Puritan Vs. Native Americans Essay, Research Paper
A Comparison of Native American Religious Writing to Early Puritan Writings.
The Native Americans like every other civilization in the known world have creation stories. These creation stories basically tell the origins of the world as the they know it. For the Native Americans these stories were passed down orally, they did not keep written records of the stories. These oral stories are in some sense the Native American version of the bible. It was a way of thinking and perceiving the world around them. It provided answers to why things happened the way they did and it gave the Native American a sense of morality. Although Native Americans often participated in warfare, they did it with a sense of honor and being not commonly employed by their Caucasian counterparts. As a whole Native American culture is a thing of beauty, celebrating not only the physical world around them but also the spiritual. They did not believe in a single deity ruling over them, but instead used myths and teachings about the Great Spirit to explain things. The Great Spirit was in essence Mother Nature. It was akin to the force in Star Wars in the sense that it was a part of all of us, from the smallest insect to the mightiest war chief. It was not a benevolent spirit nor was it a spirit of hatred. Rather it was a neutral entity. Life and death moved in the same circle.
When the pilgrims first landed at Plymouth Rock they saw a foreign land filled with red skinned savages. These savages were of course the Native Americans. In general the pilgrims did not understand the Native Americans and deemed them heathens or devils. How is it that a group of people so proud of nature and beautiful of spirit could be outcast and maligned by the Pilgrims? One answer might be that the Pilgrims were in a unknown land and had to shut themselves off from the Native Americans. This might be true but I look to the writings and teachings of the religious leaders. The way of God was the only way during these times. While some preached of a true God of love and justice, most preached of a capricious God who delighted in the suffering of all those who were not of the Christian faith or of the Caucasian Race. This led to an continued intolerance of the Native Americans and eventually lead to the destruction of their proud and beautiful culture. Even today the Native Americans are the single most downtrodden minority in the United States.
The writings and teachings of Jonathan Edwards and Cotton Mather tend to bolster my arguments. While both men strived for good it was the way they went about interpreting and teaching this goodness that was flawed. Cotton Mather for example played a hand in the Salem witch trials. Under the pretense of allowing the cleansing of people who were associated with the devil, he let numerous people be put to death under his watch:
For my own part, I was not present at any of them; nor ever had I any personal prejudice at the persons thus brought upon the stage; much less at the surviving relations of those persons, with for whom I would be as hearty a mourner as any man living in the world: The Lord comfort them! (Mather 376)
While this sounds like a man strong of thought and moral conviction Mather then goes on to condemn people based on nothing more than superstitious nonsense and forced confessions. It is easy to turn a blind eye to plight of others and stay pious when you are blessed by the God. To top this off the following statement ends the Trial of Martha Carrier: Memorandum. This rampant hag, Martha Carrier, was the person of whom the confessions of the witches, and of her own children among the rest, agreed that the devil had promised her she should be the Queen of the Hebrews (Mather 379). This is a blatant attempt to associate the Jewish people with devil worship and yet another example of the intolerance of the Christian faith.
This theme of intolerance is furthered by the writing of Jonathan Edwards. Edwards was yet another man who thought he taught the true teachings of God. Supposedly this was a God of beauty and caring, the one being who created everything in the universe. So why is it that some of his most important and poignant writings deal with the maliciousness and hatred of Gods towards his very own creations? Edwards Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God was a sermon delivered in the town of Enfield in the state of Connecticut on July 8, 1741 (Norton Anthology 474). It was a sermon preaching the hate and power of a vengeful and whimsical God. In Gods own words he explains what will happen to sinners: I will tread them in mine anger, and will trample them in my fury, and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my rainment (Edwards 482). Do these sound like the words of a caring loving God? I do not think so. Edwards goes on to say:
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: His wrath towards you burns like fire; He looks upon you as a worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire; He is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in His sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in His eyes than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. (Edwards 480)
This only furthers my point about the religous writings of the time. It sounds to me like this God is a far worse entity than Satan could ever strive to be. What kind of God would treat his own creations such? Jonathan Edwards even goes on to condemn members of his own congregation (Edwards 485).
If you compare these writings to those of the Native Americans oral narratives you find a much different story. If you look at the various Trickster tales of the Native Americans you will find a much different way of teaching. The Native Americans teach not through the preachings of hellfire and blood, but through the use of light-hearted stories that tell us how things are. A good example of this is the story about the Coyote, or Trickster, creating fishing taboos. The story starts off with Coyote spearing some silverside salmon. Later on Coyote returns to find that the silverside salmon have disappeared. Angered Coyote takes a shit and begins talking to it!
He took a shit,
he said to his shit,
why have those silversides disappeared? (N.A. 142)
The shit then replies:
Oh, you have no sense,
When silversides are caught,
when they are first caught,
they must not be cut up. (N.A 142).
Can you imagine if this scene took place in the Bible? Imagine Daniel talking to his own shit in the lions den.
Even when the Native Americans teach about seemingly horrible subjects such as the Owlwoman and Coyote story, they are done in a manner that teaches. This is a far cery from the Christian manner of hellfire and brimstone. While these kind of stories could be one of the reasons that the Puritans of the New World thought the Native Americans to be savages it is interesting to note that in many ways the Puritans and their kin where much more barbaric and savage than any Native American. This intolerance of beliefs and ways of life different from their own is one of the many reasons why I detest many forms of religious teachings and writings.
In comparing the religious writing of the Native Americans and Puritans you find a very different outlook upon life. On one hand you have the Native American, free of spirit and belief. On the other you have the writings of hatred and hell by the Puritans. When reading these writings you realize that it was justified to kill and destroy in the name of God. But isn’t it written in the Ten Commandments that Thou Shall Not Kill? I guess all is excused by using the name of God as an excuse. It is easy to see why the Puritans of that time looked upon anyone who was different from themselves as witches or devils who deserved to burn in hell with these kinds of people at the heads of the pulpits and altars.
I do admit that I am judging these people using my own standards and beliefs, but todays writings and teachings of hate, such as the KKK and the Nazi credo are descended from those very beliefs. Nowhere in the readings do you find the Native Americans broaching these kinds of subjects. This is why I take such a harsh stance against the Puritan writers and their ilk.
Michelson, Bruce, 5th ed. The Norton Anthology: American Literature. New York: W.W. Norton and Company,1998, 1994, 1989, 1985, 1979.