Without the benefit of anthropology and archaeology it would be difficult indeed to come to North America from Europe in the 19th Century and not wonder where the indigenous people originated. In fact, Europeans imbued with Christian principles and values must have wondered, wherever they went outside of Europe, what could be the origins of all the strange and wondrous human beings they encountered. The clues had to be in the Bible or as logical extensions of ideas expressed in the Bible. They tried hard, but it was tough to deny that indigenous people were not human because they readily mated successfully with European explorers and colonizers all the time. The following is my translation of an excerpt from La Vie de Monseigneur Taché by Dom Benoit. I find it fascinating how the author grapples with the descent of the indigenous people and how these ‘savages’ became so ‘degenerate’. Read on:
On page 47*:
“From whom do the savages descend? They are men therefore they are descendants of Adam. I might add: Noah was their ancestor and Sem their father as the red or American race is mongoloid, differing less from them as Noah’s three sons differ amongst themselves. It is clear that America was populated by peoples from Asia or even from Northern Europe. Everybody knows how easy it would have been to migrate to America from Asia even if the distant wanderings of these travellers were not supported by means any more sophisticated than those of today. This last proposition seems improbable to me; I am convinced that the savages were more civilized at one time than they are now, that they abased themselves by turning away from traditions that connected them to God, just as they will redeem themselves by accepting the teachings that bring them closer to their maker and to their end.
So, the author concludes that the ‘savages’ were no doubt more civilized at one time but because they turned away from the traditions that kept them attached to the teachings of the Church, they became lost to God. Seems reasonable, I guess, but I’d like to see even just a little evidence. Nevertheless, the only rational way that ‘savages’ could be brought back to God, obviously, is by missionary work. What a job they were tasked by God and the Church to do: bring back the godless savages to the bosom of the Church and to God. Further in the book, the author also warns that the situation is urgent and critical because their work could be thwarted by the ‘methodist’ missionaries who were eager to have the ‘savages’ turn against the Church of Rome. Tough competition required urgent measures and an army of priests had to be deployed as soon as possible between the Red River settlement and the Mississippi. That’s when the archbishop of St. Boniface at the time, Msg. Provencher, appealed to Monseigneur de Mazenod, the bishop of Marseilles and founder of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to send as many ‘troops’ as possible for the battle ahead. This was in the middle of the 19th Century, before 1853. Travel was treacherous. It took roughly 8 or 9 weeks depending on the weather to cover the 1400 miles from Montréal to St. Boniface by canoe before the railroad was build a few decades later. War can be hell and there is no doubt that the Oblates were tough and disciplined in their urgent mission to save as many ‘savages’ as they could.
*From: La Vie de Monseigneur Taché, Archevêque de St. Boniface by Dom Benoit, Superior of the Regular Canons of the Immaculate Conception of Canada. Published in a limited edition in 1904 by the Librairie Bauchemin, Montréal, Québec.
3 thoughts on “Prime Directive: Save Them Savages.”
