Thinking About Religion
Volume 1 (2000)

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Land: Expensive Commodity or Expansive Divinity?

Joe Jones
Barton College


This essay is basically about place, which is to say the Effect physical location has on persons. The concept of place has a long and obscure career as a sometimes pallid reflection of the experience persons have of place, but has often, lately, been upstaged by a relative newcomer, space, which is to say the geometricized, or universalized version of place. Certain philosophico-religious views stand or fall depending on whether one countenances place or space exclusively, particularly the status of experience which has traditionally been counted as religious. Neither exclusive view is correct and there is truth in both. I try in this essay to say what the boundaries between these categories might be, which is an attempt to say what an authentic relationship with physical place might be. Comparison and contrast points of view from Native Americans, and the author's experience of the power of place to change one's views, in this case the Garden of Gethsemene in Jerusalem, are used as foils, or stories, to help with words for wordless experiences.



Having had some vague ideas about physical approaches to both religion and philosophy for several years, I have decided to say something more specific by using land as the focus. Part of my interest comes from noting the absence of the body in philosophical and theological work generally, part of it comes from claims made by Native Americans concerning alternative epistemologies, and part of it comes from Werner Heisenberg’s and Ian Barbour’s descriptions of modern physics.

Philosophically, it is standard to approach physical bodies through the concept of reference. Traditionally, philosophers disagree about that to which reference is made when a word, phrase, proposition, theory, or worldview is uttered. Once such an utterance is made, immediate questions arise concerning what it is, how we might know it, and how we might say it, usually differently from the way the person who has just said it said it. These three questions represent three areas of philosophy which struggle for dominance in philosophical talk of truth: ontology, epistemology, and semantics. All three of these come together in our talk of things, taking things, of course, to be that to which we refer. The word "thing" is usually specific, but it can be used like an algebraic placeholder, neutral between competing ontologies. The thing might be a baseball, a galaxy, or a quark. Its meaning or referent, Quine would say, depends on its theoretical context. This is to say what quantifiers range over it, binding it to a particular version of reality.

Land is a thing which, in the context of the American real estate market, can be assigned a dollar value. Most people recognize easily that home is more than dollars, but they also have no choice but to participate in the market meaning either by renting or buying land, or at least space in the case of a high-rise apartment. I can imagine people camping on land someone else owns and not participating, or just being homeless, but these protest or bad luck cases will not be dealt with here. On the other hand, land is described as constitutive of tribal and personal identity by Native American spokespersons, such as Vine Deloria, Jr., which removes them from market value in the same way one’s physical self is usually considered not estimable in dollar amounts. I will also not deal with emerging organ markets or the "rental" case of prostitutes. It is well to note that both of the basic meanings of land expressed here are acceptable to Quine, for they designate a context of discourse about land which gives values to variables in propositions. "For all x such that x is land in the Black Hills, x is constitutive of Lakota identity," for instance, or "for all x and for all y such that x is land located closer to high density population centers, and y is land located far away from high density population centers, x is more valuable in dollars than y." Quine’s position is neutral between ontologies.

But it is not neutral in other ways. Chhanda Gupta says that Quine’s position commits us to saying that "‘what there is,’ namely, the world and things in it, are not unconceptualized transcendent realities. Whatever we are ontologically committed to depends on what we, or our theories, say there is." This is very unsatisfying to some other philosophers who wish to say there is a world of things which exists independently of us and our theories, and it is this world which we wish to discover, as it is by itself. But this position, in turn, renders the problem of how we know anything about the real things fairly difficult. If we separate the order of knowing and the order of being, then we find ourselves having as many difficulties as Aristotle in putting them back together again. The purpose of this paper is not to take off chasing the arguments of realism and relativism through the jungles of darkest Putnamland, even though that is a personal project apart from this paper, but rather to reflect on a couple of basic notions in our thinking about things, and their application to our thinking about land, philosophically and religiously.

The point so far is simply that "things," a plot of land or anything else, are really very mysterious. I have heard only one philosophical paper which considered that physical things might pop in and out of existence. It was called "The Malice of Inanimates," by Charles Harvey. Harvey claims that ordinary things, like car keys and cars themselves, are secretly at war with us, and disappear irregularly, staying constant most of the time just to keep us in the dark about their motives. Drinking seemed to be a variable in the equation for the disappearance of large objects. I mention this only because modern physics seems to be moving under Harvey’s position to give it support. This support is at the subatomic level, which is not the experiential level of ordinary objects, but if Harvey waits long enough perhaps he will be discovered as a prescient scientific genius. The passionate pursuit of the smallest bits of matter by physicists has apparently succeeded, creating difficulties in the interpretation of anything composed of matter, such as the focus here: land.


