Note 3: Origen: A Mysterious Virtue. 5/31/99
Early attempts to explain the concept of sacrifice in Christian ideology, like the one articulated by Origen in Chapter 31 of his disputation against the heresy of Celsus (Against Celsus), put forth the notion that there was a natural virtue inherent in created reality, a virtue incorporated by God in His creation of the world, as it were, which held that a "just man" who willingly and voluntarily died for the sake of the "common good" would remove the "wicked spirits" from the world that were the cause of plagues and tempests and other "similar calamities." Origen puts the idea in the following words:
"For it is probable that there is in the nature of things, for certain mysterious reasons which are difficult to be understood by the multitude, such a virtue that one just man, dying a voluntary death for the common good, might be the means of removing wicked spirits, which are the cause of plagues, or barrenness, or tempests, or similar calamities." (Against Celsus, Chapter 31)
The most compelling aspect of this statement, from a native American point of view, concerns the fact that Origen has appropriated a fundamental ground of animistic philosophy, although considerably misunderstood in his articulation of it, and has thoroughly mixed it together with other ideas and concepts that have little to do with the ground on which his edifice rests. Origen's strategy here, whether fully conscious or not, and there is always reason to question how deliberate this kind of ideological interanimation actually is, was prompted by the need early Christianity had to make its message relevant to the concerns of existing religious and spiritual perceptions of reality. The animistic spiritualism of the heathen and barbaric tribes of Europe, which were similar to the belief systems of the tribal people of north Africa, where Origen actually lived (Alexandria), embraced the notion that everything in the world was animated by various kinds of spirit-power. A basic misperception, one which seems always to have existed in the minds of people given to the ideology of logocentric creationism, mistakes spirit as a cause of various kinds of natural phenomena. In this context, if you remove the cause of disease (the "wicked" spirit that produces it), you also remove the disease itself. If you remove the cause of bad weather, in the spirit that produces it, you prevent the storm which threatens your life.
This tendency of early Christian thinkers to mix what are basically incompatible ideas to forge a theology that would appeal to animistic people, the heathen and barbaric people of Europe (as they were perceived by Greek, Roman, Jewish, and Christian theologians), was meant to make the task of converting them to Christian ideology easier and more effective. In this particular case, if you can convince a "primitive" thinker that Christ's sacrifice, once and for all time, removes the "wicked" spirit that causes disease and storms, and other similar catastrophes, and then tie that removal and obliteration to the obligation of necessity the convert has of remaining steadfast in the new faith ("if you backslide into your old ways, the disease will come back, the storms will return"), then you have accomplished the dual purpose of converting the heathen to the faith and have given him/her a vividly compelling reason to remain faithful to the newfangled conceptualization of reality, all of which remains relatively fixed in the framework of his/her previous ideology. When the disease and storms return, of course, you can always make the claim that the convert was not pure in his/her adherence to the precepts of the new faith. In other words, you can easily shift the blame from natural force, which no religion can control, to the originally sinful state in which the convert perversely continues to live.
In native American belief systems, in the first place, spirits do not cause disease or storms. The spirit itself is the manifestation of the effect. A tornado, for instance, is not caused by a spirit which has some kind of dominion over that particular type of storm. Concepts of dominion are Eurocentric and have been derived from the logocentric discourse of creationist ideology. God creates tornados. God sends them to punish sinners. God wills that they strike down churches on Palm Sunday or Good Friday for some mysterious reason that is "difficult to be understood by the multitude." A tornado is a spirit which exists in and of itself and is not caused by any agent, divine or otherwise, whatsoever. Tornados occur when cold, dense masses of air override warm, moist, tropical air masses and the interaction between the two contrary types of air masses, one falling toward the earth and the other rising upward from it, generate a windshear along the borderland between them which turns into a violently spinning vortex of spirit-power that will kill you if you don't get out of its way.
Native Americans, of course, did not have a technical, scientific understanding of tornados (until recently) but knew perfectly well that, at certain times of the year and in certain places along the corridor now known as "tornado-alley," in the middle of which white people built Oklahoma City, it was unwise, foolhardy, even literally insane, to try to live there during the months of February, March, April, May, and June, when tornados are most likely to occur in that region. Put another way: there was a reason why the plains tribes of native America were nomadic--that is, they were neither stupid nor crazy enough to believe it was possible to build permanent dwellings in tornado-alley. Guess what--if you ask the people around Oklahoma City right now about how permanent their houses were, somewhere around 10,000 will tell you--not very. In terms of Eurocentric concepts of reality, and in terms of what Origen teaches us about that reality, the best remedy is to rebuild a new house on the same lot so that all the new structures can be blown away again next year or ten years from now.
The idea that Christ's sacrifice somehow naturally obliterated the "wicked spirits" that are responsible for creating tornados and directing their paths of destruction, not toward, but away from the righteous and faithful Christian, is precisely the kind of idea that encourages Europeans to commit and recommit the same crimes against rational modes of living that endanger themselves and contribute to the needless destruction of the environment that has always characterized their passage through the world. Rebuilding on a flood-plain, in tornado-alley, on an earthquake fault, in the simple-minded belief that God will protect you from natural forces that are stronger than anything (wo)man can build, accomplishes nothing more than a deliberate waste of non-renewable resources and the ultimate destruction of an entire global eco-system. Native American belief systems teach exactly the opposite lesson, that spirit exists, that it cannot be gotten rid of by the actions of "just men" sacrificing themselves for the "common good" because the spirit called "tornado" is no more nor less "wicked" than any other natural force. The only wickedness to be found in the rubble-fields left in the wake of tornados exists in the voices of the good Christians and true who insist, against all reason, that they intend to rebuild what "God" took away from them in His mysterious way when He sent the tornado down their street instead of down some other.
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