Note 3: Revilo P. Oliver: Christianity: Religion of the West. 8/21/99
Revilo P. Oliver's assertion that Christianity is truly a religion that can only be appropriated and appreciated by the whiteman, while a notion that might deserve scrutiny to test its essential validity, especially on the ground where he formulates his reasons for saying so, is nevertheless an opinion that draws no objections from my personal point of view even if my reasons for saying so tend to be the obverse of the ones he articulates in his favor. For instance, Oliver claims that Christianity could not be "exported" to tribal or indigenous people by the Europeans who possessed it as a true expression of their superiority because
"When the missionaries invented systems of writing the crude languages of the primitives, they had also to invent words to express such concepts as 'God', 'soul,' 'justice,' 'morality,' and 'religion' -- invent them by either creating new words or by perverting to such meanings sounds that in the native jargons conveyed impressions that were faintly and remotely analogous."
The profound misunderstanding of native languages that this passage voices can be attributed as much to Oliver's ignorance of their substance as it can to the simple fact that he must say things like this in order to justify his profound and undying hatred of everything that reflects the values of the other back into the face of his whiteman's belief in the Eurocentric right to dominate the native world he covets but does not own. His is a voice reaching out in lament, one hardly ever concerned with truth, much less with comprehension, from the vision of a ruined empire in which Europeans always already fancied themselves so perfectly powerful in their right to rape and murder people of color at will that they never had to fear the hand of "justice" and "morality" they so blithely claim never even existed in native languages but had to be invented for them by the rapists and murderers who sold them into slavery when all other value had been extracted from their flesh. That native languages do not have words for "God," "soul," and "religion," stems from the fact that such concepts exist only to justify the rape and pillage on which that dying empire was built. Native people do not need "God," "soul," and "religion," because we do not delude ourselves into believing that we have a right to appropriate whatever the other owns or has or controls to satisfy our greed for material wealth and possession. We do not accept the notion of dominion at all. Oliver puts it this way:
"So long as we of the West held unquestioned dominion over the whole earth, we permitted ourselves to assume that our civilization in general, and our religion in particular, could be exported and made universal. We did not sufficiently observe that talent for mimicry is common to all human beings and indeed to all anthropoids; that all human beings stand in awe of those who have power over them; and that a genius for dissimulation and hypocrisy is hereditary in the most intelligent Orientals."
He is discussing here the failure of natives everywhere to be successfully converted to Christianity, a failure he ultimately attributes to the fact that Europeans did not realize in time that their subjugated inferiors were only pretending, through a "mimicry" that even monkeys can simulate, to accept a religious ideology meant to define them as slaves to rapists and murderers in the first place. As noted elsewhere in this document, native Americans specifically, and most other tribal people in general, do not have words for things like "God" and "soul" because our belief systems do not include concepts associated with hierarchical structures derived from creationism, on the one hand, and the idea that the domination of one person over the fate of another is a necessary condition of human life, on the other. We have always left delusions of this sort to the arrogance of Eurocentric ideologies.
A common enough feature of most Christian discourse, and especially of those branches of it that are predominantly hate-oriented, is the tendency to attribute the sin that you, yourself, are most guilty of committing to the other. When Oliver argues here, for instance, that native people ("Orientals") have a positive "genius for dissimulation and hypocrisy," one that is "hereditary" and not learned, he is actually describing his own discourse; that is,
"The Aztecs, Tepanecs, and other natives accepted Christianity, not because their hearts were touched by alien and incomprehensible doctrines of love and mercy, but because it was the religion of the White men whose bronze cannon and mailclad warriors were invincible."
The question here, of course, that always already arises is precisely why it is that people intent on spreading an ideology of "love and mercy" find it necessary, even indispensable, to show up on your shores, without any prior or extensive knowledge of who you are and how you might be inclined to behave toward the other, armed to the teeth with "bronze cannon and mailclad warriors" who are perceived by your own admission to be "invincible." The answer to the question turns around the fact that the Spaniard's, who Oliver characterizes as "ruthless," and therefore better than your average Christian, did not really come to America to spread a doctrine of "love and mercy" at all but came only to plunder the wealth of the continent from under the corpses of those who inhabited it. He even admits as much when he notes that
"When Cortes and his small but valiant band of iron men conquered the teeming empire of the Aztecs [and] slew the Aztec priests at their own altars and toppled the Aztec idols from the sacrificial pyramids . . . he was immediately followed by a train of earnest missionaries, chiefly Franciscans, who began to preach the Gospel to the native[s]."
