I will fulfill the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, and will give to your offspring all these lands; and all the nations of the earth shall gain blessing for themselves through your offspring, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.’ Genesis 26
Three of the great faith traditions in the world: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity share a common ancestor, Abraham. They treasure the promise God made to Abraham, that his descendants shall be as numerous as the stars in heaven. Abraham was buried by two of his sons, Isaac and Ishmael, in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Today the cave is heavily guarded by the Israeli Army. In the midst of the turmoil in the Middle East, it remains a pilgrimage site that is still visited by Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
When I look at the land around me, I wonder how much God’s promise to Abraham informs what I’m looking at, and how the distorted understanding of that blessing informs so much of our violent heritage, especially the Doctrine of Discovery that informed the European colonization of America and the subsequent genocide of Native peoples.
There is a myth that "America was a virgin land, or wilderness, inhabited by non-people called savages.” The truth is, "European explorers and invaders discovered an inhabited land, Had it been a pristine wilderness then, it would possibly be so still today, for neither the technology, nor the social organization of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had the capacity to maintain, of its own resources, outpost colonies thousands of miles from home. Incapable of conquering true wilderness, the Europeans were highly competent in the skill of conquering other people, and that is what they did. They did not settle a virgin land. They invaded and displaced a resident population. This is so simple of a fact that it seems self-evident.” (footnote)
Land development and ownership (private property) are fairly new phenomena in the history of the earth. Indigenous cultures considered land and creation a sacred place and revered it. They gave thanks for all the animals and crops that they consumed. They saw the land as a gift, if properly honored, the land would bless them. They considered themselves stewards of the land rather than consumers of its resources. That was the reason for many of their religious celebrations and rituals.
The camera, and its built in system of perspective encourages ownership, mastery, and control over what we see. I find that to be a difficult paradigm. When human and ecological disasters threaten our very existence, it becomes necessary to see differently. “How we see determines how we live.” Is that the reasoning behind the making of art and the study of art history? Does that activity help us at all?
“Perhaps in the world's destruction it would be possible at last to see how it was made. Oceans, mountains. The ponderous counterspectacle of things ceasing to be. The sweeping waste, hydroptic and coldly secular. The silence.”
― Cormac McCarthy, The Road
*Francis Jennings, The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest. New York: WW Norton, 1976, p. 15. Quoted by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. Boston: Beacon Press, 2014, pp 46-47.