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Austin Cline

Comment of the Week: Christianity vs. Native American Religion

By July 22, 2008

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One of the aspects of Christian history which gets too little attention is how Christian missionaries, Christian leaders, and regular Christians treated the religions of people living in regions being colonized. Believing themselves to be in possession of the only true, genuine, and valid religion, many Christians demonized native beliefs and used their superior power to force conversions "for their own good."

ThunderBear writes:

I am of First American Religion and every time I tell someone that they automatically think I am a devil worshipper. A pastor here at a local church who is televised regionally actually told his congregation that Native Americans fought with the devil on Mt. Siani in the Bible. And that they used their dream cachers and black majik potions with the chants and rituals to summon the devil to fight the Lord's soldiers.

To think that there are people out there who think that Native Americans are God hating devil worshippers make me sick. We love Great Spirit. And it's abou time that Christians get over their hatred and arrogance toward other religions

[original post]

Although it's a pity that such beliefs can still be found today ó and apparently without trying very hard ó I can't say that I'm very surprised. The Christians who originally settled in North America quickly began treating Native Americans as children of the Devil and their religion as little more than a form of Devil worship. They saw themselves as on a holy mission from God to civilize both the land and the people here, which meant forcing them into Christianity as much as possible. Given how old such beliefs are in American Christianity, and how deeply ingrained the attitude of being a new "chosen people" is, it's not hard to imagine that demonization of Native Americans would continue.

July 22, 2008 at 10:00 am
(1) David J says:

Austin, I had some colonial history courses in graduate school, and there were “Christian” splinter groups that felt the opposite, however. Some theorized that the native Americans were actually one of the lost tribes of Israel and therefore part of the “lord’s chosen people.” In fact, Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormons, based his book (The Book of Mormon) on this very premise (even though another author, Ethan Smith, beat him to the punch with a book entitled “The View of the Hebrews,” from which Smith borrowed heavily).

You’ll notice, however, that mainstream Catholicism did not view the native Americans in this manner. “Conquistadores” on god’s errand??? Hardly.

July 22, 2008 at 11:40 am
(2) Texas2Step says:

There can be no denying that the US government, and many settlers of the American West, treated Native Americans viciously and unjustly; that behavior was very un-Christian. But many religious Christians, inculding many Catholics, did speak against the injustice and work to help the Native Americans.

The preacher that ThunderBear writes about it teaching some very bizarre ideas, which are not part of accepted Christianity. He sounds like he may be a Mormon, I can’t tell for sure, but he is not Christian.

July 22, 2008 at 2:14 pm
(3) Nelson says:

“When the white man came, they had the bibles, we had the land. Now, we have the bibles, they have the land.”

July 22, 2008 at 2:37 pm
(4) marc says:

One of the most evil things the Christians have ever done is spread their disease upon the Native Americans whom they conquered in the age of Manifest Destiny. Manifest Destiny was the claim that god wanted the Christians to have the land and therefore it excused them of any wrongdoing. Well, if god wanted the Christians to have the land, why did god put the Indians there first? This is proof again that people create god in their own image and make that god desire their own desires. “We’re doing god’s work,” and this makes it all okay. It always bothers me when I see Native Americans following some form of Christianity. Historians tend to stay away from this topic because they don’t want to get blasted by the Christians. In many cases they were forced into the Christian cult during the reservation years (latter 1800s period) when it became a choice of following the old ways or eating. Read about the Nez Perces in Indian Territory and you will learn about this.

Also, Native Americans didn’t hold the same religious concepts as organized religion. For them it was more about gaining power. Being that they were defeated by the white Christian culture (who, for instance, had the ability to make guns), they sought to add this new power to their existing set of beliefs. It wasn’t about one over the other, or one being right and one being wrong. You would never hear an old-time Indian warrior tell a white man that you had better believe in the Indian idea of the Great Spirit or you’ll never get into the Happy Hunting Grounds. They just didn’t think like that.

But Christianity has been tainting native beliefs for hundreds of years. For example, let’s say a missionary goes to work among some eastern tribe, say the Iroquois. The new ideas that are given to them pass from tribe to tribe. These new ideas (and rituals) might be incorporated into existing beliefs. So it spreads.

Christian leaders who spoke about injustices to the Indians still wanted the Indians to be civilized (i.e., Christianized), they just wanted it done more humanely. Different path to the same result.

I still don’t understand how any Native American can choose to be a Christian, especially after what was done to them in the name of that very religion.

July 22, 2008 at 6:02 pm
(5) The Sojourner says:

This just points up the fact that the Christians will steamroll anyone in the way of their “truth” if they can get away with it. I have long been revolted by their treatment of our Native Americans, and others.

