Sunday, January 30, 2005

My People the Sioux

Throughout the stories of his life that Luther Standing Bear relates in My People the Sioux he constantly is comparing and contrasting the life and customs of the Sioux people to those of the white men of the time. One such comparison that I found intriguing was between the religious beliefs of the whites and Luther's people.

I found most of this discussion in the Chapter XII: 'The Sun Dance':

"I learned all about this religion in the natural way, but after learning how to read the white man?s books I compared your religion with ours; but religion, with us Indians, is stronger."
I found this to be quite a bold statement (as are most of the assertions Standing Bear has in this book) and decided to think on the topic.

"Religion" is defined as "a set of beliefs, values, and practices." However, the word "religion" in recent centuries has taken on a certain connotation. It almost implies a level of organization and a tangible set of rules which it's members must prescribe to. I would like to call this sort of religion an "edicted religion" such as Christianity, Judeism, Islam, and Mormonism. But there are also religions that are not dictated by an organization, but somehow culturally understood, transmitted by simple social interaction. An example of this would be Shinto. I would like to call this sort of religion a "cultural religion".

I would say that the Sioux religion falls into my "cultural religion". While I would necessarily say that is a "stronger" sort of religion, as Standing Bear puts it, but I would definitely say that there is some advantage to having such a religion. As long as the religion is regulated by society as a whole, there is no central organization to control it, there is less of a chance that it will become bastardized, abused by those religious figures in power. "We did not commercialize our belief. Our medicine men received no salary." In this way, I would say that the Sioux religion had probably remain more pure and less corrupt than Christianity had over the years.

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