In other words, the conversion of the natives to Christianity was only an afterthought of the religious who followed in the wake of the conquering army whose only thought was for the gold native people used as decoration, being too stupid apparently to recognize its value as money, and hence did not deserve to have or keep any of it themselves in the first place. Oliver's reference to the "sacrificial pyramids," of course, is meant to demonstrate that the Spaniard's, who only murder anyone for profit, were engaged in doing only good deeds of Christian charity when they butchered the "priests" who held a brutal sway over the hapless citizens of the Aztec nation. The Spaniard's, it seems, were bent on protecting the weak and innocent masses from the evil designs of their overlords. All these concepts of dominion and power over the other, however, that are so ubiquitously employed by Oliver to describe native culture belong to Christian creationism and not to native American animistic belief and practice. One can even argue on the strength of historical reality that the only reason the Spaniards took exception to native America rituals of sacrifice was because every dead native was useless to them as a slave.
Oliver's need to vilify the native, especially in the context of Christian missionary ideology, eventually turns to its most renowned and steadfast example in support of the brutal suppression of native cultural values that Europeans have always already employed to justify the eventual extinction of entire tribes of native people--to the ubiquitous example of cannibalism:
"On many a shore of Africa, for example, missionaries eager to "win souls for Christ" ventured to land alone, and the aborigines, after mutilating and torturing them for a good communal laugh, ate them, cooked or raw according to the custom of the local cuisine."
While I cannot speak directly for my African brothers and sisters, except to take note of the fact that animistic practices are little changed from continent to continent the world over, I do know for a fact, as I have reported elsewhere in this discourse (Cabeza de Vaca, for instance), that the only documented instances of cannibalism that occurred in the seventeenth century in the Western hemisphere happened when Europeans ate each other in order to survive the fact that they came here without first bothering to learn how to feed themselves. According to de Vaca, when the natives learned of the European predilection for human flesh, they became so outraged at the barbarity of the act that the noble Spanish adventurer feared they would murder him and his remaining companions to rid their land of such abomination. Here again, of course, Oliver is simply attributing to the other the sin he himself fears he will one day be forced to commit out of dire necessity to survive at any cost.
A final assertion one can associate with Eurocentric racism, not just because Oliver cannot resist saying it, but because it has always already appeared in virtually every discourse written by a European about the native other, concerns the fact that certain kinds of artifacts, which European anthro(a)pologists argue must be present in a culture before it can be classified as "civilized," routinely fail to appear in native tribal nations. Oliver puts it more harshly than most other "experts" in the field do, but his overt racist ideology does not conceal any of the intent this statement means to convey in whatever context one might happen to find it:
"they [insert any tribal name] were congenitally incapable of inventing a wheel and even of using one without supervision -- [and therefore belong to] races that could not develop for themselves even the first and simplest preliminaries of a civilization."
This is a claim routinely leveled against the necessity of including Mayan civilization among the ranks of what Europeans define as civilized nations. It is true, of course, that the Mayas never did develop or use wheels in any part of their territory with the single exception of the ones that were found attached to the toys of their children. The problem with a criterion of this sort as a measure of whether a culture is civilized or not depends entirely on how useful the implement would be in the actual environment where the people who do not have it live and work. In a mountainous rainforest, for instance, where the only level ground in sight is a swampland, having and using wheels would require that half the population be available to carry them around on their backs because there is virtually no other way to get one from one place to another. While I have no doubt that Europeans do, and always have, carried wheels into swamps and rainforests, as a measure of their superior intelligence when compared to the native people who do not, in this particular case it seems more appropriate to suggest that the wheels natives cannot use without European supervision are little more than symbolic manifestations of how ill-equipped "civilized" people are when they venture out into the real world of the others' domain. Put more directly: only a fool of a white racist would take a wheel into a swamp believing he could do something other than carry it around with him until he got back out again to a place where he might be able to roll it along the ground.
Another way of looking at this same circumstance is to recognize that the Mayas did invent a wheel, but because it could not be used for any constructive purpose on the ground, converted it into the most sophisticated astronomical calendrical system that any human society has ever devised. Of course, it goes without saying that a use of wheels as intellectually subtle as the one the Mayas found for them would be lost on an intellect like the one Revilo P. Oliver displays in his hate-mongering denigration of tribal people. His is a futile effort to make himself appear to be their spiritual master, since he cannot even recognize how the Mayas did in fact use the wheel to an advantage Oliver cannot begin to comprehend. Casting himself out on a ground to be their better, all he actually accomplishes is to make it positively clear how much he is just another mass-murderer working as well as he can manage to annihilate their culture altogether. That he fails, even rather miserably at that, to accomplish his goal, only demonstrates all over again why it has always been necessary for Europeans to build themselves up at the expense of the other.
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