Matter is one of the frequent concepts used in attempts to get reference straight through the history of philosophy. The West has always preferred to provide boundaries for physical matter, and Aristotle gives us "substances" as his candidate for a "thing," where substances are combinations of matter and form. Form gives shape to matter, and voil‡, we have a thing. And indeed, for the common person, there is nothing more constantly confirmed as part of her universal experience as physical matter, in a world in which automobiles and airplanes crash, skin is punctured, bones are broken, and most of us strain continually to modify brute matter by mowing tall grass, washing filthy cars, and moving fallen trees. In the physical sciences, as mentioned above, this same conviction that matter is basic has led to an exhaustive search for the smallest particles of matter. The actual discovery of these smallest bits of matter has, however, rocked us back from common convictions, passionately held, concerning even the reality of matter. We are aghast if we understand Heisenberg when he says, "The elementary particles of modern physics can be transformed into each other É. They do not themselves consist of matter, but they are only possible forms of matter. Energy becomes matter by taking on the form of an elementary particle, by manifesting itself in this form." And indeed Heisenberg used matter and energy as nearly equivalent concepts.

Heisenberg’s assertions are based on experimental data. Research revealed, amazingly, that the pieces which fly off of a high-energy, sub-atomic particle collision are no smaller than the original colliding particles. Many experiments were performed looking specifically for smaller particles, but they could not be found. This seems to destroy the analogy, passionately held by many, that stuff acts certain ways and not certain other ways. When two cars collide, the pieces that come flying off are all smaller than the original cars. What was one thing, or two things, becomes many, but the matter remains the same. Not so at foundational levels, say the physicists. And they are really clear about it. Heisenberg says, using the word ‘substance’ not in Aristotle’s sense, but in the presocratic sense of foundational stuff, "Energy is in fact the substance from which all elementary particles, all atoms and therefore all things are made, and energy is that which moves. Energy is substance, since its total amount does not change and the elementary particles can actually be made from this substance as is seen in many experiments on the creation of elementary particles."


Well, this certainly takes away the common-sense notion of matter as the simple stuff of things. Now, when I confront things, I must confront a temporary manifestation of energy, rather than the good, old-fashioned, solid objects of my youthful skinned knees and elbows. And it gets worse. Einstein’s integration of non-Euclidean geometries both explains the relativity of time and space, and delimits the conditions under which Newton’s Euclidean-based theories are correct. So, although Newtonian mechanics still works for things on my general scale of existence, I am forced to admit larger and smaller physical frames for which Newton does not work. Not only that, time enters the picture as a constitutive part of elementary particles. In Einstein’s new comprehensive frame, "time is constitutive of the being of atoms as vibratory patterns; a wave or a musical note requires time in order to exist–a note is nothing at an instant," as Ian Barbour says. Now I am forced to consider that the temporary manifestations of energy with which I just replaced things are "developing vibratory patterns of energy," and these developing vibratory patterns make the thing what it is.

Considering time makes things potentially much more upsetting to me. Now my naive notion of time is threatened, along with my naive notion of matter. If I was raised Jewish, or Christian, or Islamic, then I might have been taught that in the fullness of time God would bring His plan to fruition, the material universe would be destroyed, and all things would be reconciled to God’s goodness. This might have been a very useful sequence for me, because it explains why it is okay for evil to be in the world, even though God is all powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. My faith is "as if, in the not yet," meaning as if good has conquered evil, knowing full well that it has not yet happened. God’s plan is a mystery, we see through a glass darkly, and our faith is that all things work together for good. This view will come in for criticism from the Native American point of view in a moment, but already it seems to be coming apart in view of the new physics. Now I must confront time as "recognizing a duration or growth of things as distinct from the inexorable workings of a homogeneous chronology that relentlessly proceeds" toward a good future. Just as space has become subject to different definitions, depending upon the scale with which we want to work, so too constitutive time-frames are seen to vary from near simultaneity at the sub-atomic level to eons on the cosmic level.


