Spirit And Resistance – Political Theology And American Indian Liberation
George E. Tinker
Fortress Press; Minneapolis
115 pages, notes, index
Spirit and Resistance is an instructive essay in the dialogue between Christians and Native Americans. It serves as a much needed corrective both to mythical views of the subjugation of the Native Americans as well as critiquing the New Age appropriation of Native American beliefs, traditions and ceremonies. Professor Tinker, who teaches at the Iliff School of Theology, expresses himself lucidly and forcefully. His book is written “as an act of defense and resistance to the continuing colonization of Indian peoples in North America.”
Tinker calls the American people (churches) to review their false reading of Native American history and traditions. These false readings have produced a lack of awareness with regard to the appropriation of Native traditions precisely in that the West has been subjected to dualism whereas Native traditions participate in what can be termed communal/wholeness worldviews. Tinker takes great pains to elucidate just how the western notion of the individual, the autonomous ego encourages greed and envy. This will to greed and envy is what will eventuate in the ‘empire-making mythology’ of American expansionism.
Layering his text with both personal reminiscences and objective historical examples, Tinker is able to provide a tapestry that demands repentance. Challenging notions of Native identity (the blood % question) quantified by the ruling elite, Tinker elaborates four basic differences that set apart Native from non-Native cultures: spatiality (not temporality) as a general frame of reference, attachment to particular lands or territories, the priority of the community over the personal and a consistent notion of the interrelatedness of humans and the rest of creation. Those acquainted with mimetic theory already have a significant clue as to how this may play out.
After laying the groundwork for the significant differences between Native thought and ‘the white virus’, Tinker turns his attention to those within and without Native communities that have appropriated Native traditions for profit. His is merciless in his criticism of those who have sold out their Native heritage and pitiless toward those who seek what they cannot and will not find in pretending to adopt Native ways. Throughout his critical appraisal Tinker notes the damage that ‘individualism’ has done to Native life and lifestyles.
Finally, Tinker seeks to read the New Testament through a Native lens, taking up Jesus’ notion of the ‘basileia tou theou’ and querying whether western notions of temporality have not hidden the most powerful aspects of Jesus’ teaching. The notion of ‘basileia’ is ‘radically disjunctive for any American Indian reader or listener quite beyond the inherent sexism of the usual ‘kingdom’ translation, simply because Indian peoples in North America never functioned with political systems that included hegemonic monarchs…the only possible analogue for the notion of ‘basileia’ might be the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the U.S. War Department.”
The adoption of a Native perspective on ‘basileia’ begins with the creation, the entire creation as the realm of God, thus it is not the when of the kingdom as much as the where that is important. Turning to ‘basileia’ in the Markan gospel, Tinker concludes that the spatiality of the metaphor is far more essential than it’s temporality, a conclusion reached by many contemporary researchers on the historical Jesus. ‘Basileia tou theou’ is then “a creation metaphor imaging ideal harmony and balance…hence the ideal world to which Jesus points in the gospels is precisely the realization of the proper relationship between the Creator and the created in the real, spatial world of creation.” Lastly, ‘repentance’ (metanoia) is given its initial thrust found in the Hebrew Prophets of ‘return’, a return to the imaged creation of the Genesis narratives, a return to the land as promise, to the earth as our Mother.
Spirit and Resistance marks a new foray into reading the Scriptures from the perspective of the ‘fourth world’, the view from truly indigenous populations. Unlike theology done from the perspective of the third world, capitalism and individualism, property and wealth are not to be seen as signs of success, but rather of failure to hear the prophetic voice of God in Christ. Tinker’s work will likely satisfy few, yet it his analysis is quite powerful and meshes well with trends in 21st century theological discourse.
.For those engaged with the application of mimetic theory, Spirit and Resistance is most notable for its consistent critique of what Girard calls the ‘romantic lie’, that is the notion of the individual ego, the autonomous self. Tinker’s insistence that community grounds individuality is most applicable to the deconstruction of much modern christian theology and demands contemporary christianity revalue not only its corporate character but also its relation to the cosmos, particularly the unique planet we call Earth.