War on Christianity. Native Americans. The Bible.

I got the idea for this post while reading Great Speeches by Native Americans. I think it’s a good idea and it’s important to me, but posting this scares me. This blog is for friends and family, most of whom are Christian. But that’s exactly why I decided to do it. Writing this challenged me, and hopefully reading it will challenge you. Nothing is more refreshing than being challenged.

Here’s the plan. I’m going to use the Bible and excerpts from Native American speeches to prove that the USA never was a Christian nation, and therefore prove that there is no War on Christianity in this country. How’s that for a hook?

I was Christian for the first twenty years of my life. And not just a Sunday Christian. My faith defined my life. Pages fell out of my Bible because I studied it so much. Hell, I even prayed every night for a week before my first time asking a girl out. I had a crisis of faith when she said “no.”

I dropped Christianity in my second  year of University. It was a slow process that lasted years. Every Christian has a side that doubts and a side that believes. I decided that the side which doubts was more honest. Many of my friends and family decided the side which believes is more honest. I have no problem with that. We’re all just blind men trying to walk towards the light.

That’s why I think it’s okay to write this post. I’m not attacking anyone’s faith. I’m attacking the idea of War on Christianity in America. It’s a false idea which hurts this country because it divides us. Nothing creates an “us vs. them” mentality more than the word “war.”

I used to believed in the war on Christianity, back in my Christian days. Many Christians still believe it. They believe secular people are trying to chip away at Christian rights until the religion is reduced to a pile of pebbles. When people tried to take “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance, for example, I saw that as evidence for the War on Christianity.

Of course, we don’t say “under Vishnu,” and I didn’t think there was War on Hinduism. The difference is that I believed the USA was founded as a Christian nation by god fearing men and women. I also believed that our early greatness was at least partially due to God favoring us due to our faith. As our nation slowly fell out of faith, God’s favor lessened and so did our greatness.

I know many other Christians believe this too. I lived all over the country when I was young, and churches in every part of the nation preach it. Just check out the customer review section of this book.

Now I’m on the outside looking in. There’s no pastor telling me the inspired truth. There’s no congregation surrounding me, reaffirming my beliefs. I’m just one man looking around. Here’s what I see.

To determine if the USA ever was a Christian nation, we first need to determine what a Christian is. The church taught me how to do this at a young age. You see, Christians don’t accept that someone’s faith is real just because they say it is. They know that there are many people who are only Christian by name. I want to take that same logic and extend it to the past

I obsessed over the genuineness of my faith. It’s not like you hear an audible voice when your faith becomes real. God doesn’t hand you a plaque that says “You’ve done it” and put a cross necklace on you. The song “World’s Apart” became a prayer to me. I have journals from high school praying for God to take everything from me if I could just know that my faith was true.

Ten year later, I finally have my answer and the only thing he took from me was my youth.

The Bible doesn’t tell us how to perfectly know if someone is a Christian. But Jesus does tell us how to know if someone is not a Christian. Matthew 7:15-18:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.

That’s clear. Good people bear good fruit, whether they’re Christian or not. Bad people bear bad fruit. They’re so not Christ-like that Jesus actually calls them “false prophets.” Which, by the way, is also how the Bible describes the anti-Christ’s right hand man.

Next, we need to know what the Bible defines as “good fruit.” Peter tells us in Galatians 5:22-23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I can still cite these by heart. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We sang songs about them in chapel services. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I memorized this verse in high school and constantly measured it against my actions. I wanted to know if I bore good fruit.

Memorization is just repetition. There’s no secret to it. If you put in the time, you get results. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Try to keep those in mind.

Let’s look at some original texts from early America. We’re going to pick fruit and you can judge if it’s good.

You can’t get a much earlier American text than this speech from Chief Powhatan in 1609. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he was the father of Pocahontas. He was the Chief of the native confederacy which gave the original pilgrims permission to settle in Jamestown. Two years after the pilgrims settled in Jamestown, Captain Smith and Chief Powhatan had a disagreement during negotiations. Captain Smith began threatening. This is how the Chief responded:

Why should you take by force that from us which you can have by love? Why should you destroy us, who have provided you with food? What can you get by war?

How did the offer of friendship work out? I think you know the rest of the story.

I’ve often heard people justify America’s expansion into Native territory by saying the Natives were a weaker force and the natural order of things is for stronger groups to overcome weaker groups. I can dispel both arguments with the next quote.

This is an excerpt from Tecumseh’s speech in 1811. He rode through the south, trying to unite the tribes to defend themselves against American advancement. He says:

Brothers– When the white man first set foot on our grounds, they were hungry; they had no place on which to spread their blankets, or to kindle their fires. They were feeble; they could do nothing for themselves. Our father commiserated their distress, and shared freely with them whatever the Great Spirit had given his red children. They gave them food when hungry, medicine when sick, spread skins for them to sleep on, and gave them grounds, that they might hunt and raise corn. -Brothers, the white people are like poisonous serpents; when chilled, they are feeble and harmless; but invigorate them with warmth, and they sting their benefactors to death.