And if this were not enough, the common-sense notion that things are located in a neutral space, or container as Plato has it in the Timaeus, is also pulled into this new framework for physics. Ian Barbour says, "time and space are indissolubly united in a space-time continuum. Matter and energy must be taken together as matter-energy, and according to relativity matter-energy is simply a distortion in the structure of space." So now I am thoroughly disoriented. My own body, for instance, along with every other body or "thing," like the mountains, my house, and all of you, are simply distortions of space? Well, to be honest, I can’t think in these terms. We are even leaving behind certain physical laws here, such as the conservation of matter, which according to Heisenberg "is no longer true for elementary particles." Energy becomes particles under certain conditions, and these particles are all the same size when they magically transform from energy to matter. So basically things in fact pop into existence under certain conditions. But I am going to have to leave the reality of this to Harvey. What follows is on a different tack.

Peirce’s "Secondness" for the First Time

In order to make a transition from what the modern physicists say is the case to anything, I must, in awestruck incomprehension, ask, "If this is objectively, experimentally shown to be the case, then from where do my naive and mistaken categories come?" Well, there have been some serious attempts to say how human consciousness works. Concerning specifically how consciousness knows, and knows that it knows, Charles Sanders Peirce, Willard Quine, and Hilary Putnam all agree that, however it is that we as conscious beings decide what is the case, it is not based on sensory experience alone. This is quite a relief for me at this point, because I sure do not see, or feel, or hear, or taste, or smell vibratory patterns when I stub my toe or kiss my wife. Peirce says, "Existence is presence in some experiential universe É. And this presence implies that each existing thing is in dynamical reaction with every other in that universe."

I, for instance, would be in dynamical reaction with every other thing in my experiential universe of ordinary things. My conviction about this parallels Peirce’s notion of "Secondness," which he says is part of presence. For something to be present in our experiential universe is to knock up against it as something "which I cannot think away, but am forced to acknowledge as an object or a second beside myself, the subjectÉ."

Perhaps I am catching on. I have a glimmer that being present in my experiential universe means that I am interacting with every other thing in that experiential universe, and there are some things in that universe about which I can do nothing. In other words, they are just there in the good old-fashioned sense of matter with which I started. However, if the space-time continuum is the correct description of physical reality, then I may be rather more connected to other "things" than I thought. The sub-atomic particles which make up my body are temporary manifestations of energy in this form. This form, this body, has a temporal dimension which is constitutive, which I can grasp as my life term. This body will indeed be transformed into ash or fertilizer one day. Of course, my body is more complex than an atom, but I can simply reiterate the structural explanation of matter on the subatomic level on succeedingly more complex levels of organization until I arrive at my body, my brain, etc. There are other equally complex "things" out there, and I can do nothing about them on the level of my organization or theirs. They are also just temporary manifestations of energy in that form. And, as manifestations of the space-time continuum, or spatial distortions, we would seem to all be connected as having our origin in energy.

The Social Mind: Us and the Animals

I perhaps also have some glimmer what it might mean to be connected to every other person and thing in the universe of my experience, both because I have had this feeling of being connected directly, and because there is a level of social intelligence which seems quite objective to me. If we steal, lie, force or murder, or are sexually promiscuous in ways unacceptable to our social group, then we will be separated from that group in significant ways. This "social mind," as it has been called, has been encoded in the ethical commandments of Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. The phrase "social mind" is suggested by Robert Ardrey when he surrenders explaining human experience on the basis of Darwinian evolution in an excellent series of books: The Territorial Imperative, African Genesis, The Social Contract, and The Hunting Hypothesis. If this social mind is intelligible, then it must be closely related to communication, as Ardrey interestingly suggests.

Just based on the physics of our situation, there is no reason to separate ourselves from all other organic beings, particularly other animals. Ardrey suggests, however, that we incorporate into our communication a sense of purpose absent, for instance, in the animal kingdom. He says, in African Genesis, "Specialized though the animal call may be–as specialized as the howler’s ‘infant dropped from tree!’–it is never purposeful. Never does the animal cry out with the motive of enlisting aid. The cry is simply an expression of mood, and the mood catches." Ernst Cassirer, in the same vein, writes, "we have no psychological evidence whatever for the fact that any animal ever crossed the borderline separating propositional from emotional language. The so-called ‘animal language’ always remains entirely subjective; it expresses various states of feeling but it does not designate or describe objects."

