Robert Jones’ new book roots white supremacy in 500-year-old papal decree

by | Aug 22, 2023 | Religion

(RNS) — Many Americans have long accepted that slavery was America’s original sin.But what if it wasn’t? What if that original sin stretches back 500 years to the forced removal and, in many cases, extermination of Native Americans by America’s white European settlers?
And what if there’s a religious decree, dating back to the late 15th century, that gave divine sanction to the robbery, enslavement and violent oppression of nonwhites?
That’s the argument pollster Robert P. Jones makes in his new book, “The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy and the Path to a Shared American Future.”
The book, which releases Sept. 5, locates the origin of America’s race problem in the Catholic Church’s Doctrine of Discovery. In that 1493 edict, Pope Alexander VI provided a blueprint for seizing “undiscovered lands” that were “not previously possessed by any Christian owner” and subduing the people on that land.
Jones makes the case that the doctrine’s underlying worldview of divine entitlement shaped the way America’s white, European Christian settlers saw themselves and their mission and justified outbursts of violence, dispossession of Indigenous people and the enslavement of Blacks.
In his book, Jones focuses on three sites where the scars of white supremacy are, as he says, “carved across the land” and where earlier violence begot more violence: the Mississippi Delta, where Choctaw Indians were forcibly removed from the land and where, in 195 …

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