God is Red

Vine Deloria Jr., God is Red: A Native View of Religion, (Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 1973; 30th Anniversary Edition, 2003).

Deloria - God is Red
I think this may be the third time I have read this book. Each reading offers a different perspective. 1973 was the year of my marriage. It was the year of the Wounded Knee uprising. Things were different. Vine Deloria Jr. was a wonderfully brilliant man who had studied a lot of different topics. The variety of subjects with which he had a working knowledge was impressive. He also was a very good writer. Perhaps that is why so many other authors wanted Vine Deloria, Jr. to write a forward to their book.

Of course the book reveals that some of the subjects about which he had some knowledge were not fully explored. He knew, but was not an expert on many topics. His characterization of Christians as being concerned with history over space and Native Americans as concerned with sacred place over time is an exaggeration and doesn’t hold up in practice. If places weren’t sacred to more than one group of people, conflict might not be as intense. His exploration of “Natural” and “Hybrid” peoples is based on pseduo-science that has been proven to be inaccurate. His anger is a bit misplaced in today’s world.

Still there is much that he reveals about Christianity that is true. There are parts of our identity that are accurately assessed. And he does offer a perspective that is helpful in understanding some of the tensions that characterize the people of South Dakota today.

The fresh discovery of this reading however, ended up being a disappointment. I had previously believed that Vine Deloria Jr. was an expert on Lakota Spirituality. I now realize that he is not. His book reveals very little understanding of native religion. Perhaps the paternalistic cultural and religious impositions of the missionaries took so much away from native people that Vine Deloria Jr. simply didn’t know the native ways of religion.

He is a brilliant writer. Not many books merit repeated reading. This one does.