Monday, October 22, 2007

A Seat At The Table

Huston Smith is perhaps the foremost American scholar on Comparative Religion today. His book "The World's Religion's", is a classic that combines great insight with readable prose. My admiration for this man, coupled with my interest in Native American thinking, gave me great excitement to read this book. Indeed, I was checking the mailbox as earnestly as the boy in "A Christmas Story" for my x-ray glasses.

Perhaps with such high expectations it is natural that I was somewhat disappointed. Smith never provides the intellectual backbone these interviews needed. Instead of guiding the discussion towards a thoughtful exchange of ideas, it often appears Smith is too eager to assure his guest that he agrees with them. When it is stated that women are naturally more developed spiritually than men, or when Huston's own religion of Christianity is attacked, Smith hardly whimpers. Of course, his silence is primarily due to his tremendous humility and an attempt to hear their opinions. However, I think that the book would have been stronger had he used those opportunities to challenge those conceptions and see where that dialectic would lead.

The most impressive speakers in the collection were Chief Oren Lyons and Winona LaDuke. LaDuke is best known as the Vice-President running mate with Ralph Nader during his Presidential candidacies. Both possess a charisma that stems from their political and theological convictions. I am interested in reading both of their works in the future. Some of the other guests were very simplistic in their "white man-bad" attitudes and I did not learn much from their vague condemnations of American culture. Overall, this book is a good place to start for someone who wants to learn some of the contemporary issues facing Native Americans. If you are interested in learning about Native American theology, I would look somewhere else.

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