What Will Be Our Saving Grace:
Does Humanity Need a New Religion?
It might as well be a secret that the United States has played a role in a major war consistently every twenty years without falter. Perhaps our imperialistic, war mongering ways have roots in a dimension of our lives that is often disregarded as a complete and separate entity: our theology. I am arguing that the monotheistic theology of Christianity has acted as a catalyst for imperialism and a movement towards homogenization of all cultures and religions. The Native American tradition of a theology that transcends the power of man, the manipulator of nature, becomes the antithesis to our modern Western culture which fosters technology that only distances us from the earth that provides for us. This culminates in the perpetuation of things such as the war machine. We need to merely ask ourselves to break down everything that we've come to know, the constructs built around the theology that dominates the West and see for ourselves how it constitutes a world of hierarchical violence and domination.
We see a focus that had shifted around the time man started to be an efficient king of his domain. There is a transition from a polytheistic to monotheistic theology that is coupled with the historical specificity of agriculture and the "advent of herding" where "humans assumed the functions which had for all time been the functions of the spirits of the animals" (A Basic Call...73). It is no coincidence that around the time man had mastered the manipulation of natural functions that we see monotheism emerge with a deity that has created "man in his image." Perhaps, this is the ultimate form of human vanity. Systematically, technology began to reign supreme as it "reproduced a function of nature" (A Basic Call...73) and a theology that connected us with the spirits manifested in nature was no longer needed. For example, mainstream Christianity has even disintegrated the female fertility figure from any relevant theological rumblings that we hear today.
What can we say connects the religion of Christianity with destructive homogenization and imperialism that crumble societies with reckless abandon? Contradictory to what we see today, Christianity was founded in the rebellion of the individual just as Jesus blatantly opposed the rulings of the state. The problem occurs when the state and Christianity met and the Empire, the poster child for imperialism, took up its doctrine. We as Westerners are privileged enough to find our undeniable ancestral roots in this as "Rome is...the true birth place of Christianity" (A Basic Call...74). The same concept of meshing of state-ordained violence and the blessing of God is presented to us in the myth of Constantine. Constantine went into battle as God told him he would be victorious if he was protected by the sign of the cross and would spread Christianity, or so it goes. This rang eerily familiar as Richard Drinnon related the Saints leveling of the Pequot fort to more modern times, the May Lai Massacre in Vietnam, with the words of John Underhill: “We had sufficient light from the word of God for our proceedings” (Drinnon 459). Has God given us the green light for killing? Christianity has its roots in persecution, true history will tell us that, and if we consider the new domination of Western culture in a world wide perspective we will be seeing a fast track to a dead end road; homogenization of culture (The Empire will strike back if you will).
To bring us up to speed, Americans, the majority of whom have roots that lie in Christianity whether they like it or not, have had a pretty blood soaked past, including but not limited to: the genocide of the Native Americans, the slavery and subordination of a race, a civil war, two world wars, the ever unpopular Vietnam, and the increasingly unpopular War with/in/against/to and from Iraq (amazing how much power a preposition has, isn’t it?). Could this violence be linked to the roots we often don’t acknowledge? We see historically that "Christian peoples, who possessed superior weaponry and a need for expansion, were able to militarily subjugate the tribal people of Europe" (A Basic Call...74). The reach of colonialism by Europeans hit American soil as the Spaniards shook hands with the natives and then proceeded to slaughter them. Onward and upward went the bout of extermination as we find ourselves today wondering, "Why are the Native Americans so furious with us?" As recent history presents itself to me, we are confined to repeat the same religious crusade over and over, a move towards homogenization, because those whom are not believers will not be saved. It does not sound foreign to me that the War in Iraq resonates the theocracy of an impressed ideology on an unwilling group of people, that we are in fact "saving" from their own brutality, their own savagery.
Monotheism has presented us with the opportunity to lose the theological dialectic that has connected us to respecting the earth and her finite supply of resources. No matter what they tell you, these resources are finite. Ward Churchill quotes Bonfil Batalla. It has become so that "for the West...the concept of nature is that of an enemy to be overcome, with man as boss on a cosmic scale" (Churchill 514). He continues, "the converse is true in Indian civilization, where [humans are] part of an indivisible cosmos and fully aware of [their] harmonious relationship with the universal order of nature" (Churchill 514). There is no hope for a world with such a blatant disregard for what sustains it. At this rate, it seems as if Biblical prophecy is coming true through the means of self manifestation: the apocalypse.
The separation and eventual weeding out of theology in respect to our government and everyday lifestyle has contributed to a religious aura in America that is full of distortions and half truths. For example, it is O.K to be violent and kill as long as it is contained in the systematic mass killing of war; or, loving thy neighbor does not include necessarily homosexuals. Secularization in this sense makes our government the only legitimate structure that is passed down in our culture and separating theology from it is like only passing down a small fraction of ourselves to every generation to come. We must realize that the government itself is only a factitious construct of the imagination and challenge our imaginations to hold it to higher, more sustainable standards. It is scary to think that the government was once just a figment of someone's imagination that is now taken so literally that people will die for it. The true ideals and beliefs have been lost, they are the important symbols, not the walls of a federal institution. Again, echoing in the background is the Native American culture, almost taunting us with their ability to prosper as we seem to fail. In their culture, "religion is the very basis of Indian life" (Voices from Wounded... 63).
