Ok, here are my thoughts on the quote from Vine Deloria’s book, God is Red: A Native View of Religion.
First, I apologize for the length of this post.
I am willing to give Mr. Deloria a pass on a couple of his accusations. Mr. Deloria states that the “good news” of Christianity is “the articulation of an impossibly complex scenario involving original sin, a cosmic redeemer, the catastrophic end of the planet…” Obviously, he does not understand Christianity, and any outsider, looking in on a religion he or she does not accept, will find that religion’s doctrine strange and unexplainable. For example, I think the Hindu doctrine of karma and reincarnation are strange. I think the Mormon’s idea that a human can become a god of their own universe is strange. I think believing there is no God, or claiming not to know or care about the existence of God is strange. Those beliefs make no sense to me, but I am willing to accept that the more I learn about those beliefs, the less strange they probably would sound. Mr. Deloria doesn’t accept Christianity, and so he falls into the trap of criticizing what he doesn’t understand. I will give him a pass on that. I will extend him grace.
Mr. Deloria shows his ignorance about Christianity is stating that the propositional statements of Christianity are the “good news” of Christianity. That is not correct at all! The good news of Christianity is that when Jesus came into the world, He brought with Him the Kingdom of God. Jesus said, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). The power of the gospel is the potential, through faith, to live above the kingdom of the world and in the Kingdom of God.
He then makes the bold conclusion that the “hope of transformation (proclaimed by Christianity) is rarely realized and never seen on a large scale.” At first I was angry with this statement. But then, when I put it in Mr. Deloria’s Native American context, my anger subsided. And so once again I will extend him grace.
Mr. Deloria has allowed his bias (based on his experience and the Native American experience) to blind him from seeing beyond a horrible time in American history. Without a doubt, our country’s history includes the awful attempt at genocide among Native Americans, and the horrible oppression of African slaves. In 2011 (all these years later) the two ethnic groups in the United States who are still at the bottom of any stratification scale, are the two ethnic groups we mistreated—Native-Americans and African-Americans. We are still reaping the consequences of that stench in time.
But a broader view of world history (and even our own history) shows that in any culture where Christianity has been accepted, over time, that culture as advanced, oppression has lessened, and equality has increased. In our own history, the same Bible that was used to justify massacres and slavery was later used to overthrow slavery and pay restitution to Native Americans. I would suggest that Mr. Deloria read the book, What Has Christianity Ever Done for Us? (Jonathan Hill). That book gives ample examples of how Christianity has transformed society on a large scale.
But here is the point I really want to make, and where I do think we, as believers, need to change our focus:
Mr. Deloria’s main criticism, the way I see it, is that Christianity over-emphasizes the individual. If you look at individuals, and how they live out their faith, you will see the good, the bad, and the ugly. Part of our western culture is an over-emphasis on the individual, and I believe individuality is what is making Christianity in the United States more and more irrelevant. We need to get back to community and koinonia living. Just as important as how I live out my faith as in individual, is how faith is lived out in the community called the church. We have individualized and personalized salvation so much that the world judges Christianity based on individual transformation (or lack thereof) instead of communal transformation. That has got to change! I come to Christ as an individual, but I am immediately grafted into the body of Christ and it is within the body (the church) that I am called to live out my faith.
I know he didn’t intend to, but following his criticism of Christianity, Mr. Deloria offered the solution. He wrote:
“Changing the conception of religious reality from a temporal to a spatial framework involves surrendering the place of teaching and preaching as elements of religion. Rearrangement of individual behavioral patterns is incidental to the communal involvement in ceremonies and the continual renewal of community relationships with the holy places of revelation. Ethics flow from the ongoing life of the community and are virtually indistinguishable from the tribal or communal customs. There is little dependence on the concept of progress either on an individual or community basis as a means of evaluating the impact of the religious practice. Value judgments involve present community realities and not a reliance on part of future golden ages toward which the community is moving or from which the community has veered.”
What do you think?
Do you think we have focused too much on the individual at the expense of community?
Do we need to change our focus?