Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Doctrine of Discovery, Part III: Who's indigenous, who's a colonizer?

A 2010 Arizona law, SB1070, criminalizes offenses against federal immigration rules and requires police to ask anyone they stop for papers proving their legal status. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio enforces the law in draconian ways. Ironically, Arpaio was himself born to Italian immigrants and wouldn’t have had his successful life if his parents hadn’t come to the United States. Sounds like Joe Arpaio was an anchor baby!  Churches and civil rights groups have been protesting SB1070 and its harsh enforcement.
After they were both arrested in 2010 for protesting SB1070, the Rev Colin Bossen, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland, interviewed his cellmate Tupac Enrique Acosta, an invited guest at the Unitarian Universalist 2012 General Assembly.   Acosta is a founding member of the UUA’s Arizona partner organization Tonatierra.  The Acosta quotes are from a blog by Bossen.
According to Acosta, “The purpose of SB1070 was to consolidate the perceptions of some white Americans around an America that is white in a continent that belongs to them.” Yes, the law is racist, since Latinos are more likely to be stopped.
Acosta further states, “SB1070 would not exist without the Doctrine [of Discovery].”  The Doctrine of Discovery was a series of papal bulls issued between 1452 and 1493 stating that when Christians discovered a land inhabited by non-Christians, the Christians had the right to kill or enslave the native inhabitants and seize their land. Not only does the Doctrine of Discovery take the fall in some eyes for the sorry state of today’s Indians, Acosta’s notion that it’s responsible for  SB1070 is specious, along with the remainder of his logic. The desire to restrict jobs and government benefits to those who are legal citizens is reason enough for such a law.  If the United States repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, would SB1070 be repealed?  I think not.
Acosta explains how the bill penalizes native indigenous people: “SB1070 is designed to enforce a border that divides not only the United States and Mexico, but the indigenous peoples who belong to the Uto-Aztecan language group.  They have been moving back and forth between what is now the US and Mexico long before either country existed.  SB1070 criminalizes their traditional freedom of movement.” However, modern nation-states have defined borders in contrast to nomadic hunter-gatherers.  Bills, unfortunately so far unsuccessful, have been introduced in Congress to make all enrolled Tohono O’odham tribal members United States citizens.
Doug Muder of the UUWorld quotes Acosta: “indigenous people are not immigrants.”    Can indigenous people ignore borders because they’re just migrating from one part of their territory to another?
“The struggle against SB1070 is the continuing indigenous struggle against colonialism.”   For Acosta, the Mexican and Central American migrants are also indigenous, although many Mexicans and Central Americans  are descendants of the Spanish conquistadores, hence aren’t truly indigenous. Moreover, citizens of the United States aren’t mounting a colonization campaign into Mexico, which has its own immigration restrictions. Finally, the Doctrine of Discovery assigned land to Spanish Christians who proselytized the Mexicans.  We now have two semi-Christian nations and according to the Doctrine of Discovery, you shouldn’t steal from other Christians.
“We didn’t come to legalize ourselves before the state of Arizona.  We came to legalize Arizona; colonization is illegal,” says Acosta. “If we’re going to legalize Arizona we have to decolonize Arizona.” Does decolonizing Arizona mean all non-indigenous (per Acosta’s definition?)  people have to leave?  I hear an echo of ethnic cleansing. Giving the country back to the Indians would cause more injustice than it would fix.  Similarly,  reparations to the slaves who were likewise victims of the Doctrine of Discovery is a nice idea in theory, but after five generations, impractical as well us unfair to carry it out.
It takes a lot of resources to pursue and punish migrants, even though they’re kept in tents and fed only twice a day.  Rather than squander resources on a futile goal to keep “them” out of  “our”  country, why not use those resources to help migrants become contributing, legal citizens?
Because Acosta connects SB1070 with the Doctrine of Discovery, Bossen lauds him as a theologian. On the contrary, Acosta comes across like a politician.
Acosta’s calling attention to the Doctrine of Discovery focuses attention on injustice committed in its name, and that’s good. But rather than concentrating on the Doctrine of Discovery itself, it makes more sense to think of the Doctrine of Discovery as one expression of a meme, an idea, concept, or cultural norm that’s passed along from person to person. The Doctrine of Discovery meme says powerful people have the right to take land and resources from weaker people.  The meme itself is what we need to repudiate, not the Doctrine of Discovery.
A second meme is buried in the Doctrine of Discovery.  The Doctrine of Discovery separated Christians [worthy people] from non-Christians [unworthy people].   Acosta reasserts this separation meme when he separates indigenous from colonizers.
