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Church and State - Part 2: Religion and culture

by October 10, 2013
 

RELIGION AND CULTURE

Culture is a complex entity of political, economic and spiritual dimensions. The language, beliefs and values of a culture find expression in such things as music, song and dance, as well as in arts and crafts, fashion and style. As cultural properties, these attributes join governance and religion in distinguishing one particular culture from another. In the case of Indigenous cultures, traditional food and medicine are included in the list of properties, all of which combined are celebrated in Fourth World media, literature and philosophy.

In the United States, the trust responsibility between the state and the tribal nations is defined as the obligation of the U.S. Government to preserve, protect and guarantee the property of American Indians. Environmental protection and restoration are part of that obligation, as is self-governance and religious freedom. Respecting tribal laws, rules and regulations on Indian lands is also part of honoring the trust responsibility.

Beyond the borders of reservations, though, tribal properties such as sacred sites, fish and wildlife also come under the obligation of trust responsibility. Allowing the desecration of holy areas, or the extinction of species, is a breach of this trust. Likewise the intrusion of US agencies on Indian territory for purposes of property confiscation or taxation.

Under international human rights law, these properties are sacrosanct, and states that fail to protect them transgress established norms by which states and nations are obligated to relate. Neglecting these obligations of trust and mutual respect is what leads to most of the conflicts in the world.

As a reluctant supporter of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the United States nevertheless has obligated itself to not only protect tribal properties, but to implement the principles of this international accord. As such, the US Government habit of allowing the desecration and confiscation of some tribal properties by corporations, and colluding with them in the theft of many others, must come to an end.

INDIGENOUS SPIRITUALITY

The Indigenous Peoples Movement is a term used to describe original peoples whose culture is still extant, that continue to perceive themselves as a distinct nation or tribe in opposition to the dominant structures and narratives of state-centric and market-oriented systems of social organization. One characteristic these ancient political entities share are systems of governance, cosmology, and economics that precede modern states, religions, and other such institutions.

At the 1999 UN Development Programme workshop on Indigenous peoples, Fourth World participants observed that as long as Western society doesn’t understand their need to protect the environment from capital interests still exploiting their natural resources, no resolution on development is possible. To illustrate their common philosophy, Indigenous representatives from around the world made presentations highlighting Indigenous peoples’ spirituality and the special relationship that exists between spirituality and the environment—the spirituality that makes Indigenous peoples particular as a group.

The sacredness natural resources hold in their communities and the constant threat by government sponsored economic interests, they noted, is what motivated the Indigenous movement to work in partnership with the UNDP, explaining to the international institution how to own things collectively, “because it is the owning and the becoming rich that has been destroying the earth for the last few hundred years.”

With the resurgence of Indigenous leadership in North and South America in recent years, the critical mass of the world’s unrepresented ancient nations and original peoples is finally beginning to dismantle the 500-year-old wall of denial. And despite all the distortion and deception mustered by modern states like Russia, China, and the US, the authentic message of peoples close to nature is getting through. That message — that they, as the ancient seed of later migrations, are the proprietors of a natural consciousness vital to the survival of mankind, and perhaps more importantly, are ready to share this knowledge with anyone willing to treat them with respect — comes none too soon.

As we witness the collapse of the planetary ecosystem and the breakdown of modern states built on foundations of aggression, this act of generosity by the Fourth World is one we would be wise to accept. But whether or not we enter into this new relationship with the world’s 7,000 surviving Indigenous societies, depends largely on our willingness to listen attentively to their stories and to learn to navigate the sacred dimensions of human relationships summarized by author Jamake Highwater as follows: “Freedom is not the right to express yourself, but the far more fundamental right to be yourself…The abiding principle of tribalism is the vision of both nature and a society which provides a place for absolutely everything and everyone.”

For the Maori, Saami, Bushmen and Basques, the Indigenous Peoples Movement — catalyzed thirty-some years ago by First Nations in British Columbia — is now gaining recognition in international fora like the EU, UN, and International Criminal Court; how we respond to this moral challenge will determine whether our future is one of rapprochement and coexistence, or one of violence and misery.

The Indigenous Peoples Movement is now fighting what Fourth World nations perceive as the final battles to protect their lands, knowledge, and ways of life from total annihilation. All the world’s natural resources, governing institutions, and economic structures are involved in this conflict. Absent satisfactory resolution of this fundamental disagreement, no modern societies will long be able to meet their basic needs in terms of mobility, energy, security, food, or water.

PANDERING TO CHRISTIAN BIGOTRY

In my 21 June 2013 IC Magazine article Prototype of Hate: Pandering has Consequences, I noted that, “While Far-Right Christians are a well-known contingent of the Anti-Indian Movement within the US, their role in U.S. foreign policy -- something that affects Indigenous peoples worldwide -- is less known. While it is no secret that conservative evangelical missionaries actively promote popular hostility toward non-Christian Indigenous beliefs, how they affect foreign leaders commanding U.S. proxy armies in countries like Uganda is not common knowledge. As Indigenous peoples throughout Africa are increasingly threatened with ethnic cleansing and genocide in order to make the continent's vast wealth accessible to foreign corporations, US missionaries play an under-reported but key role.”

In December 2008, when Obama selected the homophobic pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his presidential inauguration, progressive Christians were rightly concerned that Obama's pandering to Far-Right Christian bigotry might have consequences. Indeed, as Bruce Wilson noted in his January 2009 article on Warren's fanatical mission in Uganda, radical devotion to violent Christian revolution resulted in genocidal behavior by the Ugandan military. As Chris Rodda observed, the pressure to conform to radical Christian tenets promoted by Warren -- thanks to Obama's lack of judgment -- extended to members of the U.S. Military.

As Rachel Tabachnik remarked in October 2010, missionaries of hate who advocate murdering gays have adopted the Ugandan model -- designed by Rick Warren -- as a prototype to be replicated in countries around the globe. While merging church and state is always dangerous, merging state powers with churches like Warren's leads to crimes against humanity.

As I opined in A Crumbling Social Contract, “Within this scenario of a crumbling social contract, fear and anger -- mobilized into hate and revenge -- are perhaps most disconcerting, but communities living in denial about the waxing political power of such moral aberrations as the Tea Party, anti-Indian movement and Christian Patriots cannot long continue breathing their own exhaust if they want to avoid normalizing hate.

Responses in the form of moral theatrics are fine for careers in political theatre, but they do not affect the political change that can only come about by contesting political power as exercised through research, education and organizing. Watching the anti-democratic movement in the US -- exemplified by the Tea Party -- conduct candidate trainings and activist workshops on a daily basis, while horrified liberals merely sign petitions protesting the latest outrage, is not encouraging.”

THE SPIRITUAL DIMENSION

One can argue that hierarchical religions are not an improvement on the spiritual dimension inhabited by humankind's Indigenous ancestors, but one should not conflate religious discipline with an appreciation for this dimension. Religions, like modern states, are artificial constructs, developed for political control--not for the benefit of humanity.

As unnatural entities, religions and states serve as superficial counterpoints to the authentic indigenous nations and their spirituality that both church and state have attempted to annihilate. Indigenous nations do not own this sacred dimension, but they do serve as caretakers of the ports of entry to accessing its magical and mysterious powers. While the majesty of creation is available to everyone, an appreciation of the humility required in order to comprehend its powers is foreclosed by the arrogance and ignorance of hierarchical religions.

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A publication of the Center for World Indigenous Studies (cwis.org).

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