So I'm in the middle of reading God is Red by Vine Deloria, Jr. It's mainly an exploration of Native American tribal religion contrasted with Christianity. I'm really, really enjoying this book. There are a lot of things that I just didn't know because Native American religion or culture has never been of any real interest to me.
One thing I found interesting is the distinction he makes between the tribal focus on sacred places as opposed to the Christian focus on events in time.
"American Indians hold their lands - places - as having the highest possible meaning, and all their statements are made with this reference point in mind. Immigrants review the movement of their ancestors across the continent as a steady progression of basically good events and experiences, thereby placing history - time - in the best possible light. When one group is concerned with the philosophical problem of space and the other the philosophical problem of time, then the statements of either group do not make much sense when transferred from one context to the other without the proper consideration." - p. 61-62
The importance, as I understand from what I've read, is not that an event happened at a clearly defined and specified point in time, but that it occurred and that it occurred at a place. The place becomes sacred and is remembered within the culture of the people to whom it is important, and the lessons that were learned from the event and integrated into the lives of the tribe, but it doesn't matter *when* exactly it happened.
So for Christians it is more important to figure out that the earth was created at moment 0 in the universal timeline and that every important event since then fits somewhere neatly on that timeline. Of course placing things on a line like that, with a definitive beginning means that it will, eventually, have a definitive end. Which is where the obsession with the 'end of the world' comes from and why you have so many people trying to predict when it will happen.
It's also part of why, perhaps, Christians are unable to accept tribal (or any other religion) stories as true. They don't fit with the timeline that has been imagined, where the Hebrews and then the Christians are the center of the universe and the focus of all of God's attention.
I'm thinking that the problem of being obsessed with time started when Christianity went from being a specifically Jewish cult (still a tribal religion) to being 'universal'. Once the conversions began, aside from bringing in their own Greek and Roman thinking, the new Christians were part of this religion, but not a part of the tribe that had spawned the religion. They had no connection to the spaces where the sacred events had happened, and weren't exactly accepted as part of the tribe so they had no chance of fostering such a connection.
Another thing I found thought worthy was the impression that Deloria seems to have, that Christians are afraid of dying. If it's true, it is rather confusing. After all, Christians know what's coming after they die. A glorious, resurrected life with God, right? So why do so many of them go to such lengths in order to extend their lives just a little bit longer? Shouldn't they be able to embrace it without fear as the reward that they've been working so hard for?
I don't think that *all* Christians are afraid of death, any more than you could say that all of any group is afraid of anything. But there must be something that has given this impression since as I was reading it my first reaction was, 'Yes. Why is that?'
I mean the example he gives is ridiculous and I don't think it's a very good one. It also fuels my Evangelists are Full of Shit! mindset. He talks about how Oral Roberts went in front of his congregation and told them that God had come to him, very angry, and told him that if he didn't raise $10 million that God would 'call him home'. I have no respect for tv personalities that claim to be doing what God tells them in the first place, but this is rather silly, isn't it? God is extorting money from Oral Roberts, for what, exactly? What does God need $10 million for? I was talking with Heather about this the other night and I joked that maybe it was for back child support. It's ridiculous. God doesn't need money, so why would he care how much money one specific man raises? He wouldn't. If Christianity is utterly, absolutely true then it doesn't matter how much or how little money is used to spread the word. It will be spread and those who would respond to it will. So the only conclusion is that of course the money is for Oral Roberts (or whichever scuzzy televangelist we're talking about) and not for God.
As Heather said, the conclusion you have to reach is that people, specifically Christians, who *are* afraid of death are clearly not as certain about their salvation or their choice as they like to pretend.
ETA: Susanne reminded me that she read this book last year and did some posts about it, so here you go: God is Red Posts. Don't say I never gave you anything!