God Is Red: A Native View of Religion | Critical Review by Rosemary Radford Ruether

This literature criticism consists of approximately 4 pages of analysis & critique of God Is Red: A Native View of Religion.
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Critical Review by Rosemary Radford Ruether

SOURCE: A review of God Is Red, in New Republic, Vol. 170, Nos. 3078-3079, January 5-12, 1974, pp. 25-6.

Ruether is an American educator and theologian. In the following review, she highlights the contrasts between Christianity and Native American religions that Deloria presents in God Is Red.

Vine Deloria, spokesman for the rise of "red consciousness," is the son of an Indian Episcopalian clergyman. Himself seminary-trained, Deloria's criticism of the white man's relation to Indian society has increasingly focused on the character of Christianity. Deloria believes that the white man's destruction-relationships with other people and with the earth have been inculcated and justified to a large extent by his religion. In this new book [God Is Red] Deloria contrasts critical aspects of Christianity with the spirit of Indian religion.

The source of white imperialism lies in the Christocentric view of history. Christians see themselves as God's sole elect people who have been commissioned to conquer all other nations in Christ's name. Other nations appear on the Christian historical horizon only when Christians are about to conquer them. Preaching to all nations translates into seizing the lands of other peoples and annihilating their cultural identities. To deny the truth of other people's religion is to deny to them the right to exist autonomously.

By contrast, Indian religion affirms diversity and particularity. Peoplehood, land and religion form a single covenantal relationship that gives each community unique character. Each people, in their own context, is a "chosen people" with their own "promised land" where they are to find their destiny. Religion is a function of peoplehood. The Hebrew religion understood this unique relation of peoplehood, land and covenantal relation with God. But this understanding was distorted into abstract spiritualizing when Christianity severed its roots with Judaism. This is why the Jews have always, correctly, rejected the Christian claim to Israel's election and messianic hope.

Christianity also developed an antagonistic view of the relation of man and nature that translated into ecocide. Nature is regarded as an enemy to be subjugated and repressed. For the Indian nature is a subject, not an object. God is not made in the image of man. God is the great spirit of all things. Christianity boasts of the "brotherhood of man," meaning by this the subjugation of all other identities other than the Christian one. The Indian speaks rather of the "brotherhood of life," accepting each people and each living being's right to possess their own unique nature. Man must find his place within the ecosystem. He must stand within, not against or outside of, the great web of life.

The religion of sacred history must give way to the religion of sacred space. In sacred history one people alone dominates the central axis of history. In religions of sacred space each people has its own space, its own land and identity. Christianity makes creation a pseudohistorical event of the distant past and salvation a historical event of the distant future. For the red man, creation is now and revelation takes place in the present. God still speaks to the prophets, and each person is called to his own "vision quest."

The white man's religion promises immortality, but creates an obsession with and fear of death. The Indian is fearless toward death, because he lives, not as an atomic individual, but in the collective soul of the tribe. Ancestors do not depart for a distant heaven, but live here on earth in communion with the living members. Bones of the forefathers and mothers go down into the earth to provide the seeds from which the crop of living humanity springs up in each new season. Christianity sees death as unnatural; the red man sees death as the natural completion of his life, a transformation point in the continuous flow of life that goes down into and is reborn from the mother earth. When the white man roots up the bones of Indian dead to make them artifacts in his museums, he shows his inability to understand the Indian spirit. For in so doing he pulls up the roots of the ongoing life of the tribe.

Lacking a sense of social solidarity, the white man's religion abstracts the self out of its social context into an isolated confrontation with an "angry" God. The salvation he receives does not flow back into a renewed social life. A gap opens up between "moral man" and the immoral society which is the actual reality of Christian history. Individualism characterizes a religion that cannot close the gap between its high personal ideals and its disastrous social reality. Indian religion, however, is intrinsically socialistic. The tribe provides each member with an equal right to exist. Its social ethics coincide with its social laws and customs. This is illustrated in the contrast between the white and the red man's view of crime. The white man believes the criminal should be "punished"; Indian tradition exacts compensation, not punishment. This rehabilitates the criminal into society and restores the injured ones.

Deloria sees Christian power as a destructive episode on an earth that once belonged, and must in the future belong, to the Indian. He recognizes the difficulty of translating the customs of a pre-technological society into the relation these values must assume in a post-technological era. If Christianity is to learn these values, it must radically change its historical character. The white man may be the political owner of the land, but the red man is still its spiritual owner. America can survive only if the white man becomes an Indian, learns to revere the sacred spaces of this land and put his bones into the earth so they become his roots. The treaty of red and white man must be a covenant with nature as well. Only then can they sign a treaty which will not be broken; which shall stand "as long as the grass shall grow and the rivers flow."

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This section contains 982 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Rosemary Radford Ruether