Jesus Versus Dwight



A friend passes along a quote from The Soul of the Indian by Charles Eastman. Written in 1911, Eastman, a Sioux Indian and grandson of Chief Cloudman, tries to present true Indian religion. He points out disagreements with Christianity, and why some Indians had problems with the Christianity to which the White Man tried to convert them:


[The Indian] might in time come to recognize that the drunkards and the licentious among white men, with whom he too frequently came in contact, were condemned by the white man’s religion as well, and must not be held to discredit it. But it was not so easy to overlook or to excuse the national bad faith. When distinguished emissaries from the Father at Washington, some of them ministers of the gospel and even bishops, came to the Indian nations, and pledged to them in solemn treaty the national honor, with prayer and mention of their God; and when such treaties, so made, were promptly and shamelessly broken, is it strange that the action should arouse not only anger, but contempt? The historians of the white race admit the Indian was never the first to repudiate his oath. It is my personal belief, after thirty-five years’ experience of it, that there is no such thing as ‘Christian civilization.’ I believe that Christianity and modern civilization are opposed and irreconcilable, and that the spirit of Christianity and of our ancient religion is essentially the same.


Clearly, while there is such a thing as Christians doing civilization, there can be no such thing as a “Christian civilization.”

But what might lead Eastman to the curious view that Christianity and paganism are essentially the same? One explanation is that, like most who generally confuse true religion with false religion, it’s all about law. From Mormonism to Bahá’í, the system really is one of natural religion whereby human creatures work themselves to whatever degrees back to the garden. Whatever diversity might distinguish something like Sikhism from Scientology from Islam from Hinduism, paganism may be said to basically revolve around natural law and knows nothing of super-natural gospel. Another related explanation, the one that seems to be Eastman’s point (however unintended), might concern the legacy of Constantinianism. It seems clear that what Eastman has his finger on is the sort of cultural Christianity that developed in the west ever since Constantine ascended to power and reconciled the two kingdoms. The WASP-y cultural Christianity in which I was reared—as well as the evangelical subculture into which I married— would have found the notion of opposing kingdoms at best obscure and at worst a signal of hostility to the peace of earth. That is because Western religionists across various traditions who want to see the kingdoms stay on friendly terms boil true religion down to something that is useful for nurturing good citizens, otherwise known as false religion. Like Eisenhower said, “ I believe every American should have a religious faith and I don’t care what it is.”  Despite Jesus saying things like he came to divide households, both wine-and-cheese WASPs and tee-totaling evangelicals like that sentiment.

But while Eastman may rightly want to reject the premise of a Christian civilization, he does so for what appears to be the wrong reason, namely, that those who would foist  true religion onto the heathen-pagan-savages did so with all the hypocrisy that universal religion opposes. In other words, the law was broken and undermined the credibility of their claims. But not only is this to miss the simple teaching of Calvinism that sinners sin because they are sinners and not because they are them and not us, it also implies that should the Constantinians have exported cultural Christianity with less duplicity the project would have been more successful. And pagans and Christians would’ve lived in harmony ever after. But the better reason to reject the alleged notion of Christian civilization is that to confuse the kingdoms is tantamount to confusing law and gospel, that to seek to reconcile the left hand kingdom with the right is actually that age-old impulse to make law out of gospel and gospel out of law. After all, if the left hand is ruled by law and the right by grace, wouldn’t it seem that any effort to harmonize the kingdoms one iota is at least in the same ballpark sneaking sanctification into justification?

This entry was posted in Civil religion, Constantinianism, Law/Gospel Distinction, Two-kingdoms. Bookmark the permalink.

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