Even as a youngster I became absolutely enraged at how these self righteousm smug Missionaries of this band of ignoramuses destroyed the Indians’ heritage. Even going so far as to kidnap their children to take them to be “Christianized” (for the good of their souls, of course).

I have nothing but contempt for missionaries of all ilks. They still anger and disgust me to this day, wherever they spread their poisonous doctrines. No matter what “good works” they claim they’re trying to accomplish. One must remember their prime directive is to convert the world.

Which brings me to another question. How did the African-Americans wind up accepting Christianity as their religion, with all the ill treatment received as slaves and captives
of the white folks?

By the way, I am white and am heartily ashamed of the bigotry in my own race which caused both these peoples the suffering and pain they endured. Although, for a different reason, I am still bewildered at how our own government thought it prudent to relocate all the Japanese Americans to camps during WWII. How could something like that have happened in America?

The fact that we may finally have a black president in the WHITE House, delights me. I am hoping Obama wins! “24″ was ahead of its time. I’m glad to be able to see this in reality on my lifetime. I’m pretty sure Obama’s a winner!

July 23, 2008 at 10:53 am
(6) EJ says:

I was told while debating this topic that the natives were savages, implying evil, and so it was necessary. I was astonished and felt physically sick upon hearing that.

July 29, 2008 at 1:25 pm
(7) C.Pierre says:

I’m so glad someone else beside me see that there is something very wrong with how Black Americans “love God and Christianty” so much. Now mind you I am Haitian and very strong Agnostic. You will not found to many like me , if any.

July 29, 2008 at 1:42 pm
(8) Drew says:

To follow up the comment above about why any black Americans would want to be Christian, I also wonder why so many black Americans today are exchanging the colonial religion of Europeans (Christianity) for the other religion that colonised much of Africa – the Islam of Arabs.

I’m a big fan of the Canadian Football League, and there are always a few black American players in the league with names like “Muhammed”, etc. I find it difficult to believe that all these players are from families that emigrated fairly recently from Muslim parts of Africa. It’s more likely that they did the Cassius Clay / Muhammed Ali-type name and religion change.

But why?

I also wonder why so many aborigonal Canadians remain part of Christian churches. Yes, lower education levels, higher poverty, etc are going to correlate with higher levels of religiosity; but as with black Americans, I would think even an incomplete knowledge of history would lead many to reject Christianity. Maybe many have, but they’re sure quiet about it. I’m not seeing a lot of aboriginal atheists, or nearly enough black ones – though at least becoming “Native Spiritual” is a lowering of the harm someone is likely to do for their religion.

July 29, 2008 at 5:02 pm
(9) Todd says:

Texas2Step says:
“He sounds like he may be a Mormon, I canít tell for sure, but he is not Christian.”

Go to your favorite search engine and look for “No True Scotsman Fallacy”

Speaking of which, Austin. i’ve been conversing a bit with MetalJayBird. i’m trying to get it through to him that Hitler was a Xian. Any thoughts on how i might do that, besides the NTSF?

July 29, 2008 at 5:20 pm
(10) Austin Cline says:

Todd: not without first agreeing on what “Christian” means. If MJB uses a narrow enough definition, AH definitely wasn’t Christian. In such a situation, there is no way to get him to see that AH was a Christian unless you can a) get him to change his definition of “Christian” or b) accept that while AH may not be “his kind” of Christian (i.e., Christian for the purposes of his church and/or theology), AH can legitimately be treated as “Christian” for the purpose of general religious classification (where “Christian” is defined broadly so as to encompass all forms and off-shoots of Christianity). It is possible for a person to use “Christian” in a narrow, restricted sense for personal purposes but acknowledge that a broader definition is legitimate for other purposes.

So long as AH isn’t applying to become a member of his church, the narrow definition isn’t appropriate while the broader one is. So we need to look at the sort of broadness we use when asking if Constantine was a Christian, Augustine, and lots of other historical Christians whose beliefs and behaviors would get them kicked out of modern churches. Maybe you can find a Church Father whose beliefs would not be treated as orthodox today, but whose status as “Christian” is not seriously questioned. Origen, for example, held a number of views later declared anathema.

Make sense?

July 29, 2008 at 11:54 pm
(11) jerry says:

Hitler self-identified as a Roman Catholic and rarely gave a speech that did not invoke God’s blessings on the German people. He always had a Catholic or Lutheran clergyman on his podia as he gave his speeches. What else is needed to identify AH as “Xian”?

July 30, 2008 at 7:51 pm
(12) absent sway says:

To Drew:

It’s possible that these black Americans with such names come from families involved with or influenced by the prominence of the Nation of Islam, which is distinct from other Islamic traditions. Also, such names can convey a sense of pride in African heritage, as they are common in parts of Africa with predominantly Muslim populations.

