God Is Red: A Native View of Religion 30th Anniversary Edition
by Vine Deloria, Jr. with new forewords by Leslie Marmon Silko and George E. Tinker
Fulcrum Publishing, Golden CO, 2003
Remember this book? It first came out in 1973, re-released in 1992, and then again in 2003. It remains a scathing indictment of the western Christian approach to relations between the human and the earth. Deloria’s intent is to contrast that with the spiritualities of the native tribes of this land we call North America. He describes how Christian orthodoxy, and a spirituality rooted in the centrality of the human to which the earth is made to submit, is an essential aspect of what has led us down this road to our imminent ecological destruction. As an ideology imposed on this land from outside, centered on a warrior god with a favored chosen people to whom he has given the land for their use, much of Christianity has lost the ability to be in right and balanced relationships with all other life forms, or to see the human as part of a web of life, interrelated with other beings. The human project is the important project, and God has created the earth for ‘Man’ to dominate and subdue for the benefit of the human.
As the West secularized, it removed the religious from this framework, but solidified the economic orthodoxy until no part of the earth is left untouched by our drive to put it at the service of wealth, economic growth, and consumption, basically for the desire of the human.
This approach is killing our planet. Spirituality is rooted in the land and in these relationships. By secularizing the land, encroaching on and destroying more and more sacred places, we are unable to hear the land, to learn from it, to gain wisdom from it. Without this relationship to the sacredness of the earth, the world becomes secular and [will be] destroyed.
Deloria writes, “It is becoming increasingly apparent that we shall not have the benefits of this world for much longer. The imminent and expected destruction of the life cycle of world ecology can be prevented by a radical shift in outlook from our present naive conception of this world as a testing ground of abstract morality to a more mature view of the universe as a comprehensive matrix of life forms. Making this shift is essentially religious, not economic or political.
“The problem of contemporary people, whatever their ethnic or cultural background, lies in finding the means by which they can once again pierce the veil of unreality to grasp the essential meaning of their existence. For people from a Western European background or deeply imbued with Christian beliefs, the task is virtually impossible. The interpretation of religion has always been regarded as the exclusive property of Westerners and the explanatory categories used in studying religious phenomena have been derived from the doctrines of the Christian religion. The minds and eyes of Western people have thus been permanently closed to understanding or observing religious experiences. Religion has become a comfortable ethic and a comforting aesthetic for Westerners, not a force of undetermined intensity and unsuspected origin that may break in on them.”
Westerners suffer from a religion of the head, “creeds, theologies, and speculations,” products of the intellect and not necessarily based on experiences. But what the earth has to tell us will not come through those orthodoxies, or through intellectual theories and analyses, and certainly not through rigid moralities that shut down life-giving forces out of fear or hubris.
Thirty years ago, I remember wincing at Deloria’s categorical rejection of Western Christianity as providing a path out of our human crisis. Surely there was something to salvage that could help us find our way. In the past two decades, many people who come out of this tradition have been trying to find within it the stories that provide a new paradigm, another set of eyes, a way to re-sacralize the earth and bring the sacramental aspects of that tradition closer to an earth spirituality. But this also leads many of them away from the traditional orthodoxies to something wholly new, a new spirituality that brings us closer to our true spiritual roots in nature, in the earth.
Religion, spirituality, comes fundamentally out of “place,” says Deloria. It is local, not universal. The Christian world took its origins out of its foundational “place,” its original geography, and believed it would work anywhere, a universal truth to be imposed by force or urged through conversion. History has eminently bloody reminders of what was left in the wake of that, and now a critically damaged earth that may soon no longer be able to support the human we thought so central to it.