Since these words were written, experiments with Lanna at the Yerkes Center in Atlanta, Georgia, and other primates, have challenged them. Lanna is an ape with a thousand-word vocabulary who seems to designate objects in that she can ask for specific objects to eat or for play. She does this on a large, keyboard-like instrument, and has apparently pointed to new objects, "asking" what they are called. I do not know whether this behavior crosses a line between purposeful and non-purposeful, or between referring conceptually or not referring conceptually. Perhaps Lanna goes no further than relational thinking, manipulating with her keyboard her relationships with things in her visual field or answering basic needs like hunger. Her behavior involves manipulation of symbols. It is not critical to my enterprise here that there be any absolute distinction involving purpose or concept use.

Perhaps the point here is better captured by Gregory Bateson, an evolutionary biologist writing about the emergence of vertebrates, when says the initial step was "not the discovery of abstraction or generalization, but the discovery of how to be specific about something other than relationships." Bateson goes on to say that humans communicate verbally and nonverbally, and that nonverbal communication is exclusively about relationship: love, hate, respect, fear, dependency. On a nonverbal level, we are equal to other animals, but "while animals can vocalize emotions, they cannot verbalize emotions. Animals are incapable of transmitting a sense of meaning but merely summarize conditions. They report; they do not interpret." Our ability to be specific about something other than relationships is our ability to objectively examine our situation with regard to the "otherness" of the external world, in addition to responding emotionally to the gifts and dangers of that world. This is what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin calls "reflection": "the power acquired by a consciousness to turn in upon itself as of an object endowed with its own particular consistence and value; no longer merely to know, but to know oneself; no longer merely to know, but to know that one knows."

Teilhard considers that consciousness appears simultaneously with the human ego, the sense that I am me, or the individual sense of identity. This does not deny the space-time continuum as an explanation of existence, but simply has it that "the living element, which heretofor had been spread out and divided over a diffuse circle of perceptions and activities was constituted for the first time as a centre in the form of a point at which all the impressions and experiences knit themselves together and fuse into a unity that is conscious of its own organization." This organization, of which we are conscious as individual egos, is in fact peculiarly up for grabs in just the sense of ontological neutrality suggested for Quine’s position at the beginning of this paper. We might say philosophers are hyper-conscious of their own and the world’s organization. In the human ability to communicate concerning things other than relationships, we assign meanings to words, then argue about whether those words accurately reflect our experience. We objectify, and thus argue about objective reality. All of this is done within a context of some sort of "social mind," a public arena in which we all feel like we are communicating at least some of the time.

This is very reminiscent of Putnam’s argument against total skepticism. Independently of the self-refuting nature of radical skepticism, which is the claim that nothing is true except the claim that nothing is true, Putnam argues that we cannot think that nothing is true or we would not be able to compare two views of the same thing, or arrive at any notion of coherence for our beliefs if we were radically out of sync with the way the world is. Carol Tavris, for example, would not be able to describe how different cultures view anger without assuming a common base of experience with which all cultures work.

This social mind is suggested by Ardrey as his evolutionary hypothesis begins to fail. In any story of where we come from, the brain eventually has to give way to the mind. Ardrey heroically tries to keep things under control, but winds up saying the mind is a "variable, extra-anatomical, immeasurable aspect of the standardized human brain, and it can act not at all according to the animal laws of self-interest." This is tantamount to a declaration of bankruptcy, as Ardrey clearly has no clue how this transcendent social mind might emerge from evolutionary forces or instinct, which are supposed to constitute us as a species on the Darwinian picture. Opting for pantheism regarding evolution and this transcendent item, the mind, he concludes his book, The Social Contract, saying, "Social order with its rules and regulations, it alphas and omegas, its territories and its hierarchies, its competitions and xenophobias–has been the evolutionary way." Then, packing the subjective individual and the objective evolutionary order into one thing, he says "it is the individual as we know him that has been the human invention." This is oddly close to the situation Peirce discovers in his phenomenology of knowing.

