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Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery

4.45  ·  Rating details ·  566 ratings  ·  137 reviews
You cannot discover lands already inhabited.

Injustice has plagued American society for centuries. And we cannot move toward being a more just nation without understanding the root causes that have shaped our culture and institutions.

In this prophetic blend of history, theology, and cultural commentary, Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah reveal the far-reaching, damaging effec
Paperback, 224 pages
Published November 5th 2019 by InterVarsity Press
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Matthew Manchester
Dec 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book has no chill and once you read why, you won't be chill either.


This book is about the Doctrine of Discovery and both how it's been used and how it gave permission for white supremacy to commit genocide, seen in the almost complete extermination and defrauding of America's indigenous peoples.

For me, this was akin to reading Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America or The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity
Adam Shields
Dec 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Summary: Discussion of the role of the Doctrine of Discovery in shaping not only the development of the US but also the Christian church. 

Usually, I write about books reasonably quickly after I read them. I do this, not just because I like to discuss books and encourage others to read them, but as a type of public spiritual discipline where I try to write about thoughts so I can look back at them later and process books publicly as a means creating some open accountability for my Christian faith

The past few years have seen many contributions from people of color regarding their experience in America in light of its heritage of white supremacy, especially as it relates to the Christian faith; this work is an important contribution to that end, featuring the perspective of a Native American regarding the "doctrine of discovery" and its implications in Western civilization ever since.

The author brings to the fore the principle which undergirded the colonization of America: the "doctrine o
Tomy Wilkerson

I saw someone say (about another book) that if you say you liked the book or that you enjoyed it, you kind of missed the point. I think that sums up this book pretty well. I don't think I can say I liked this book or that I thought it was good as much as it's brutal and holds this country's feet to the fire. Of course, it doesn't take an extremely informed person to know that this country has not been nice to Native Americans, but the history is so much worse than I could've ever imagined
Rounding up from 2.5

I think these guys make some good points that are important for American Christians to hear. But unfortunately, the book is so polemical in tone that they risk alienating the very people that they are ostensibly trying to reach. I’m sympathetic with many of their complaints about the Doctrine of Discovery — the idea that the US government owns all the land that it “discovered,” notwithstanding the fact that there were already people living there. And yes, I can also see that
Dorothy Greco
Rah and Charles explore US history, church history, sociology, and Scripture in an effort to help us understand the origin of our current racial, economic, and religious upheaval. The co-authors illustrate how the church has historically supported the state in the state's quest to expand human kingdoms and human power at the expense of human life and human flourishing.

Here's a quote from chapter four: "Christendom is the prostitution of the church to the empire that
created a church culture of s
This review is for a Launch Team Edition. The forthcoming publishing date is November 5, 2019.

This book is about the Doctrine of Discovery and the Christian Church. It explores how this doctrine has oppressed nations and people of color. It presents a history that has not been put forth in the textbooks and is very well documented.

The authors have created a much needed look at the Church's role in the Doctrine of Discovery. It is a book that I believe Church's should read, discuss and take actio
JR. Forasteros
Nov 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is an important, powerful book that traces the Church's quest for power from Constantine through the Doctrine of Discovery to the founding of the USA to today. An exhaustive illustration of how the American Church has been unable and unwilling to surrender its attachment to White Supremacist ideology. And running throughout, there's a hope that if the American church will listen to the voices we've pushed aside, it's not too late. ...more
Joel Wentz
Nov 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I devoured this in one sitting. The use of the word "unsettling" in the title is very apt. Even as someone who has read and studied quite a bit on the history of race, and especially racial dynamics in American history, I was still challenged and provoked by many of the discussions in Charles' and Rah's new book.

The authors go right for the jugular in this historical summary, making a bold case that the "Doctrine of Discovery" provided a racially-structured, white-supremacist foundation for ever
Tim Hazelbaker
Oct 16, 2020 rated it did not like it
Even if you agree with the authors' conclusions, their argumentation doesn't hold water. Unsubstantiated claims, emotionally charged language, poor writing, etc., this book doesn't deserve a seat at the table in any serious historical (or academic) discussion. This kind of rhetoric produces mostly heat and very little light. This isn't the kind of discussion that brings us closer to solutions. It simply serves to upset both sides of the aisle. ...more
Lindsay O’Connor
Sep 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is such an important book, and after reading it, I would say that the term “unsettling truths” is quite an understatement. From his perspective as an Indigenous Christian, Mark Charles details how the doctrine of discovery has carried through history and continues to impact the social and theological imagination (and thus policies and behavior) of US Americans today. He tells of how, due to the doctrine of discovery, Christianity became married to earthly empire, nationalism, and white supe ...more
Dorothy Grace Barrow
May 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I am so glad I read this book. It was very thought provoking and challenged so many of my assumptions. I was grateful to have read it in a group of people who brought different perspectives and thoughts that enriched my experience with this book. Some of my biggest takeaways were:

- the church is best when it is subversive. Are we missing the point as a nation as we have created a Christian empire and are currently living in the age of “Christendom”
- the victors write the history and that is ve
Jun 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
the writing style isn’t exactly captivating (maybe because it was co-authored?) and some of the theory-heavy chapters are a little dull. BUT the chapters on Lincoln and the crimes committed against Native Americans were SO enlightening! I’m about to go watch Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. we have a lot to apologize for as a nation.
Feb 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This isn't my first introduction to the Doctrine of Discovery and its ongoing aftereffects, but I'm still unsettled. History is heavy, and the authors don't pull their punches. (Nor should they.) Moving forward, I'm going to be recommending this as a good place for folks to start. Recommended. ...more
Benjamin Shurance
Very helpful for filling in my limited understanding of the cruel history of the country in which I was raised. More devastating than unsettling.
Mar 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Summary: Shows how "The Doctrine of Discovery," an outgrowth of a Christendom of power rather than relationship has shaped a narrative of the United States, to the dehumanizing  of Native Peoples, slaves, and other non-white peoples.

