Friday, August 31, 2007

Cultural Appropriation and Irony

Some of you that read my blog, in fact most of you, will probably know that I attended a Christian youth group for a while. Personally, I considered this mostly an excuse to hang out with my friends that were Christian.

This group held their meetings on Friday evenings, and it would involve a sermon of some sort. Usually, I would critically examine these sermons, as a sort of mental exercise. I think that it also made the time pass a bit faster. The sermons that the first pastor would give were pretty good, and I felt that even non-Christians, people of a secular nature, could gain something from listening to them.

After the first pastor left and was replaced, the sermons became noticeably different. They were delivered with more of an authoritative voice, a voice with more fervor. It also seemed that the message in these sermons was uniquely Christian, and that someone of a secular nature would have little if anything to gain from listening to them. One of my friends described him as more of a "fire and brimstone" preacher than the first pastor had been.

One Friday night, this pastor used a Native American folk story to illustrate a point. At the time, I was a bit annoyed that he had gotten some of the wording wrong. (If this seems a bit anal to you, you should know that I suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.) Afterwords, I told him that he had gotten some of the wording wrong. He chuckled and waved it off with "It's just a legend. The wording doesn't matter." I walked off, a bit more annoyed than I had been because of his comment. The irony of the entire situation didn't occur to me until a week or so ago.

First, the Native American oral tradition is a very important one. For centuries, the oral tradition was the only way that the Native Americans had to pass their creation myths, legends, and fables on to the next generation. I have no doubt that they took it very seriously, including the exact wording of these stories. I am not saying that these stories did not change; they undoubtedly did over the centuries, even if only a little bit.

Second, is it really appropriate for a member of the Christian faith to use a Native American story to illustrate a point? I'm talking about a religion that actively tried to convert the indigenous peoples of North America, tried to destroy their culture, and herded them on to reservations so more land would be available for European settlement. Not to mention residential schooling, an issue that is still being dealt with by the government today. I do not think that it is appropriate for an evangelical Christian to use a Native American parable to perpetuate their faith's goals.

Third, the irony! It's only a story and the wording doesn't matter? I wish you would apply that reasoning to your own faith! There are hundreds of contradictions in the Bible and the Bible has been translated countless times, after being passed down orally for generations! I would say something to the effect of "It's the message, not the details that matter" but the Bible has so many contradictions and some of Christianity's central beliefs are so cruel that they are tantamount to abuse!

Now you might expect me to warn people about thinking about what they say before they say it, lest it reflect badly upon them. I'm not going to say that. It serves as a warning to the rest of us.

"Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived."

-Isaac Asimov

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