As I read Evone Monteith’s letter to the editor in last week’s paper, it seems to me that as part of the residential school reconciliation process she believes it is now time for Christianity to toss in the towel on its claim of exclusivity with respect to being the only valid way of approaching God. Her clear inference is that there can never be any true apology from the “white” man if this step isn’t taken. I take issue with her position and with the whole idea native culture is deserving of special taxpayer-subsidized preservation.
When it comes to the idea of whether there is more than one way to worship God, I would like to first point out that Christianity/Judaism are the only truly original monotheistic religions, the word monotheism means one god. In the Judaeo/Christian teachings this one god is considered to be the only true God. At the time monotheism arose in the Middle East polytheism, worship of more than one god, had been the rule throughout human societies. The seemingly safe thing about polytheism that makes it attractive is it allows the worshipper to have all of his religious bases covered, which means he is guaranteed to be right at least once. This seeming advantage of laying multiple theistic bets is more advantageous, especially if you can’t be sure. To be a monotheist is to take a serious risk of being wrong.
The idea one God created and rules all things that happen in this world is potentially less safe than it is to have a religion where there are multiple gods who rule in multiple areas of our existence or a religion where god and creation are seen as the same thing, which is “pantheism.” Of course the weakness of polytheism is that the need for multiple gods means by implication no “one” god is a true god because each god is limited to its respective sphere of influence and many times they stand in need of each other. Thus the reason for a plethora of gods. However, a god that is restricted in its rule is by definition no god at all since that god lacks the authority to rule without the help of other gods and can actually be countermanded by another god. So the seemingly safe bet polytheism offers its worshippers turns out to be an illusion since no single god actually has the attributes that we associate with theistic sovereignty.
When looked at in this way, it can be seen that native spirituality is actually indistinguishable from any other pantheistic/polytheistic faith. That leads to the next question: why should the federal government, which is constitutionally banned from establishing a state religion be put in the position of supporting native religion? This is especially true within the context of the native issue because native culture and native religion are inextricably tied together.
In the end it seems what is left is that Christian monotheism as the only valid option since it is the only option with a downside if it is not taken. After all, if polytheism is true in its claim there are many ways to god then monotheism also has to be one of those ways, therefore a person who is a monotheist has lost nothing. If Christian monotheism is correct in its claim there is only one God and one way, then the polytheist, along with the atheist and the agnostic, has lost everything.
Therefore I ask Ms. Monteith, and the reader, to seriously consider which belief system makes for the safest bet?
In her letter, Ms. Monteith asks that the reader determine which religion to follow based upon the religion’s teachings with regards to respecting Mother Earth and the religion’s long historical history. My reply though is that the validity of any religion cannot be determined by the religious practise of its adherents or the length of time it has been around. To determine the truthfulness of a religion’s teachings this way is to make the religion’s god a creature of the follower’s own belief, which in the end is nothing more than faith in one’s own thoughts. True faith though has as its object someone outside of the faith’s adherents.
A faith that is a product of faith in one’s own faith is in the end no faith at all but merely a self-serving circular argument or tautology. A god that results from such a faith is a god that dies along with the one who holds to the faith. Such a god is in the end no god at all because one of the attributes of a true god is being eternal and self-existing. In the end only Christianity offers such a God.
When it comes to the eternality of native culture the truth is human history is littered with the rise, fall and ultimate disappearance of innumerable civilizations along with their cultures and languages. There is no culture with a right to exist forever because cultures are kept alive only as long as they give the members of the culture an advantage in survival. To maintain a culture has a right to exist apart from this fundamental requirement to meet the survival needs of the culture’s members is basically to remain frozen in the past. It is this aspect of being stuck in the past that is where the fundamental conflict between native culture and the dominant, progressive non-native culture stems from.
The native community is by definition an insular community because its membership is based solely on race, which renders it incapable of adopting socially progressive teachings and imprisons the minds of its members.
For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth — as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords” — yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Corinthians 8:5-6 English Standard Version)
Julian Ross Hudson