In this sense our gods have been transformed and monotheistic traditions may have made for an easy transformation of our "ideal figures." As we have created a hierarchical religion so our lives have become hierarchical. As our God has become a supreme being, we have placed "supreme beings" at the head of the table in society and in our government. It seems unprecedented to hear the Native Americans say that a "vertical hierarchy creates conflicts and they dedicated the superbly complex organization of their society to function to prevent the rise internally of hierarchy." (A Basic Call...67) This would seem to eradicate the competition (economic competition) found even amongst our churches. Vine Deloria supports this by saying, “Eliminating economic determination from religious life levels the whole structure of organized religion. There is no way to distinguish between the validity of religious beliefs except by experience” (Deloria 175-176). The same way that Christianity harbors hierarchy it welcomed capitalism with an open door and a warm fire. This correlation would not be out of line when we consider how the two have merged in western civilization and loom over us with a cloud of impending globalization and their past of “imperialistic tendencies.”
In the past God has taken the role as our "cosmic punisher." A top the vertical hierarchy, God has extended his reign of omniscient power as far as the eye can see. Man has died for this symbol, conversely man has killed for this symbol as well. We have taken it upon ourselves to create an institution surrounding this ladder of power, the followers taking up the bottom rungs. We have put new meaning to the "lamb of God" as we take part in a political parade. Apparently God is not bi-partisan. In 2000, and again in 2004 we found out that God resides at the polls and apparently he told us to vote “conservatively,” and devoid of all his axioms we supported a war. While in attendance of a lecture by Father Dan Berrigan, a Christian fundamentalist whom I believe has found this meaning in the true sense of the word, I heard him say, “No tyrant goes to war without his God.” (Berrigan) In reflection, truer words have seldom been spoken. The idea of a higher power, a “warrior god,” has allowed our president to take up a “Constantinian” cross that for centuries has brought people to their knees. God and religion may in fact be the ultimate justification for war and violence. Religious justification reigns supreme in a land of want-to-be demigods.
Because we see no immediate consequences to our actions, no hand of “Providence” to swoop down and say, “Stop!,” we assume we have divine blessings. An authority figure placed in the sky allows us to take on his qualities through ourselves and “play God” as the saying goes. We become the top of the hierarchy, the popes become God’s right hand men, the bishops his cabinet and so on and so forth until all of our actions, no matter how destructive they may be are completely justified by our religion. Women, I’m sorry to say, have been caste out of this religiously doctored social system, caste out of leadership roles in the church and then we act surprised when they are only making fractions on the dollar for the same economic positions. Their domestic roles reflect how they are valued in religion; ultimately, they are not in charge.
And at the turn of the Twentieth Century we saw another transition take place. God was soon replaced by machines, our religion became science. For example, we have come to rely on what threatens to destroy us: nuclear energy. We are about to become dependant on “a form of energy production which has by-products which are the most poisonous substances ever known to man” (A Basic Call...76). We seem too readily accept the threat of our children hiding under desks over and over again, but this time with color-coded alerts. Our lives began to revolve around the same convenience that allowed us to change God from spirits that resided in nature to a human figure, most markedly recognizable because of his white beard, to technology as it became the forefront of what it meant to be human. Life became more stable and the meek inherited color television sets. Religion has developed the ability to apathetically morph to suit the needs of man at the historical time period as it had done before; but this time, the consequences are damaging. Christian institutions have embraced our destructive ways of living rather than us embracing its ways of loving. This is referring to the acceptance of capitalism and warfare. If I remember correctly greed is one of the seven deadly sins.
It is evident from these historical facts that “America needs a new religion,” as Vine Deloria has put it. (Deloria 181) As new global challenges and crisis enter our lives every day humanity needs a new religion or, at least a radical reformation of the existing religious institutions, which have become slaves to wealth, power, and prestige. The irreversible effects man has on nature are a result of this vainglorious transgression. Whether it is the rubber wheels of a car, the linoleum floor of a house, the dampened light from a window screen, it seems as if we have forever lost to what connects us to the reality of the human experience, that life itself is growing all around us. We are inhibited from growth because we have placed proverbial and literal ceilings on all our boundaries. God has become something so distant from us that with an empirical eye I can see what we really worship, and you can too if you dare to challenge what our egos have become. Perhaps war, genocide, starvation and suffering would not exist if we realized that "God" can morph again into an extension of love, shown in kindness toward your fellow man, shown in a helping hand.
A Basic Call to Consciousness: The Hau De No Sau Nee Address to the Western World. Summertown: Book Publishing Co., 1991.
Berrigan, Daniel. Cornell Religious Studies. Annabelle Taylor Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca. 14 April 2006.
Churchill, Ward. From a Native Son: Selected Essays on Indigenism, 1985-1995. Boston: South End Press, 1996.
Drinnon, Richard. Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian Hating & Empire Building. New York: Schocken Books, 1980.
Voices from Wounded Knee, 1973. Roosevelt: Akwesasne Notes, 1974.
Volpicelli, Robert. Preachers Preach of Evil Fates. Ithaca College, 2005.