Adult Religious Exploration

The Doctrine of Christian Discovery

UUCE has made a commitment through its Adult Religious Education and PASA Committees, to study the DoD and its implications for Maine’s remaining Indigenous Peoples: the Penobscot, the Passamaquoddy, the Maliseet, and the Mik’Maq. 

We hope to educate ourselves and our neighbors with a view to changing the way our government treats these groups whose ancestors were here more than 10,000 years before the first European set foot in America.

Over the centuries the Doctrine of Discovery has become embedded in US law, most notably John Marshall’s ruling in Mason v M’Intosh, 1823. It is still being invoked by Supreme Court Justices to justify finding decisions against Native Americans in land claims suits (Oneida Nation v. Town of Sherrill, NY) and child custody suits (Baby Veronica).

First enunciated in a Papal Bull by Pope Nicholas V in 1452 and followed by similar Bulls by later Popes, the Doctrine of Christian Discovery basically gave to all Christian monarchs of Western Europe the right to explore and seize any lands they might discover which were not inhabited by Christians (“Terra Nullis”).  Explorers could claim the lands, the people and all their goods for the crown of the country under whose flag they sailed. 

Non-Christians were considered to be enemies of God and therefore not human.  They could be enslaved, despoiled, and even killed by the invaders. This Doctrine set the stage for world-wide colonialism by the Western powers, with disastrous consequences for the Indigenous Peoples of Africa, Australia, and the Americas.  Five hundred years later their survivors are still suffering from the results of this pernicious Doctrine. 

The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in 2007, is a major step toward redress of such suffering.  It is interesting to note that 4 nations held back from signing the Declaration when it was first presented to the U.N Assembly. These were Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. Since then, all four countries have moved to endorse the declaration.

The first UUCE presentation on this issue was a service led by John Dieffenbacher-Krall on September 15, 2013. You can read Dieffenbacher-Krall’s sermon by clicking here.