American Literature Week 20 Jesus and Native Americans

Prompt: “Did the Gettysburg Address use Christian language and imagery to support the Union cause?”

Much of Abraham Lincolns language in the Gettysburg Address mirrors biblical themes. The iconic start of “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation…” begins the speech with a gravitas akin to that in the bible. It brings a weight that although isn’t directly spiritual mirrors it in tone. He also brings up those “who gave their lives so that this nation might live”, which is unintentionally a metaphor for Jesus giving his life to save humanity. Though Lincoln didn’t directly use his platform for religious reasons he knew that the heavily religious citizens he was speaking to would be more inclined to preserve the nation if they felt it was a divine union.

Unrelated to the prompt, but somethings that flowers from my mind at the comparison is the similarities between Jesus and Native Americans. Natives for too long have been dismissed from history books because instead of being given the respect of a genuine nation they were seen as “discovery”. Jesus, at his time, was also seen as “discovery”. This discovery was unprompted for those who “claimed” it, and the reaction in both circumstances was domination and destruction.

Europeans of the time (and christianity of the time in all its forms) was very focused on repression. According to the legend of Adam and Eve people are born into sin, and from day one need to repress our natural inclinations and beg the priests to forgive us. So Europeans were extremely repressed, repressed in thought, emotion, and most extremely sexuality. Sexuality was seen as damnable, and was preached outright as the work of the devil. So when Europeans came over and saw the Natives lifestyle (a matriarchy where casual nudity, unique gender identity, and affirming ones sexuality were norms) they rationalized that these people were demonic and unworthy of respect. The same thing happened in Europe to Celtic peoples, Pagans and Gauls and anyone who refused to repress themselves. This is classic projection, the idea that “If I can’t have it you can’t either”. This is when the North American continent was “claimed”, and Europeans took it upon themselves to wash the sin from the land and destroy Native culture.

Ironically, a very similar experience happened to Jesus Christ. He lived in a time of even harsher repression, fear, and punishment. He lived in a time where those in power could kill anyone they wanted, for no other reason than they attempted to rise above the mental societal repression and decide their own truth. Jesus was one of those who rose above repression, and like the Native Americans was punished severely for doing so. The Natives were a people unrepressed, living naturally and free. Jesus was a person unrepressed, trying to live free and preaching the universal truth of love thy neighbor as you love yourself. When both of these peoples were “discovered” by a culture of repression, they were attacked and torn down.

This is what happens when fear is given power. Those who aren’t afraid are punished into being afraid. Or as Jesus and proud Natives show us, punished while still holding their truths and holding their faith above all else. As these two seemingly different, yet at their core very similar demographics show us, repression leads to bloodshed. A more uplifting lesson both of these peoples teach is love is at the core of humanity. Love is who we are when we aren’t in pain, when we aren’t afraid. Love is who we are when we live unrepressed, when we aren’t ruled by fear. Love is the truth of humanity, not sin. Love is who we are, and as for God, God is the essence of love.

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