Christianity came to the Pine Ridge reservation as part of a strategy to make the Lakota’s traditional way of life extinct. Most indigenous communities have met this religion over the years as a cultural strip miner, tearing apart communities for the profit of industry. The mortar to prop a society against while smashing them with a pestle of assimilation policies. This is how the Lakota and many others on the oppressed side of imperialism were introduced to the cross.
Christian intermarriage with oppression should come as no surprise to the student of European imperial expansion. The Christian religion has been the psychological battalion of imperial aggression since Constantine. Christianity in the hands of an imperialistic power always serves a culture destroying function. As Vine Deloria once noted, cultural fragmentation and Christian missions go hand in hand:
“While the thrust of Christian missions was to save the individual Indian, its result was to shatter Indian societies and destroy the cohesiveness of the Indian communities. Tribes that resisted the overtures of the missionaries seemed to survive. Tribes that converted were never heard of again.”
Christian missions had a disastrous effect on any Native community they came across. In many ways, Christianity was the opposite of a Midas touch among indigenous lands. The religion turned to utter ruin all that it touched. Many view this Christian cultural destruction as an unfortunate accident of history. It will be argued here and in future posts that cultural destruction was precisely why Christianity was unleashed on indigenous lands. The cultural destruction resulting from Christianity was engineered to pulverize a people until they were weak enough to be absorbed into an imperial power’s underclass.
Christianity’s role is apparent, when we look at the process of colonization.
First, a culture is squeezed by oppression and attrition on all sides. The basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter are restricted by the occupying imperial power. In the vice of deprivation, the people are more susceptible to manipulation.
Some begin to hate their native culture and love the very empire that destroys them in a Stockholm syndrome sort of psychological twistedness. Surrendering the old ways and adapting to the ways of empire is the only path to loosening that bind of attrition. Empires need this psychological manipulation. Christianity is traditionally the harbinger of this manipulation in a European imperial system. It plays the good cop to the imperial military’s bad cop. Like a priest at the end of inquisitional torture, Christianity offers hollow niceties after a culture has taken a horrible beating.
Next, empires need to absorb the broken fragments of the cultures they ravage back into the lower classes of themselves. Empires can only thrive by keeping large quantities of people as cannon fodder for standing armies, baby factories, and worker fuel to shovel into the engines. This underclass is where foreign cultures go after broken by an empire. Christianity has been the prime mechanism through which this process occurred in the new world. It taught previously proud and strong people their new low to the ground place in the system.
By the time it reached the Pine Ridge reservation, the banner of Christianity was already soaked in indigenous blood. It sanctified the brutal enslavement of the Caribbean and South America in pursuit of gold. As Howard Zinn notes of the Arawaks:
“Total control led to total cruelty. The Spaniards “thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades.” Las Casas tells how “two of these so-called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots and for fun beheaded the boys.”
Christianity did innumerable harm to indigenous cultures across the continent, serving its master, the European model of empire. Christianity preached from its pulpits the racist portrayal of the savage, which caused the dehumanization of the American Indian in the colonial mind. The hubris of Christianity can be seen in the way they saw Natives as inferiors in need of their guidance. Christian doctrines of Manifest Destiny and Discovery provided a convenient excuse for a greed that would commit genocide to satisfy its land lust. Numerous massacres, atrocities, war crimes, and the indigenous holocaust of colonial expansion followed. “Nineteenth-century missionaries and their sponsors firmly believed in the linear progression of history and their own elevated place on the ladder of civilization. They clearly understood their charge to be the transformation of Native peoples into Christian citizens” historian Carol Devens notes.
At every turn of the American westward expansion, Christianity was there. Justifying theft and genocide, cheering on the American military as Native cultures were subdued and quarantined on reservations. As one apologist for imperialism said around the turn of the twentieth century:
“No Christian may need have any misgiving at taking part in that awful, yet final, arbitrament in which the issues are left to the determination of the God of Battles” (F.W. Farrar, 1900).
A convenient viewpoint, when technology is on your side. Easy to leave things to the “God of Battles” when you’re aiming a hotchkiss canon and your opponent has a bow and arrow. I would think if this Christian “God of Battles” had any justice in him, things might be settled like a trial by combat in The Game of Thrones, where both opponents at least have equal weaponry. Otherwise, its just an empire advanced in the machines of death, destroying a more peaceful way of life they could never understand.
By the time Christianity came to the Lakota lands, it had become so refined in cruelty that it was no longer confined to barbaric shows of imperialistic force. It had become an efficient system of cultural and psychological oppression. A subject that will be explored in the next several posts on this topic.