I don’t know anything about Dom Benoit, Roger. I don’t know what his concept of what a “Christian” person actually meant. From what I understand, many missionaries, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, tried to help people to change their lifestyles by changing their behaviour and adopting many of the traditions and “religious exercises” of their particular church. This, however, was not what Christ himself taught or demonstrated in the Biblical accounts of his life. You will remember the story of the Saul, later referred to as the Apostle Paul who persecuted Christians, followers of Christ’s teachings, during his time, because he felt that they were heretics (which is not the same thing as “savages”). Saul was sincere in his intent, and God realized this about him. This is why, on the road to Damascus, he visited Saul in the form of a voice that asked, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” KJV. And he said, “Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: [it is] hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord [said] unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” From that encounter on, Saul (later known as the Apostle Paul), changed his mind, stopped persecuting the followers of Christ, who he thought were misguided, and learned from God, AKA, The Lord, AKA Christ, who really were, as we say in today’s lingo “on the same page.” My understanding the trinity is that it is three manifestations of God the Father – the human being, Jesus Christ, and a spirit being, which is also the embodiment of God, who Christ taught his disciplies about. When Christ was discipliing his 12 followers, he was a human friend to them in a similar way to that which you have been to your students. However, before he was criticized, which He knew was going to happen, he told the 12 men that after he left them He would send to them the third form of himself to be their comforter and guide, the Holy Spirit, who would never leave them at any time. The Holy Spirit can be understand as the spiritual form of Christ who is “omnipresent, omniscient, and embodies the personhood of Christ who can be called upon at any time for wisdom, insight, assistance in speech, assistance in writing (not to be confused with automatic writing, because our brains are involved in the process). I would say to give us enlightenment as we write.The Holy Spirit is definitely not “spooky” but as Jesus said, a comforter for us. The Holy Spirit is in the world for anyone who needs help. When others pray for us, often the Holy Spirit will enlighten our minds to understand what we struggle to understand and somehow we find a way to heal from our past hurts and our current tragedies in life. God has a way to heal people and it is not always through doctors, psychiatrists etc (especially in the emotional realm).
I would like to share an expierince I had when I gave birth to Graham in 1973 in Alert Bay. I have been searching for comfort after the loss of my dear father and, because dad read the Bible, and was that I understand to be a true Christian person (someone who believed in Christ’s basic teachings and made a life choice to follow Christ’s teachings on how to live life, as well as others in the Bible, of course, especially the disciples, the epistles of Paul, Timothy, John and others, and the Psalms and Proverbs as for wisdom and comfort, at about the age of 50 as a matter of fact, not that he lived in an unchristian manner prior to that, but he decided to really look into the Bible for himself father than just going along with the good parts of what his parents taught him from the Bible.I felt a terrible lonelness and void for dad, more than mom, actually. Mom filled a need and could still be contacted as she was still alive, but there was a huge abyss after dad was killed.
Anyway, to get back to the point, When Graham was born, our church had been studied the Holy Spirit and we were encouraged by Bibilcal teaching to decide that we needed to believe that Christ’s death on the cross was adequate and was God’s only plan to turn people from people who didn’t have a close relationship with God (I had one before, because I sincerely spoke to God in prayer when I was troubled and asked for his help with my school exams when I was nervous about them, and to thank God for my family members and ask him to bless my friends) but it didn’t go beyond that, as I always felt that I might not be “good enough” to get the REWARD of eternal life for believing that Christ’s shed blood with grant me that, even if I failed to obey God or to be all I could have been each day to please God, my judge, as well as my Heavenly Father. In short, I have an insecurity about my value to God.
I made an appointment to speak with my then pastor and his wife in Sointula and they directed me to say a prayer telling God I trusted in his provision for my salvation and eternal life and for God’s adoption of my as one of his own children for life. I did that, and I felt relieved that I was accepted by God on this basis, not on my human efforts to behave acceptably in God’s eyes. I never was too concerned about what church people thought of me, as I felt I have been well brought up with good manners and to be honest, responsible, pleasant etc.
I diverse again, but in the hospital, I had time to think and we have been discussing the Holy Spirit and our need to ask the person of the Holy Spirit (manifestation of Christ) to fill my heart with Christ’s spirit. NOW THIS MAY SOUND VERY SPOOKY, and PERHAPS a bit KOOKY, but I assure you, the only thing people noticed about me what the Holy Spirit descended on me in that St. George’s hospital bed after my prayer of request was a very strong emotion of being loved by God, like a flood of warm loving feelings came over me.
When I returned home, I grabbed the New Testament and started to read it and things that I never understood before started to come clear to me and I felt energized to live a more caring and braver life, especially in my relationships with people. I was never shy before, but my mom had put a lot of social taboos on my about what I should discuss with people and what I should not – finances, religion, politics, you know the usual types of things. This is probably why I loved attending university courses so much – there was was encouraged to study about and discuss these previously forbidden topics. I later learned that such topics often came up in large families over meals and upset people’s stomachs etc. when there were disagreements. My grandparents (Ross side) attempted to keep some semblance of peace at dinner time.
