Old Moon

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Looking for a Better Analogy

I just received a much-forwarded email relating a supposed Cherokee tradition/legend. To boil it down, it tells of a rite of passage to manhood for Indian boys.

A boy must spend a night in the woods blindfolded without removing the blindfold until dawn is bright enough to shine through it. He is naturally afraid of many awful possibilities alone in the dark in the forest. When dawn comes, and he removes the blindfold, he sees his father sitting close by, where he has been keeping watch all night to ensure his son's safety.

It's a nice story. It is meant (according to the text that follows) to reassure us that though we can't see God, he is nearby. So, you may ask, what's my problem?

The message is lavishly illustrated with pictures of an Indian boy and his father, and later images of a more venerable native American. What really annoyed me at first was the fact that all the costumes and decorations depicted are those of Plains Indian tribes: breastplate of bird bones, eagle-feather war bonnets, beaded amulet, etc. I doubt if any Cherokee at the time before the Trail of Tears had even imagined such regalia. It seems that is just plain disrespectful--of both tribal groups, and by extension, of anyone outside the author's limited acquaintance.

If we want to use the history of our predecessors on this continent to illustrate Christianity, (if I don't mistake the author's intent) it seems to me that at least we should respect those whose traditions we use to turn into our own allegory. I happen to think that political correctness has become as silly as its absence was insulting. Now we have an example like this one (not the only one I've observed) of an attitude that implies less respect and more ignorance than ninety-nine percent of what we used to see before "PC."

This is quite apart from what might be construed as real hypocrisy in the appropriation of a convenient analogy from a completely different cultural foundation. Why couldn't the person who wanted so much to make a religious point have chosen a more appropriate and honestly respectful basis for the sermon?