Sunday, April 20, 2008

black robe

I just watched the movie "Black Robe," which is about a Jesuit priest named Father Laforgue who travels to "New France" (Quebec) to convert the Native Americans. The movie paints a fairly bleak picture of everyone--well, it shows the good and the bad sides of everyone, but basically it's a tragedy.

Father Laforgue genuinely wants to convert these "savages" because he wants them to be able to live in Paradise when they die. But he's shown as over-the-top religious and with no cultural understanding.

The Native Americans of various tribes are shown in positive and negative lights--joking around and having fun, making fun of "Blackrobe" (the priest), and knowing how to survive in the harsh natural environment when Father Laforgue would surely die without them. They are also shown fighting against other tribes, and doing humiliating and torturous things to people from other tribes. They are shown having spiritual insights and thinking of "Blackrobe" as a demon.

Eventually the Huron tribe accept Christianity--mostly because many of them caught scarlet fever and are dying, and the priest there before Father Laforgue told them if they were baptized they would not get sick. Father Laforgue tells them this isn't true, but that all they can do is ask for Jesus' mercy. They ask to be baptized and they live as Christians, even though, as one of them said, "The Blackrobes want us to give up the dream. To have only one wife. To stop killing our enemies. If we obey them, we will no longer be Hurons. And soon our enemies will know our weakness and wipe us from the earth." This proved true: first their enemies the Iroquois killed them off, and then their enemies the Europeans finished off the Iroquois (pretty much) and most of the other native people.

It's so hard to know what to do about stuff like this. It seems like in many ways the Native Americans would have been better off if Christians had never come to their continent. At least they could have existed, and at least this land would have still been beautiful and natural, in the harmony God created it to be in. George Fox apparently said he could sense that the Native Americans he met were connected to Christ through their Great Spirit and their conscience.

But too often Christianity is not a faith or a recognition of the truth of a Spirit who gives our life meaning through overwhelming love, but Christianity is a culture, a culture of Christendom that has to be followed in the "Western" way. Yes, it is good for others to hear about the salvific love of God, the incarnation that shows us God's love, the call to love others and live in harmony with all creation--but how do we do this without destroying the beautiful cultures and traditions that have formed around the world? It's a little late to be asking this question now because we've pretty much destroyed them all already, but could we have done anything differently? Can we still learn to respect other ways of life and see God in others without losing our own understanding of truth? Can we still seek and find the meaning of life together without creating false dualisms of who's "in" and who's "out"? Can we have the humility and the grace to leave that choice up to God, and just share truth as we know it and let God speak the rest?


Gr. Ralph said...

Cherice, your beautiful questions in the last paragraph speak volumes. I want us to be able to minister Jesus to other cultures without demanding that they become like us culturally. This has been an immense problem in Asia as well, as many 19th Century missionaries followed God's will in introducing people to Christ, but identified acceptance of Christ with acceptance of American culture. This is something like the Constantinian conversion of Christianity from the focus on Jesus during the first 300 years to the focus on nation/culture for the next 1700+ years.

It seems almost impossible to ask those proclaiming Jesus to accept an inward change while the culture remains mostly the same as it was before. But I think that in the final analysis you are right: "Can we have the humility and the grace to leave that choice up to God, and just share truth as we know it and let God speak the rest?"

Excellent review of the movie and the problem. Love you!

Gr. Ralph

Allison said...

Gandhi's life to me was an example of a true Child of the Light and a Friend of God's, but he never became a Christian. He said the only thing about Christianity he didn't like was Christians.

Ham Sok Hon was a peace activist in Korea, and while he attended Meeting he never became a member, and eventually concluded that all religions were one.

I am an Asian American and while I am learning a lot from Friends, there is a part of me that will never convert. I'm not talking about the God part, but I am talking about something that I think those in the dominating groups will never truly understand.

Adam said...

Cherice, since you're doing reviews, I was wondering if you were planning on writing a review on BEOWULF. :)

cherice said...

Adam--it's kinda hard to review a movie I haven't seen the end of, so maybe we'll have to have another movie-viewing night...or maybe we'll just let that one lie... =) Although Joel and I are a little bothered by the fact that we don't know how it ended, but not bothered enough to actually watch the rest!

Maybe we should redeem ourselves with a different movie choice for next weekend. Any ideas?