In summary, Roger, the previous few paragraphs are my attempt to inform you what my personal experience with God has been and since that encounter with God, which was very real to me, and I have had about four since during times of need for direction or wisdom,
This, to me, is essentially what becoming a Christian believer is all about. It is NOT about attending every church service offered to a congregation, paying tithe money, performing traditional rituals (Christ spoke against the later, as well), but about having a “relationship” to our creator (where He involved evolutionary processes later on, which I suspect He did). Relationship that is “in the closet” most of the time, but which should manifest in the Christian believer kindkness, understanding, compassion, love (agape (unconditional), Philadelphia (brotherly), Eros (sexually) and Storge (family love).
Through a loving relationship with God and with our family and friends, we grow into better human beings. (Not to say that we can’t go astray, but with a network of friends and family who care about us, we are usually directed back to a healthier lifestyle).
My I encourage you, Roger, to try to resolve your concerns about the church leaders over 150+ years ago and focus more on positive attitudes of current day Christians?
Perhaps your missionary guest might offer you some useful things to discuss and consider and perhaps answer some of your questions.
If you can come to recognize that the Biblical Christ is a person that you can see as a representative of the creator of all the beauty in this planet – nature, landscapes etc, and the kind people around you and you can not sweat it too much about all the intellectual objections some have raised, you will get to know God through Christ and find a deeper peace in your heart.
It seems to me as you are still wrangling with these topics, otherwise, I don’t think you would be reading these books at this stage in your life.
Remember, life is short. I don’t think you have to fear death, but I would love to see you get past your objections to the organized churches and revisit the New Testament.
It seems to me that you are a good husband, father, grandfather, and human being likely greatly due to the subconscious infusion of the Christian way of living and loving demonstrated to you by your parents.
I understand that you have the best of intentions in writing this comment, but I think you’ve misinterpreted the intent of my blog post. I will clarify that in a post soon. More seriously, however, you make it abundantly clear that you know nothing about me and your counsel for me to come to know the Biblical Christ is highly misguided. Your life experience may have led you to an experience with Christianity as you see it, but my life experience including all the research and reading I’ve done over the past 45 years has led me to see Christianity as just another idiomatic way of coming to terms with life and death. I don’t see the Bible as having any lessons for me on how to lead my life. I don’t see any evidence for the existence of a sentient creator. I know that this isn’t going to satisfy you, but that’s not my problem.
In terms of my studies of societies past and present, that’s my life’s work. I find the way people love and hate to be especially interesting in terms of understanding how social structure works and how groups maintain solidarity especially in the face of ‘the other.’ In doing research on the missions of the 19th Century in Western Canada, I’m not, as you write, trying to resolve my concerns about the church leaders of 150 years ago any more than my study of Greek mythology would mean that I was somehow trying to come to terms with ancient Greek religion. I see their actions and their writings as evidence for a much broader understanding of how the world works.
Obviously I don’t have time to explain to you in detail why I’m not a Christian nor an adherent to any other religious ideology, or why I have the views that I do. It’s taken me 45 years of intensive study to come to my current views of the world. I’m quite content with where I am with regards to my knowledge of how the world works. I don’t need any advice on how to lead my life or on what to read. Finally, although I appreciate that you see me as being a good person, how you explain how I have come to be a good person is way off base. There’s no doubt that my parents had some influence on me. That stands to reason, but it’s much more complex than how you attempt to explain it.
I suspected you might feel this way. We all have the freedom to make choices with our lives. It is clear that you have made your choice. I was thinking after I wrote this commentary that I see things quite differently from you and also pondered contacting you to suggest that if you felt you didn’t want to post my commetary, I would understand and respect that. It’s good that we can be friends despite our different views.
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