Continuing my musings on Kent Nerburn’s The Wolf at Twilight, I must pause for a moment on chapter eight, “Bibles and Broomsticks.” I must confess to having learned quite a bit in this account, and among the more disturbing facts is that government agents routinely removed Lakota children from their homes so that they would be sent to boarding schools to learn “white ways.” Many of these schools were run by Christian groups; in “Dan’s” case, the school was Roman Catholic. Confused and frightened, away from home, these children were compelled to give up their traditional ways so that they would be more accommodating to the people who had taken over their land. In the midst of the difficulties faced, Dan makes some pointed observations about the difference between what he had been taught as a child and what the establishment schools proclaimed. In punishment for speaking his own language, Dan was once sentenced to kneel on several marbles while holding a heavy Bible out at the end of each outstretched arm. Later he reveals that many of the children were sexually abused by the priests out on the prairie, far from the help of any non-religious adult.
Despite the grimness of this scenario, a parable may lurk for those of us who live in supposedly more enlightened times. The Bible being used as a physical weapon may be rare today, but it certainly has lost no force as a metaphorical one. We see this constantly when overly eager televangelists and politicians unilaterally declare that natural disasters are of divine origin, the god of the black book punishing the country he founded. Their logic twists like the rubber band on the balsam toy airplane of their mental depth. Complexity is the work of the devil when God can be blamed for every misfortune against those of whom they disapprove. The truly sad part is that they are continuing the oppression that was behind the mistreatment of the Native Americans. Books only enlighten minds when they are opened. Making a Bible into a cross is about as pagan an idea as can be conceived (my apologies to any pagans reading this—pagans are not nearly so barbarous).
At one point Dan explains to Nerburn that the Creator’s lessons could be found by observing nature, such as listening to the song of a bird. He said, “We could have taught your people, too. But they never listened…They just looked in their Black Book. They said it had everything they needed to learn the Creator’s lessons.” We are starting to learn this lesson, but very, very slowly. It was not by accident that the Navi in Avatar were portrayed as symbolic of Native Americans while the greedy industrialists mining their planet considered it manifest destiny to take charge. The Bible does not have all the answers. Those which it does contain in no way justify the abuse of others for one’s personal gain. It is one of history’s legitimate mysteries how an intelligent people can shut out reason when personal gain is at stake. It is easier to do, apparently, when there is a divine book to blame. When the Bible is used to punish others, however, it is always a safe bet that it has never been opened.