“Average Christians when hearing of the disasters wreaked on aboriginal peoples by their religion and its adherents are quick to state, ‘But the people who did this were not really Christians.’ In point of fact they were really Christians. In their day they enjoyed all the benefits and prestige Christendom could confer. They were cheered as heroes of the faith, enduring hardships that a Christian society might be built on the ruins of pagan villages. They were featured in Sunday school lessons as saints of the Christian church. Cities, rivers, mountains, and seas were named after them.
And if the exploiters of old were not Christians, why did not the true Christians rise up in defiance of the derogation of their religious heritage and faith? If the Prime Minister of Canada is today not Christian in his attitudes toward the Indians of Canada, where are the Christians in Canada who prophetically denounced his actions? If the leaders of the Brazilian government do not exercise Christian values, where are the Christians to disclaim their actions? If exploitation of the Amazon for commercial purposes by American investors results in the un-Christian activity of poisoning thousands of Indians, why are not the true Christians demanding the resignations of the heads of American corporations supporting Amazon development?”
— Vine Deloria, Jr., God is Red: A Native View of Religion, 261-262.
“Part of the alienation of human beings from nature is caused by the action of humans against nature and not as the result of some obscure and corrupted relationship that
came into being as a result of the human’s inability to relate to the creator. It is doubtful if Western Christians can change their understanding of creation at this point in their existence. Their religion is firmly grounded in their escape from a fallen nature, and it is highly unlikely to suppose at this late date that they can find a reconciliation with nature while maintaining the remainder of their theological understanding of salvation.”
–Vine Deloria, Jr., God is Red: A Native View of Religion, 91
I disagree with Deloria about whether such a reconciliation with nature is possible; I do not disagree with him in that it has not happened, particularly among those groups that would hold most strongly to the historical fall of man in Genesis.
“The test of the extent to which a religion has a claim to historical validity, therefore, should at least partially involve its identification of the specific location and lands where the religious event that created the community took place. And that religion should stand by the historical nature of the event; it should never back off and disclaim everything while becoming furious with other peoples for not believing its claim. If the present interpretation of religious history that is accepted by many Christian theologians is maintained, we are left with a religion devoid of any significance in either time or space. History becomes a series of glorified legends that teach ethical lessons and it becomes a demoniac thing to believe that the world operates one way for religious purposes and an entirely different way for secular purposes.”
–Vine Deloria, Jr., God is Red: A Native View of Religion, 122.
A ringing indictment of mainline Protestants and others who would discount the historicity of, among other things, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
“In almost every instance in which other religions were considered as invalid, it was because the categories of explanation on which they were judged to be false, were those derived primarily from temporal considerations of how the world ought to be. If the categories are turned around and the Christian religion is judged by nontemporal categories, the story becomes somewhat different. In most cases Christianity either has no answer or an extremely inadequate answer to the problems that arise. The difference is notable. While Christianity can project the reality of the afterlife – time and eternity – it appears to be incapable of providing any reality to the life in which we are here and now presently engaged – space and the planet Earth.”
–Vine Deloria, Jr., God is Red: A Native View of Religion, 75
I’ve said a couple posts back that Deloria’s analysis of American Christianity suffers from its generic character of sweeping everyone into either mainline liberal Protestant camps or into what he terms the “fundamentalist religious right”. This is reflected here. It is not at all clear to me that all Christians have such an overwhelming focus on the afterlife so as to prevent their ascribing any meaning to life in the present. (He may be right about various wings of evangelicalism, but certainly not about the Protestant mainline).
In reading his analysis, I wonder how he would react to Anabaptism or to other Christian movements which prominently emphasize their distinct social practices as central to their practice of Christian faith. These movements seem to be better able to stand up against some of his critique.
“The religious situation today eloquently reflects the American psyche – we create our own reality and we are absolutely free to do so. This condition, however, suggests that there is no reality and that we live in a completely intellectual world where the free choice of the individual determines the values and emotional content of experiences. We are at ground zero religiously with little possibility of a revelation to enable us to move on.”
– Vine Deloria, Jr., God is Red: A Native View of Religion, 58-59
“An increasing number of Americans have become members of the religious right, the fundamentalists. As mainline churches lose members rapidly through their constant efforts to pander to the unchurched and make themselves relevant, mindless fundamentalism makes amazing strides, even among the educated people in society.
When the fundamentalists seized on abortion as an issue, they found the key to political power. Thus was created the irony of modern American life. The fundamentalists could care less about human life after birth. They unquestioningly accept American military ventures around the world and cry for more blood with each invasion or carpetbombing of small countries. They steadfastly support the death penalty and see nothing wrong with its one-sided application to racial minorities…Yet on the abortion issue they wax eloquent about the sanctity of human life as if their salvation depends on it.
Thus, through nearly two decades while American Indians were rediscovering the integrity of their traditional religious, the rest of American Society has torn itself and its religious traditions apart, substituting patriotism and hedonism for old values and behaviors.”
– Vine Deloria, Jr., God is Red: A Native View of Religion, 57
The trouble with this analysis is the assumption that these inconsistencies occur only within the Religious Right (though this may have been closer to the case in 1994 than in 2012). Americans believe in life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for all people, except if you happen to be Pakistani and show up at a “terrorist’s” funeral, for one example.
I’m reading Vine Deloria Jr.’s God is Red: A Native View of Religion this weekend. I’m working on some questions about whether Native American spirituality and the Christian tradition are in any way compatible, and if so, how. Deloria’s book is biting, funny, sarcastic, and equally critical of both what he terms the fundamentalist religious right and the “tired” mainline Protestant denominations. I find him a bit generic and overly sweeping when he talks about the Christian tradition, but the one-liners are definitely enough to make the book enjoyable, even if I disagree with some of what he says about what Christians believe. (Like a lot of others, his vision of Christian theology has been overly shaped by the 70s and 80s evangelical movement, in which Culture Wars politics dominated properly theological concerns. They still dominate properly theological concerns in some quarters.) Over the next few days, I’ll be posting some passages from God is Red with brief comment.
On the meaning of the Civil Rights movement and why Indians rarely joined it:
What happened in the 1960s and 1970s is that, in all probability, the logic of Western culture and the meaning of the Christian worldview that supported the institutions of Western culture were outrun by the events of the time. The brotherhood of man may be a noble ideal, but can it be achieved in any society that is not homogeneous? Probably not, we discovered. At a certain point in the struggle for realization, it became apparent that the goals of the Civil Rights movement could not be achieved because people did not subscribe to them and because the goals were, after all, abstract projections of an ideal world, not descriptions of a real world.
The collapse of the Civil Rights movement, the concern with Vietnam and the war, the escape to drugs, the rise of power movements, and the return to Mother Earth can all be understood as desperate efforts of groups of people to flee abstract articulations of belief and superficial values and find authenticity wherever it could be found.”
– Vine Deloria, Jr., God is Red: A Native View of Religion, 52-53