In stark contrast to the narcissism and arrogance of the Discovery Doctrine ideology that so conveniently paved the way for European empires to invade indigenous lands from Africa to the Americas, from the Pacific Islands to Australia and New Zealand, whether promulgated in law by papal bulls or by supreme court decisions, we DO HAVE a creation spirituality tradition in the West, one that puts CREATION FIRST and not human doings and projects, empires and religious projections.
Two spokespersons for that lineage are farmer/poet/essayist Wendell Berry and Catholic monk Thomas Merton.
In a powerful essay called “The Hidden Wound,” Wendell Berry says this.
The root of our racial problem in America is not racism. The root is in our inordinate desire to be superior—not to some inferior or subject people, though this desire leads to the subject of people—but to our condition. We wish to rise above the sweat and bother of taking care of anything.
So we enslaved others to do so on our behalf:
Their labor promised to free us from the obligations to stewardship, and because they were unable to prevent us from enslaving them. They were economically valuable and militarily weak.
Berry recognizes how economics is behind slavery.
Thomas Merton frequently takes up the cause of indigenous peoples in the Americas. He admired particularly the Mayan culture, which he regarded as one of the noblest and most peaceful in history, and cites from sources which gave the Mayan version of the Spanish conquest of America.
He criticizes the missionaries “who had failed to see the beauty of the Mayan rituals” and expressed deep admiration for ritual dancing of the tribe in prayer.
It is said that “pre-colonial Mayan culture was for Merton a symbol of the paradise that is possible for all.”
But this paradise of living interdependently with nature was ripped apart first by raids from the warlike Toltecs and then most grievously by the arrival of the Spaniards.
Merton mocks the ideology behind colonialism when he writes:
They seemed to be owners of the whole continent, until we arrived and informed them of the true situation. They were squatters on land which God had assigned to us…..We could see at a glance, we understood without the slightest hesitation, that they were only aboriginal owners. They never had any legal title to the real estate.
Thus we placed them– “with the help of the military”– on reservations. The Doctrine of Discovery did its work.
Merton compares the Vietnam War to the Indian wars of a hundred years ago.
Viet Nam seems to have become an extension of our old western frontier, complete with enemies of another ‘inferior’ race….What a pity that so many innocent people have to pay with their lives for our obsessive fantasies….Every bomb we drop on a defenseless Asian village, every Asian child we disfigure or destroy with fire, only adds to the moral strength of those we wish to destroy for our own profit.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, p. 203.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, pp. 196-198.
Banner Image: “Black Lives Matter – Melbourne Australia Rally, 6 June 2020.” Photo by Matt Hrkac on Flickr.
Do you agree with Wendell Berry that a superiority complex drives both our need to enslave others and our treatment of the Earth? If so, what can we do about it?
A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey
In A Way to God, Fox explores Merton’s pioneering work in interfaith, his essential teachings on mixing contemplation and action, and how the vision of Meister Eckhart profoundly influenced Merton in what Fox calls his Creation Spirituality journey.
“This wise and marvelous book will profoundly inspire all those who love Merton and want to know him more deeply.” — Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism
Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart
Matthew Fox’s comprehensive translation of Meister Eckhart’s sermons is a meeting of true prophets across centuries, resulting in a spirituality for the new millennium. The holiness of creation, the divine life in each person and the divine power of our creativity, our call to do justice and practice compassion–these are among Eckhart’s themes, brilliantly interpreted and explained for today’s reader.
“The most important book on mysticism in 500 years.” — Madonna Kolbenschlag, author of Kissing Sleeping Beauty Goodbye.