There was a time when the Natives were stronger and more numerous. In the 16th century, the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano described the east coast of North America as “densely populated.” They did not wipe out the settlers. In fact, they offered them food and taught them how to survive in this land.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Another inaccuracy many of us believe is that Native land was taken by force. While some of the land certainly was taken by force, much of it–perhaps even a majority–was taken by trade and treaty. This next speech is the same one I quoted in my previous post. In this excerpt, Chief Joseph asks the US government to return his land to him. He says the government bought it illegally.

Suppose a white man should come to me and say, “Joseph, I like your horses, and I want to buy them.” I say to him, “No, my horses suit me, I will not sell them.” Then he goes to my neighbor, and says to him: “Joseph has some good horses. I want to buy them, but he refuses to sell.” My neighbor answers, “Pay me money, and I will sell you Joseph’s horses.” The white man returns to me, and says “Joseph, I have bought your horses, and you must let me have them.” If we sold our lands to the Government, this is the way they were bought.

A recurring theme through the speeches is that the Natives were pushed off their land by cheating and lies. Our declaration of independence states that all men are created equal, yet early Americans never treated the Natives as such. Sitting Bull himself laments this in his speech here:

What treaty that the whites have kept has the red man broken? Not one. What treaty that the whites ever made with us red men have they kept? Not one. 

And then there are the missionaries and the Christian schools set up to “civilize” the Natives.  Sagoyewatha was a chief among the Iroquois Confederacy. He addresses this cultural assimilation in his speech from 1805, titled “You have got our country, but you are not satisfied; you want to force your religion upon us:”

Brother, we do not wish to destroy your religion or take it from you, we only want to enjoy our own.

Brother, we have been told that you have been preaching to the white people in this place. These people are our neighbors. We are acquainted with them. We will wait a little while and see what effect your preaching has upon them. If we find it does them good, makes them honest and less disposed to cheat Indians, we will consider again what you have said.

Within fifteen years, the Iroquois were forced off their land. Sagoyewatha, needless to say, declined the missionary’s offer.

These were not isolated incidences of cruelty from a few settlers. This was centuries of asphyxiation on the lifeline of the natives, from citizens up to the congress and senate. And, of course, all this time slavery was rampant in the deeply religious south.

What fruit did we find? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? No. We find hate, aggression, greed, violence, deceitfulness, selfishness, and indifference to human suffering. Is this what you want us to believe a Christian nation looks like?

Look, I love my country and I’m proud to be American. But if you want to have any claim to truth, you have to look and be honest about what you see. You have to know your own faults if you want to improve. If you accept that there are false Christians today, then it’s not a stretch to believe the same was true four hundred years ago. Especially in a time when being religious was basically the only choice.

There is no war on Christianity in the USA. Sure, there are some wackos who think all Christians are bad people. But both secular and Christian people agree that they’re wacko. No one wants to dictate how Christians live as long as Christians don’t dictate how the rest of Americans live.

Think of how liberating it would be to look forward instead of behind you. Instead of striving for this mirage of a god fearing nation in the past, focus on making America something we can be proud of today.

We need to stop dividing ourselves over things that don’t matter because there are people right now who need our united attention. Share when you have plenty. Take care of the poor. Protect the weak. Help the helpless. Bear good fruit.

I got something to say about the war on white male authors.

 

A few months ago I was reading through an online forum when I saw a conversation about this article. It’s not necessary that you read through it, it’s an argument I’m sure you’ve heard before. I’ll summarize it for you.

Dana Dusbiber, a high school English teacher in Sacramento, argues that middle schools and high schools should cut Shakespeare out of the curriculum to make room for literature and mythology from more diverse backgrounds. She says Shakespeare is an old white guy in “a canon that some white people decided upon so long ago.” And that canon is full of other old white guys.

The posts in the forums weren’t focused on the merits of Shakespeare in the English literary canon. They were arguing about the much bigger idea that media and academia are biased against white men. This is the part of the argument that I expect you’ve heard before. It comes up as people changing #blacklivesmatter to #alllivesmatter. It comes up as people asking “Why is Africa for Africans, Asia for Asians, but white countries are for everyone?” It comes up as people worrying about white people becoming a minority in the USA.

Since The Civil Rights Movement, there’s been a permeating fear in some white American cultures that they’re under siege and losing the battle. I don’t know enough to say something worthwhile about #alllivesmatter or any of those other things. But because this White-Shrinkage fear has come to literature, now I’ve got something to say.

To be clear from the beginning, I don’t agree that we should completely eliminate Shakespeare studies. His influence is inescapable in English literature. What I’m doing here is explaining why literature classes are becoming more diverse.

