Wide ranging. That’s a phrase that comes to mind to describe Vine Deloria Jr.’s book God Is Red: A Native View of Religion. Another phrase is very important. I know this book has been available for several years and it’s been on my reading list for many of those. What is it about? Some books are just difficult to summarize, but the basic answer is that it’s an American Indian view of how Christianity has distorted the world. An accomplished academic, student of law, and activist, Deloria knew of what he wrote. His book explains articulately the view of Christianity from the outside and what a religion that reverences the earth really looks like. What makes the book so fascinating is that Deloria had theological training and could engage with the Christian worldview over a considerable range of topics.
Controlling the narrative is of primary importance and the fact is white men have controlled the narrative and normalized one view of history, science, and our place in the universe. First nations peoples had, and some still have, a radically different outlook. Deloria makes the crucial point that even our science developed out of our religion. That science, in turn, supports the worldview that created it. It is possible to look at things differently. In fact, for much of human history those alternate views were predominant. The triumphalist view of Christianity claims it’s successful because it’s right. A native view takes a longer view, saying “we’ll see.”
Very concerned about the state of the planet brought on by the Christian/capitalist partnership, Deloria advocated for not only Indian rights, but environmental protection s well. Not only is the environment central to Indian spirituality, the concept of sacred spaces is very real. Many of us not raised with indigenous points of view have experienced this as well. Some places are special to us. We hesitate, because of that very science created by the Christian worldview and its view of God, to call such spaces objectively sacred. Even the “objectively” part is determined by a Christian perspective. Deloria ends up by asking whether this form of religion has improved the state of the world. There’s no doubt that some of Christianity’s achievements have lessened human suffering. It is also true that science has achieved great things. If I understand correctly, Deloria isn’t disputing this. His point of view is much more essential. Is this the only way to live on this planet? From the indigenous point of view, which is far more important that we want to admit, the question is—is this the only way to see it?