Saturday, June 9, 2012

Sacred Space/Places vs. Sacred Time

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.

*cough* Anyway...

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!


  1. I think the major difference is that native religion is about the group's narrative. There is room for a lot of change and for accepting other narratives, because it's not history, it's a story rooted in their experience of the world. For Christians, the entire story is rooted in someone else's experience, something that happened a long time ago in a place most will never see in a culture they don't understand. If they try to root their stories in their own subjective experience, it doesn't fit.

    So under Christianity, the focus changed largely from myth to history and objective truth. It doesn't have to be your personal experience, you can trust it and relate to it because it is literally, objectively true. And if that's the most important thing about your beliefs, then obviously history and truth must be important in all aspects of life, and so you wind up with a war between science and religion because everyone is trying to claim an absolute, all-encompassing truth, where that never used to be the way things were done.

    Native religion is very rooted in the land. On a tour through a canyon, our guide told us a myth about Talking God and Spider Woman....and then he took us to see them. They're not (entirely) abstract concepts, and they're not all-present gods who would follow them everywhere. They are two giant towers of rock, one of which looks like it has a face and an open mouth at the top (Talking God). The one next to him is Spider Woman, and in the story she spins/weaves a tapestry between them. They don't have to "believe" in Talking God and Spider Woman - they can see them. The story is a spiritual narrative that communicates their truth that the land is alive, that there is a spirit in what seems inanimate.

    Christianity doesn't have that. They're out of touch with the land. I think they're also out of touch with their ancestors, maybe for the same reason. Most of the world's ancient religions focused heavily on ancestor worship. You don't have to worry about whether you'll go to Heaven after you die, from the perspective of ancestor worship. The ancestors are very present in the world around us, everything is connected, to the land and to blood and everything else. Since Christianity lost ancestor and land veneration, they don't see that connection anymore (speaking, of course, in very broad generalizations). Everything's a lot more uncertain. Instead of being assured that after death they are still part of the cycle and the land, they are going (if they're right) to something completely unknown. They have to trust that Heaven is better, and deal with the loss of life as they've known it on earth. A character in one of the Anne of Green Gables books is dying and says she's not afraid she won't go to Heaven, but that she will and it won't be what she's used to, however beautiful and good it might be. We're all scared of the unknown, I think.

    1. I have nothing to add, this is perfect and I love this comment.

      I wish you lived closer to me so I could make you teach me classes.

  2. I wish Sanil could teach me too. She's amazing! :)

    And so are you, Amber. I enjoyed this post. I'm glad you finally decided to write about this as I saw you were reading it and wondered what you thought of it. I read this earlier in the year and recall posting about some of the same things. This book really helped me understand better the land connection thing. I was always wondering why it was such a big deal, but this book and the previous Deloria book I read were helpful. I'd never been much interested in N.A. culture, but I'm glad I took the time to read these books.

    I remember him saying how divisive American Protestantism is and even attributing that to the land here - made up of numerous tribes in the past.

    Oral Roberts - ahhh, so crazy. No one I know is a fan. Maybe those in Pentecostal circles. There are very few TV preachers I like. I do like Charles Stanley out of Atlanta, but he's not an extortioner that I can tell. And I don't really listen to him, but I get the magazine from his ministry and am often encouraged. Anyway!

    I think I asked on FB or my blog about the fear of death. Most people replied that it was more the nondesire of leaving their family members and suffering painful deaths. NOT that they were afraid of dying and going to the next life. The ones who replied seemed very happy about this part. That's like my grandfather who died last week. He wanted to die for years. He kept saying he was ready to go. No fear of death at all in him.

    But for some younger people = they don't want to leave small children behind. No one really wants to suffer and die a painful death. I think this is more the fear that Deloria noticed. And since he was mostly observing so-called "Christian Americans" = OK, he drew his own conclusions.

    1. I vote that we pester Sanil until she starts an online class for us. *prepares the pestering stick*

      The book started out slow for me, but once he actually got into talking about the different thinking involved in each perspective it became very interesting and engaging. :D

      I can understand the connection to the land, weirdly enough. When I went to Germany it was like... 'Yes. This is *mine*. MY PEOPLE!' *face plants on a hill in the snow to embrace the land*

      Which is not to say that my identity is entirely German, because it's not. And this could very well be a product of my upbringing, where ancestry was emphasised, though not given a gigantic amount of importance. By which I mean we were raised to know and be proud of our German ancestors and heritage but not to think that we were more or less than anyone of any other background. Honestly, if I were to ever move out of the US, my goal would be to move back to Germany.