We Unitarian Universalists affirm the inherent worth of every person and justice for all.  We are all one human race.  Todos somos una raza.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Doctrine of Discovery, Part II: The Ideology Issue

Did the Doctrine of Discovery cause or justify greed and exploitation of native peoples? It’s unlikely the Pope received a flash of spontaneous illumination telling him to initiate colonization. Given the timing, it appears the Europeans created the Doctrine of Discovery as a religious justification or a divine mandate for the colonization process.   The Vatican used religion to justify a political purpose, a misuse of religion.
Moving from the 15th to the 21st century, in our Unitarian Universalist world, does our religion inform or justify our politics?  Do we take Unitarian Universalist  principles and apply them to political issues?  On the other hand, are our minds made up and we cast a divine mandate onto our politics?
Philocrates, actually Chris Walton, editor of UU World, says, “The danger is not that Unitarian Universalists derive their political values from their religious commitments, but that they sometimes dress up their political values in religious clothing . . . It’s a way of claiming extra legitimacy for a political opinion by treating it as divinely or at least religiously mandated.”  Blog 12-26-02
For instance, we affirm the goal of world community.  Some may believe the best way to achieve world community is via free markets and globalization.   Others may feel open borders are the best way to go.  Still others may think the United Nations is the best way to achieve world community.
But what if people who had already decided the United Nations was a perfect organization joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation to make sure nobody questioned whether the UN was the best and only way?  Now we have an ideology: politics joined with religion.  “The . . . danger of a political ideology that pretends to be religiously motivated is that it demonizes its political opponents,” says Walton. Not a way to respect the inherent worth and dignity of others.
Another feature of ideology is that one must use any method to further one’s cause. The end justifies the means.  Ideologues use propaganda. They cherry pick facts to fit the case.  They use emotional appeals rather than reason.
Returning to the Doctrine of Discovery issue, the Unitarian Universalist Association apparently believes the Doctrine of Discovery caused oppression of indigenous people, therefore repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery will end it.  There is a video on the UUA website, supposedly a grandfather explaining to his grandchild the evils of the Doctrine. The video illustrates that repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery has become an ideology because the video is propaganda rather than a free and responsible search for truth.  One piece of evidence for the persistence of the Doctrine of Discovery the video cites is that the early settlers in the northeast named streets and towns Canaan. This proof rests on the dubious assumption the early settlers recognized a connection between the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites and the exploitation of the Indians.  However in the United States, there are 11 cities named Canaan (representing conquest), 25 named Salem (representing peace), and 49 named Greenville (representing prosperity).   Proving the United States is four times more interested in prosperity and twice as interested in peace as in conquest?  Or since the Canaanites invented the alphabet, the settlers were vested in universal literacy.
When we Unitarian Universalists remember the free and responsible search for truth and meaning, we won’t need to stoop to propaganda.  Facts speak for themselves.
“You need not think alike to love alike,” said early Unitarian Francis David.  We Unitarian Universalists love alike, that is, what unites us is working together for social justice. Social justice, Tikkun olam or repairing the world in the Jewish tradition, has two parts, helping the victims of injustice – charity – or modifying systems – political action.
Charity, acts of compassion, such as feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, visiting the sick,  the corporal acts of mercy are the proper province of churches.  We take care of those in our own congregations and extend our charity to the wider community.
The problem with acts of compassion is it’s one act at a time.  It’s a lot more efficient to tackle injustice from a political perspective.  Legislation like food stamps and rent control address the problem of hunger and housing for the many, not just one at a time.  Political change is infinitely more efficient because it fixes a whole system.
Hence, we Unitarian Universalists often enter the political arena. We work for immigration justice, water justice, environmental justice, food justice.  (Whatever we work for we call it justice.)  We rail against injustice but we don’t have clear goals or strategies to get there, which is bad politics.  Moreover,  politics divides people.  There’s more than one right way to accomplish a goal.  Politics attracts people who are angry at injustice, that is, it attracts angry people.  Also political work is like women’s work; it’s never done.  There’s always more injustice to fight against.
We have only a finite amount of energy to work for a better world.  Spending time and energy to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery is not a good use of it, because the Doctrine of Discovery never caused oppression in the first place.  An analogy:  Christine Robinson on the glass ceiling for women ministers. “That letter to Timothy which says that women can't preach, and how it trumps Jesus' evident attitude towards women seems to be the cause [of inequality among female ministers], but we all know that the cause is much deeper than that, and that Timothy is only an excuse.”  Iminister blog 8-26-08
I suggest we keep our political arm separate from religious life. We could take a lesson from the Quakers.  The Quakers worship in silence, but they have a separate political arm, the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
To honor those who work for a better world, I suggest a Heal the World ceremony.  Participants add stones to a hollow globe representing earth.  Each stone represents a good deed or progressive political action.  This ceremony respects different ways and avoids wrangling over the best way.  Tikkun olam.