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Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

Time Event
7:16a
Another collection of essays ...
One of these days, I'll have to pick up a copy of Vine Deloria, Jr.'s Custer Died For Your Sins, as it seems to be the only long-format book by him. For This Land: Writings on Religion in America, like most of what I've read of Vine Deloria Jr., is a collection of essays from a rather extensive span of time (1965-1998). While this does have its advantages (it "opens a window" onto various episodes that he was involved in over those thirty-some years), it lacks a cohesiveness that would, hopefully, lend persuasiveness to one long statement on a subject.

Needless to say, a book of "Writings on Religion in America" from a Native perspective has a long and ugly history on which to draw, so it really shouldn't matter that the 30 essays collected here jump from the 70's to the 90's, back to the 60's, with brief stops in the 80's, but as the subject matter is often "topical" to the time of writing, there is a certain level of disjointedness that is always in the background.

This was edited by a James Treat (whose own essays set up the various sections), who grouped Deloria's writings into five areas: White Church, Red Power; Liberating Theology; Worldviews in Collision; Habits of the State; and Old Ways in a New World. It is amusing to see the difference between the populist writer Deloria and the academic writer Treat, as the pace of the book bogs down every time one hits one of the introductory segments!

Vine Deloria Jr. was a fascinating figure, active without being an "activist" particularly, from a "Christianized" native family (and being a seminary graduate) but rejecting that for a search for his cultural roots, a lawyer whose writing would never suggest that craft, and widely read on many subjects. Every book I've read of his opens my eyes to some new factoids that I had not previously encountered (I believe that I am especially grateful for his introducing me to Without Marx of Jesus a book from the early 70's, a used copy of which I'm eager awaiting the arrival of).

One of the other things that I found fascinating in here was a story of how White Liberalism turns everything it touches bad, specifically in the case of the Episcopalian Church in the late 60's. Now, I grew up Episcopalian (my father had been a minister), and I saw much of the insanity that Deloria writes about from a completely different side, with the eyes of a 10-16 year-old. The GCSP that he writes about here was a six-year "hijacking" of one of the major Protestant churches by left-wing radicals over a rather turbulent time ('67-'73). One would expect that there would be sufficient "institutional inertia" in an organization like the Episcopalian Church to fend off this sort of thing, but whole internal groups were, in a matter of months, Stalinistically "purged" of non-radicals and substantial chunks of the organizational budget were put at their disposal (this could go a long way to explaining how my childhood church ended up as a rallying point and "dorm" for the rioters at the '68 Democratic Convention).

Anyway, as interesting as that was to me personally, it's hardly the main focus of the book ... predictably, this focuses on how Christianity, primarily through deceit and down the barrel of a gun, bullied its way across America. There are certainly other subjects in here (his discussions of "sacred lands" and how these are essential to the Native religion yet not even on the radar of the Christians are particularly clarifying), but the unseeing / unfeeling / uncaring Christian onslaught is never far from view.

Deloria does paint a bit of a hopeful picture of a "post-Christian" America, where the Native ways (he notes how even White settlers, once they've been in the same place for four or five generations, start acting more like Natives) will reassert themselves, absorb whatever isn't toxic from Christianity, and have the wheel turn.

While For This Land was not as engaging to me as some of his other books have been, it was still interesting enough, and a worth-while read. This is still in print, but with a rather steep ($32.95 for a 320-page paperback) cover price, so you might consider the used channels, where a "Very Good" copy can be had for around three bucks, were you inclined to add this to your library as well.


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