The following letter was published in Indian Country Today, the world's largest Indian news source.
'Old' principle in action
by Thomas Ivan Dahlheimer
In a best-selling book about the history of the American West, Theodore Roosevelt wrote: "Many of the
best of the backwoodsmen were Bible-readers. They looked at their foes as the Hebrew prophets looked
at the enemies of Israel. What were the abominations because of which the Canaanites were destroyed
before Joshua, when compared with the abominations of the red savages whose lands they, another chosen
people, should in their turn inherit?"
Americans found the idea that they were God's new Israel so attractive because it helped
justify their partial destruction and total subjugation of the indigenous peoples of the
In Deuteronomy 20: 16-17 the ancient Israelites were given the directive: "But as
for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance,
you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them - the
Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites...; as the Lord your God has commanded thee."
President George W. Bush told an audience of his: "When William Bradford stepped
off the Mayflower in 1620, he quoted the words of [the Hebrew prophet] Jeremiah 51:10:
'Come let us declare in Zion the word of God.'" Bush also said: "The founders of my
country saw a new promised land and bestowed upon their towns names like Bethlehem
and New Canaan."
In other words, the indigenous peoples of the New World were viewed by the
founders of the United States as new Canaanites of the new Land of Canaan, a
promised inheritance and everlasting possession, for some new "chosen people" -
white Euro-American Christians, who were to treat (to some extent) the new
Canaanites (this lands indigenous peoples) the way the Israelites treated the
Canaanites when they invaded and took possession of their homelands.
The mental model of a chosen people and a promised land provides a
convenient rationalization whereby one people feels entitled and justified,
by divine right, to take over, possess, and profit from the lands of other peoples.
In Matthew 5:38-39 Jesus is quoted as saying, "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye
for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever
shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." In the New Testament, Jesus
gave his followers some new principles to follow.
White European Christian colonists, and then (later) white Euro-American Christians,
followed (to some extent) the Old Testament principle "kill every thing that breaths"
when they invaded and took possession of the Native Americans' homelands. And most
white Euro-American Christians still have not repented. Are they asking that the Native's
lands and sovereign rights be returned to them? They are still following a nullified Old
Testament principle and wrongly justify their and their ancestors evil war-mongering
ways by comparing them with what the ancient Israelites did to the Canaanites, while
following an Old Testament principle.