      Well, you know Protestants. Always arguing about some piddling little thing. Unlike the rest of humanity. ;) I think America lends itself to divisiveness and breaking away when you don't agree because it's so bloody big! No, really, listen. It's not like if you argue then you're stuck with the people right in your back yard for forever. You can always move and never see these people again. It's easier to break ties than it would be in a place where you had to stick around. /personal meaningless theory

      I don't know of this Charles Stanley person, but it's very hard for me to get over my immediate, 'Televangelist! *hisssssssss*' *wards them off with the evil eye or something* :D

      Yeah, the whole 'afraid of death' thing...I think that there are some people who are afraid of death, regardless of their personal beliefs, and I think you've hit it when you say that many people don't want to leave their family behind. That it's not fear so much as regret in that instance. So I'm guessing that Mr. Deloria is basing his opinion on the different attitudes between the Christian settlers and the historic attitudes towards death of the native population. Because, as I recall, the examples that he gave were all older events, nothing current expect for the Oral Roberts thing, and I think we can all agree that that was a schyster trying to get money out of people.

      I don't think that anyone *wants* to suffer a painful death, but that's different from being afraid of dying in general. I assume that most people, if they had a choice, would choose to die in their sleep.

    2. I have my pestering stick ready, too! Watch out, Sanil!!! :)

      LOVED your reaction to being in Germany. Samer (the weirdo! ha) kept asking me, "Don't you feel any connection to the land? Dont' you feel you are among your people?"

      Wellllll, since I've never identified myself as German, no. I did love Germany, however. The land is stunning and I just loved being there and want to go back! I'd love living there even....I think. My uncle has lived in Munich off and on for the last five years and likes it a lot!

      But my family never did push the whole heritage thing so much. Maybe it's because we're so mixed we don't know what to celebrate. Maybe your ties to the Lutheran church made your ties to Germany stronger. (Did it?) I don't know how that works.

      So, no I didn't understand the whole land thing really, but I'm glad you could relate to him.

      LOL @ your hisssssssss! You are too funny!

      So write more posts on this book if anything strikes you. I really enjoyed your thoughts. I guess it helps that I read this one so I like seeing if similar things take your attention. You'd probably also like "Custer Died for Your Sins." It's shorter and covers a few different topics and some the same.

      Oh, and thanks for linking me. Your comment up there in the ETA part made me laugh! :-P

    3. You guys are making me blush. :D I've thought about doing something like an online class, though, if only to keep the information fresh in my mind and motivate myself to study more now that I'm not being graded for it. I'm just not really sure how it would work.

    4. Doooooooo iiiiiiiittttttttt!

      Ideally it would be something like a FB group or chat or something, but I think that getting everyone on at the same time would be problematic. Maybe pick a topic, make a blog post and the students can ask questions, etc. in the comments?

  3. here are my posts about can remove this since I'm self-promoting....haha...but I thought it would be interesting to compare what we talked about.

    1. Well now I've linked to your posts so *I'm* promoting you and therefore it's okay! :p

      Mostly the self-promotion thing was because random people started popping up just wanting to mention about their Amazingly Completely Relevant Book that they'd just written. Linking to blog posts is, imo (which is the only o that matters), totally different!

  4. Just a sidenote on the whole death thing, I've heard anecdotal evidence that religious people (and their families) are often more scared of death than non-religious people. Not sure why that is, unless it's because people at the end of the day don't really believe in what they claim to believe? I don't know, just thought it was interesting.

    1. Hmmm...maybe because they're not as sure that they've been good enough as they'd like people to think they are? If you believe in a heaven then you (at least in monotheism) believe in a hell, or a punishment/torment, generally. And honestly, being 'saved' is a variable state of being. How can you ever know *for sure* that you've been good enough or picked the right religion/sect/denomination? Or that, for those who believe in predestination, you're among the elect?

    2. Hmmm perhaps, but that wasn't the Christianity I was taught, you were saved if you believe Jesus died for your sins. But yeah, I see your point :)

    3. That's what they say, sure, but when you're facing the prospect of death I can't imagine that everyone is 100% positive that they believe hard enough or in the right thing. Every single doubt that they've ever had could come back to them because if salvation is based solely on belief then you can't afford to let that belief waver in the slightest.


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