Columbus discovered America, right? Pilgrims, Puritans, and other Europeans "settled" America and drove out the "Indians" who threatened their settlements. That's what I learned in history class. 

That's not how the Native Peoples of Turtle Island (what they call Nort
I really enjoyed the parts detailing the Doctrine of Discovery and its surprisingly long legal legacy that continues to shape law and policy today. I also found the references to the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), a denomination to which I belong, to be particularly fascinating albeit horrifying at the same time. The discussion of Lincoln's complicity with Native American genocide via the Long Walk and Bosque Redondo sheds important light on an oft-overlooked piece of our nation's history. The ...more
Dec 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you're looking for a book that explains the historical and theological basis for racism in America, here's a good place to look.
The authors outline the development of the doctrine of discovery from Eusebius and Augustine to Aquinas and Calvin, and show how it has influenced the founding documents of the United States as well as current political discourse.

He explains how the American Constitution and even heroes such as Lincoln carried harmful attitudes such as American exceptionalism and wh
Tim Casteel
Jun 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Definitely worth reading. But there's about 30 books I'd recommend on racism ahead of this one.

Unsettling Truths lives out Jemar Tisby's admonition that for the American church to move forward we must look honestly, painfully at our complicity in racial atrocities. This kind of book is needed.

But overall its a very harsh book. And I think the harshness undercuts some of the book's efficacy. And overall, the book just felt a little rough around the edges (editorially).

Charles's explanation of
Jul 16, 2020 rated it it was ok
First of all, if you read and enjoyed or were deeply challenged by this book: great, I’m genuinely super glad. And, as evidenced by the current number of five star ratings this book has, that has been the experience of most readers so far.

In reading this book and its reviews, the best conclusion I can come to is that I am just not the intended audience for this book. Because of that, I’m not going to review this comprehensively. There’s just no point in me sharing the things that I perceived as
You can't discover lands already inhabited. This is the uncomfortable refrain repeated over and over again throughout the book. In our histories, in our stories, and in our cultural myths we like to tell the story of progress, discovery, enlightenment, and justice for all. There are cracks in these stories and our histories. Cracks and uncomfortable truths that don't like to be uttered but are an inescapable part of our history. We have Jim Crow, the new Jim Crow of mass incarceration, lynching, ...more
Jul 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
An excellent read for Christians growing in an understanding of the influence that dysfunctional theology (primarily white exceptionalism) had in the creation of the US, and still has a hold on parts of the American Church. It was difficult to read at times because of the atrocities that were committed in the name of Christianity, but Charles does a great job framing our need for lament and a common memory (full history, not one sided history) if we hope to bring about racial ’conciliation.’ Cha ...more
Jul 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Painful, but 100% worth it

It’s hard to even know where to begin. As a white woman with a substantial amount of pride in my heritage and country, this was a painful experience to read but also a transformative one. Some chapters read quite slowly and you begin to wonder “What other horrible things did we do?” but definitely stick it out because the last 3 chapters (11,12 and the conclusion) should be required reading for every American Christian regardless of political views or ethnicity.

To God
Melissa Whiting
Feb 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
I am definitely still processing this book, but I would highly recommend it. Charles and Rah provide a powerful commentary on the issues of American exceptionality, the doctrine of discovery, and current and historical racial issues in the US. It is convicting, challenging, and enlightening.
Jul 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Amidst all the discussion on race at the moment this is an important and disturbing book. Mark Charles graphically and methodically sets out the story of the treatment of Native Americans over the centuries. It makes painful reading. But so important.
Paul Runnoe
Feb 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Well written and welcome presentation of the history of this land that has gone untold. Scathing throughout in all the right ways.
I am grateful for the authors and their call to face the truth of how this nation has become what it is and going forward, to expect more from our nation, from ourselves.
Aug 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Read it because my church is all into this stuff now and a German friend kept saying, "This book is so good! You Americans should really read it!" Had to stay up til midnight just to get an e-book copy from the library.

Overall, it makes some good points and it is generally a good (part of the) antidote to the white-centered story we've been taught in school. (German friend, having grown up with the Holocaust as a large part of the curriculum, was aghast when I told him how I had learned extremel
Jan 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
Definitely eye opening in learning about history not in our history books. Recommended.
James Dunning
Jan 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I believe that this book should be required reading for all White/Christian/Americans.
Anne Godley
Dec 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a must read. I will be recommending this book over and over again. As I've read in other reviews, I agree that some parts were a bit repetitive, but overall a very important book. ...more
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Mark Charles, a man of Navajo and Dutch American descent, is a speaker, writer, and consultant on the complexities of American history, race, culture, and faith. He is the author of the blog Reflections from the Hogan and was the Washington, DC, correspondent and columnist for Native News Online. He has served on the boards of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) and the Christia ...more

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16 likes · 2 comments
“You cannot discover lands already inhabited. That process is known as stealing, conquering, or colonizing. The fact that America calls what Columbus did ‘discovery’ reveals the implicit racial bias of the country—that Native Americans are not fully human.” 3 likes
“The United States of America does not hold a morally exceptional position greater than Nazi Germany. We are not more just. Our sense of equality is not any superior. Our nation has never been Christian. We have just won our wars. And therefore, for centuries, we wrote our own history. And that has proven to be incredibly dangerous.” 3 likes
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