by Stephen McNallen
Asatru abounds in issues and controversies, but by far the biggest, scariest, and least understood point of contention in our movement deals with the idea of race. Is there a connection between race and religion, between biology and spirituality? If we say "yes," does that mean we're racist? Where is the line between pride in one's people - a desire to see one's tribe perpetuated - and the phenomenon the media calls "racism"?
Unfortunately, it has become something of a taboo in the United States to speak of race, unless one wishes to take a rather predictable liberal view. Race is to our culture what sex was to the Victorians; everyone thinks about it, but we have to pretend it doesn't exist! Since I am a White male, I am especially restricted by this taboo; anything I have to say will be instantly dismissed by some, whatever the validity of my words and ideas.
Now, I think most RUNESTONE readers are more intelligent and open minded than that, and on another occasion I'll have more to say about all this. But for now, I've found some people who closely reflect my own opinion, and I am going to harness their words to pull my ideological wagon. Since the people in question are American Indians, maybe even the extreme liberals will listen!
Vine Deloria was one of the biggest Indian names of the 1970's. His militance in behalf of the Indian cause was matched only by his articulate arguments, and he sold lots of books. One of these was called God is Red.
Mr. Deloria is able to say something that I cannot. He is able to state outright that there is a relationship between ethnos and ethos , between a biologically identifiable group of people and the religion that best suits them. To my knowledge, no one has called him a racist for doing so. For now, the best argument that I can make for my own opinions is to quote his words, as excerpted from the above-mentioned volume:
"...[T]he idea that religion was conceived as originally designed for a specific people relating to a specific god falls well within the experience of the rest of mankind and may conceivably be considered a basic factor in the existence of religion."
"...[Perhaps] a religious universality cannot be successfully maintained across racial and ethnic lines...ethnicity will almost always triumph."
"Most tribal religions make no pretense as to their universality..."
"The very concept of a Chosen People implies a lost religious ethnicity. Most probably religions do not in fact cross national and ethnic lines without losing their power and identity. It is probably more in the nature of things to have different groups with different religions."
God is Red sings with common sense and fairness. The author is partisan in favor of his own people, as he should be, but he is not noticeably anti-White...which is also right and just. I definitely recommend it to every Asaperson, because so much of what he says pertains to us.
Vine Deloria isn't the only Indian with an opinion on the subject. Recently, a tabloid called Native Monthly Reader appeared at the school where I teach. It's a sort of American Indian version of the old Weekly Reader, for those of you who remember that. In an article on Indian sacred sites, the Southwest regional director of the National Park Service, who is part Cherokee, a Mr. John Cook, is quoted as saying "Who better to interpret Indian spirituality than American Indians? There's no way a non-Indian can correctly interpret the value system of an Indian."
Part of me is upset at the double standard implied by that comment. I mean, try substituting "White" for "Indian" and see how long Mr. Cook remains in the employ of the Park Service! He'd be looking for a job before you could say "double standard"! But, that aside, he's essentially right. I may like Indians collectively or as individuals, but I can't get inside their heads - and they can't get inside mine. We'd all be better off if we'd just admit it and quit trying to kid each other, all the while agreeing to treat each other with respect.
Actually, it's mostly us White folks who are fooling ourselves. For years, Indians have been decrying the flood of "wannabees" who swarm around Indian spirituality. More than once, I've read of Indian religious leaders urging Whites to go seek their own people's way. The only problem, of course, has been that most of our brothers and sisters think that Christianity IS our native belief!
Some will argue that all this is politics, and thus irrelevant to religious dialog. I disagree, and so does Vine Deloria. As he says, "Religion dominates the tribal culture, and distinctions existing in Western civilization no longer present themselves. Political activity and religious activity are barely distinguishable. History is not divided into categories of explanation. It is simultaneously religious, political, economic, social, and intellectual." The political is religious, and vice versa. Observe the clear connection between Indian spirituality and politics in the Ghost Dance of the last century, or in today's struggles over fishing rights and tribal autonomy! It is only we modern creatures of the West who insist on compartmentalizing everything into neat boxes. Real life isn't like that.
To my mind, the sort of ideas we've been airing here have no relationship with what Newsweek and CBS call racism. An honest statement that we have inherently different religious needs and expressions doesn't even imply dislike, much less hatred. Is it racism to love my people? Is it racism to prefer my people over others? Is it racism to want my people to survive and thrive for a thousand millennia hence? I don't think so. I think these things are natural and good - for us, and for others. This is no time for ethnic masochism! Aren't we Asafolk supposed to have thrown out guilt complexes along with the holy water?
The American Indian has been able to maintain his connection with his traditions, with the land, and with his innermost self. In doing so, he has escaped some of the propaganda that deluges us. Or maybe he's just in a position that is strangely privileged, in that he can speak up honestly for his folk without censure and reflex ravings of "racism". In any case, Vine Deloria and his brothers speak true on the link between race and religion. Respect their words, and honor your ancestors!