with spelman’s noting of Natives fighting seven years and not killing seven men. Spelman’s text, “Relation of Virginia.” is now available on-line at: http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/jamestown-browse?id=J1040.

[10] Francis La Flesche, War Ceremony and Peace Ceremony of the Osage Indians (Bureau of American Ethnography, 1939).

[11] Cherokee/ Muskogee scholar Tom Holm’s Strong Hearts, Wounded Souls: Native American Veterans of the Vietnam War (Univ. of Texas, 1996) is still a classic American Indian study of Indian notions of military defense of one’s people.

[12] Chidester makes this point wonderfully and exhaustively: David Chidester, Empire of Religion: Imperialism and Comparative Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).

[13] TT, “Religious Studies: The Final Colonization of American Indians,” Journal of Cultural and Religious Theory (). In Press.

Leave a Reply

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