June 30, 2009 at 12:57 pm
(13) Navajo, Rehoboth HS Graduate says:

I am Navajo and wonder too why John Calvin has had so much influence on Native people, especially in the southwest. Christians have invaded this area and now managed to swindled out land from primary Navajo lands, Rehoboth, NM. They justify the taking with education and providing services to the native people here. I say in light of the history of Christianity in America and in the southwest. The colonization tool of religion to pacify a people was successful in the four corners region. The Christian Reformed Church counts growing numbers of converts from the Navajo population as well as from fundamentalist Christians too. Catholics are not doing well, but in summary, the influence of the non-native religions have had a negative effect on the cultural integrity of the area native nations. The tax base for these churches have grown. On a side comment, I wonder if they practiced John Calvin’s concept of loaning money at a low interest to those who need it and to give financial help to the poor without an expectation for repayment?

October 29, 2009 at 12:47 pm
(14) Wayne says:

Hello, I am writing on behalf of my own view points on these subjects of our Native ancestors and of our fellow country people the Christians. From what I have read on some of these comments, I see and hear alot of anger, hurts, and self-centeredness on people who may have been hurt or know people who were hurt because of the christian movement. I am here to tell about my own personal relationship with The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit in my life and my family’s lives today. Yes, I am aware of the hardships that our ancestors have incurred in their dealings with christians of the their time. But, we must all rememeber how many tribes back than were taking lands and beliefs from eachother before the so called white man came. As a minister in christ I have come to understand that not all christians are the same as back than. But as a person who grew up in a traditional family I know both worlds and I see myself as a child of GOD who is a native that loves my people as well as those GOD has put in my life daily.

Their are some who have truly come in peace and love. Thats like saying all natives are the same. When in reality they are not. Some are harsh and unloving and there are those who have compassion nd understanding for others. I can attest to seeing those who call themselves tradionalists have not truly followed the true lifestyles of living as our ancestors of old. From what I have learned and continue to learn that is christianity and traditional ways are very much alike. We as people have warped the true nature of living either way. Remember, from what I read and from what some of the comments say, We have a choice today to live either as a chiristian or as a traditionalists of our old ways. To me that is what God has given us. “A Choice”, which I feel we have today and back than. So you see again it is on us to live how we choose. For religion is man-made and GOD wants a spititual relationship with him. So in short, I pray that we heal from our past hurts and move forward with a path GOD has put us on. In confidence and with no fear. That is how I see life can truly be lived to its true fullfillment. thank-you for you time and GOD bless you all.

January 30, 2011 at 12:19 am
(15) Daniel says:

I don’t understand why Christians always find this so confusing: Satan is a Christian deity, if you don’t believe in Christianity, you don’t believe in Satan. I feel embarrassed to be a human being sometimes seeing all of these closed-minded people everywhere.

July 29, 2012 at 9:55 pm
(16) Mark Johnson says:

After reading this short couple paragraphs of someone’s vague opinions over a matter which we are given little detail: This person has his definitions of a Christian completely twisted. He believes Christians maintain hatred in their hearts toward their fellow man, which is not possible to do if we are going to follow the Great Commandment which all the law and prophets is fulfilled.

The first and last paragraphs this guy writes blames things on Christians because they call themselves Christians. So he’s judging a Christian based on what HE personally thinks makes a Christian, rather than what the Bible tells us is a Christian.

Also, the testimony is telling us what someone says the Bible says, and the Bible does NOT say those things. Notice, he did not say that the Bible doesn’t teach that, because he purpose in this blog post is to attack Christianity, not to reveal the truth, and without references, we can’t even believe everything that was said here. So blaming these acts on Christianity is logical fallacy without proper definitions.

I’m not saying Christians don’t do dumb stuff. Even I do dumb stuff. But blogs like this seek to demonize Christians, which makes it completely hypocritical.

July 30, 2012 at 6:04 pm
(17) Austin Cline says:

So he’s judging a Christian based on what HE personally thinks makes a Christian, rather than what the Bible tells us is a Christian.

Treating the Bible as authoritative presumes the truth of the Bible, which of course non-Christians do not do.

In the end, Christianity is defined first and foremost by the behavior of Christians. And that’s how Christianity has to be judged.

If that bothers you, then perhaps you should focus on what Christians are doing that’s leading to so much negative judgment.

August 14, 2012 at 7:01 pm
(18) Joan says:

Touche’ Austin, I couldn’t have said it better myself!

August 15, 2012 at 2:33 am
(19) believer says:
April 6, 2013 at 9:17 am
(20) jENNIFER says:


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