First, consider why people read. There are many academic benefits students get from studying literature. There’s a reason it’s a core-class, even if its results aren’t as tangible as math and science. But what’s interesting is that many of us continue reading literature even after graduation. I don’t think any of my friends have picked up a math book, but many have gotten back into reading. What do we get from it?

Literature develops empathy. This is the primary harvest we reap from books. In reading, you are quiet and you listen. You listen as someone opens their mind to you with every story, every word choice, every focused detail. You’re not allowed to interrupt them. It’s as close as you can get to jumping into the mind of another person.

You see, this isn’t about about white-shaming. The focus isn’t on minimizing white, male authors. It’s about showing the true depth of humanity by maximizing representation. And no, this is not hurting white men. Trust me, white men are very much not under-represented. We’re doing fine.

Here’s a specific example of how it works. This example is about Native Americans, but you can extrapolate it onto women, other ethnicities, other religions, or whoever else. Four years ago, I became obsessed with learning about pre-European influence Native American culture.

It started because I got five minutes into Pocahontas–right around to when she’s dashing through a lush paradise and singing to a raccoon–and I thought, “These guys are people, right? There’s no damn way it was like this.” Granted, that’s a Disney movie. But we do have this idea of Native Americans living in a sparsely populated natural paradise, at complete  peace with man and beast. And this is a new idea. Fifty or so years ago, we had the idea that they were all sub-human savages. Both of these theories are empty of humanity.

So I did some research. It was a simple query. I wanted to know what life was like in the Americas before European influence. Here is a summary of what I learned after a night of intense research: Jack shit.

There is an embarrassing lack of research. It’s as if historians thought the continents were in a history-less stasis, waiting to be unfrozen by the arrival of Europeans. And then POOF! History began. There could be entire university classes about each Roman emperor, but you’d struggle to put together a class on the entire Aztec empire before the Spanish showed up. And the Aztecs even had a culture of writing and literature! We can learn about every facet of daily life in ancient Greece almost three thousand years ago, but what about the about the daily lives of the people who helped us found our young nation and are buried under our feet? 

I dug deep and found a few academic books that could help me. The only quality ones I could find were fairly recent. It’s as if we’ve suddenly realized the Natives have stories too.

I dug deeper and read journals of early American settlers. I read accounts of white settlers who were captured and lived among the Natives.

This was all pretty cool, but I still felt like my understanding was foggy. There was a block between me and my intended study subject. It was a white guy (me) reading a white person (the author) telling the story of Native people. I was learning facts about Natives, but not understanding Natives.

A few months ago, I found a book of Native American speeches. It removed the block. Now it’s a white guy (me) reading the words of a Native American person. I’m not just learning facts, I’m connecting with them. They are explaining how life feels to them and I am able to say, “Yes, I know that feeling too.” 

Again, you can take this same idea and apply it to any other group of people. This is the work academia is trying to do. It is not about white-shaming, it is about adapting to globalization. It’s about expanding our idea of humanity to actually include all of humanity. It doesn’t matter how many history books you’ve read, you do not understand someone’s story until they tell it to you. In their own words. 

I’ll leave you with this quote from Chief Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt in 1879. This is just the first paragraph of the speech. You can see the full text here.



My friends, I have been asked to show you my heart. I am glad to have a chance to do so. I want the white people to understand my people. Some of you think an Indian is like a wild animal. This is a great mistake. I will tell you all about our people, and then you can judge whether an Indian is a man or not. I believe much trouble and blood would be saved if we opened our hearts more. I will tell you in my way how the Indian sees things. The white man has more words to tell you how they look to him, but it does not require many words to speak the truth. 

A Whole New TheLegitSmit

We’re going to have a change of pace. Friends have been on my case because I haven’t posted recently. My response is that I’m busy with writing articles, volunteering, and my YouTube channel. While that is true, it’s only part of the truth.

The real issue is that the novelty of being out here has slipped into the normality of being out here. I leave for work at eight. I get home at five. I check Facebook and Youtube, then maybe get some McDonald’s or sushi. What’s there to talk about? Sure, a kid bowed to me instead of waving at me. Woohoo. Maybe I can spin that into a whole post.

The heart of a travel blog is learning about people. Something deep in readers wants to know “Are people there like people here?” The answer: Yeah, they are. My life out here is not that radically different from your life. I doubt life in any major city is much different. This isn’t bad. It’s comforting, really.

I strongly believe that a blog should have a theme and stick to it. But I believe even more strongly that I need to get on my ass and write, as theme-less as I may be. This brings us back to the beginning. We’re going to have a change of pace. 

I’m going to write once a week, and I’m not sure about what. There may not always be something I want to say about Korea, but dammit, I got a lot of things I want to say. Maybe a new direction will emerge for the blog. Maybe not. However, I can at least guarantee you this: The next two posts will hold your attention.