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Commentary & Opinion

Paul Elisha: Great Spirit

If ABC-News journalist, Martha Raddatz had done nothing else, in last week’s highly charged and hugely watched Vice-Presidential Campaign Debate but to question both the incumbent and his opponent about their respective religious beliefs, she would have made a memorable contribution.  As it turned out, she made several of which this question was not only most revealing but for this observer, the most provocative.  While both Congressman Ryan and Vice President Biden expressed strikingly different views about their shared religious faiths, as Catholics, the most revealing aspect of their answers was the extent to which organized religion has pervaded the politics and governance of a nation conceived and constituted on the stringent separation of church and state.

The Vice President, while respectful, was notably unwilling to belabor others of differing views and faiths with governmental edicts or restrictions, pertaining to religion.  To Congressman Ryan’s discredit, however, he displayed no such reluctance.  His dogmatic expectations would impose on others of differing religious beliefs the utter dictates of his own religious hierarchy.  Even more disturbing was his starkly stated unequivocal falsehood, that from its virtual discovery by Europeans, America was a Christian nation.  This, in spite of a previous inheritance of recorded participation in such dreaded genocides, as the Spanish Inquisition, to the contrary.

The indisputable fact that native Americans were neither savages in need of enforced conversion nor primitive precursors of childlike ignorance, ready for religious arousal is indisputably established in native Algonquian legends and poems, which are steeped in religious utterances.  Typical is the poem: “In The Beginning,” translated by the Abenaki scholar/poet Joseph Bruchac:  “Earth was not yet… made or unmade….  All was within the mind of that one…  so great… it could only be mystery.”

Native American believers in a Great Spirit of Creation preceded Christian-American discoverers and conversion enforcers, by more than five centuries.   As retold by former U.S. Poet Laureate William Jay Smith (himself of Choctaw descent) in his acclaimed poetic sequence: “The Cherokee Lottery – XIII Song of the Dispossessed”:  “You came across the water,   like gods you walked ashore; the fabric of our dreaming was the clothing that you wore…   You brought your holy book that held a world entire, a life that never ended; and water that was fire….    And so you took our country, you took our sacred ground…   You sent us to this desert… where now above the barren earth… Your great bald eagle screams, that robbed us of our country and carried off our dreams.”   Documented utterances like these, by countless Native American believers in a “Great Spirit,” that pre-dated Columbus and Religious enforcers of the Conquistadores by centuries, are proven denials of a need for Christian conversion, which was used as a pretext for material conquest and  resulted in brutal genocide.

There’s evidence of other early citizens of non-Christian religious faiths: Christopher Columbus’ navigator was a Sephardic Jew, who fled the Spanish Inquisition. 

When General George Washington’s Colonial Army faced virtual dissolution, lacking funds the Continental congress couldn’t provide, Chaim Solomon, a Jewish businessman from New York City offered his family fortune, then borrowed other funds that left him impoverished for decades, to cover the Army’s critical payroll needs. Members of the Jewish Congregation of Newport Rhode Island mortgaged their properties to contribute vital funds for supplies.  Also, in 1806, when President Jefferson sent three hastily purchased frigates to bombard and defeat the brigand Barbary Pirates, of North Africa, among the first six American casualties to die was a young, newly minted Midshipman, named Joseph Israel.   Through the years that followed, non-Christian American patriots like these helped ensure the boldness and benevolence that made America’s miraculous motivation the envy and admiration of the world.  It’s a multi-ethnic and religious miracle that continues to the present day, in a magical process known as: E Pluribus Unum.  Messrs Romney and Ryan should get to know it better.  It would save them from many untruths and foolish blunders.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.