Peirce’s "Secondness" for the Second Time

Peirce recognized, on the one hand, that we know that we know, or we are full, human individuals, and, on the other hand, that we communicate in a public arena, or participate in a social order, in his notion of Secondness. Our reflection on, and expression of, our experience of "the other" can have public force for Peirce. His claim is that "every assertion involves a sign of the occasion of compulsion, which can be represented to the listener by compelling him to have the experience of that same occasion." Whatever an "an occasion of compulsion" is, it can "prompt and extract assertions that transcend privacy and imply sharability of experience. The experience is compulsive and public," according to Gupta. As we have seen, no other animal is capable of communication about things construed in this way. Yet it is continuous with our material nature as seen from a space-time, or for that matter functionalist, perspective. Carl Jung said,

The deeper ‘layers’ of the psyche lose their individual uniqueness as they retreat farther and farther into darkness É. ‘Lower down,’ that is to say as they approach the autonomous functional systems, they become increasingly collective until they are universalized and extinguished in the body’s materiality, i.e., in chemical substances. The body’s carbon is simply carbon. Hence at ‘bottom’ the psyche is simply ‘world.’

From this, it seems that we have unity psychically and physically, at the top and at the bottom of our existence. We have the social, public, objective mind at the top, and the transformative space-time continuum at the bottom. And if Jung is right, these are unified one with another as well.

Well, if this is true, why do we not feel this unity of ourselves and the world? First of all, some do, and it is here that we meet the critique of Native Americans concerning Western metaphysics. We do not have to feel unified with the world because we have the choice as reflective knowers and meta-knowers, to organize our experience at the upper level. We can choose some version of things and stick with it, damn the torpedoes, even though this way of organizing our experience makes us and nature alien to one another. An obvious candidate for this alienated organizing possibility is the view of modern science which has it that matter in motion in empty space is the nature of reality. We have just seen that this does not square with the "new physics," which is nearing a century old. But the strength of this matter in motion view as a metaphor for social reality is wreaking havoc both among persons trying to live and love in community and in the relationship or lack thereof which persons seem to have with nature and natural objects. We as a culture do not seem to have unity either at the top or at the bottom of our social existence. So it makes sense to at least ask, do the Native Americans do any better?

Native American Metaphysics

Native Americans are in the same situation we are with respect to reality, that is to say they can also choose how to organize their experience in metaphysical categories. What is most striking to a person who asks how they do this, however, is that they resist doing it to a remarkable degree. Understanding their point of view is often a process of unthinking a category or distinction with which we are familiar from Western metaphysics. If we cannot do this, then things they say remain just nuts for us. For instance, Oren Lyons reports being taken out in a canoe to the middle of a lake by an uncle following his first year in college. The uncle stopped rowing, and asked Oren, "Who are you?" Oren tried several answers to this, and finally stopped, realizing that the point of this was that he would be told who he was. Satisfied with Oren’s silence, the uncle said, "Oren, do you see that tree over there?" "Yes," said Oren, odediently. "You are that tree." This conversational sequence was repeated for the mountain, the lake, the birds, the beavers, his father and mother, his tribe, etc.

I am not sure what my daughter would say if I told her she was a tree, but my guess is that it would not be very informative to her. For Oren Lyons, the point became clear. The point was not that he is a part of everything, as we have just come to see through energy-matter transformations in the new physics. It was that he is part of that specific tree, that specific mountain, etc. He was, generally, part of the place where he grew up. That place on the Oneida reservation was to be considered his identity. This is a typical Native American understanding. If we look into the unconscious for roots of this understanding, as Jung would do, we discover the notion of territoriality, but not just the hostile protection of a space for mating and child-raising with which we might be familiar from struggle-for-survival evolutionary biology. Vine Deloria, a well-known Lakota spokesman for the Native American point of view, says, "The spatial dimension of organic life É expresses itself in a geometric relationship among the various parts of the individual body and in most instances seems to control the body’s growth as an integrated whole." This is expressed at atomic levels, perhaps in unity with the space-time continuum, in the structure of crystals in nature.

Athletes are highly aware of geometrical relationships between parts of their body. My own pitching arm was "destroyed" by the different relationship of parts before and after I broke my elbow playing football. This growth sense, the physical intelligence if you like of the growing, organic body, can apparently be extended to spatial relationships, and the individual organism can feel "at home" in the place she physically grew up. A sad case of this apparent sense was Geronimo’s pathetic pleas that the rocks and hills of his Apache homeland were calling to him as he neared death. Robert Ardrey finds "the drive to gain, maintain, and defend the exclusive right to a piece of property," more ancient and more powerful than even the drive to reproduce, since "the struggle and seizure take place before the coming of the female and without consciousness of sexual significance." Ardrey says, "The fighting inclination may be stated with mathematical exactness, because it decreases in direct proportion to the distance from the nest."

A consequence of this is that territorial animals do not invade and exploit, but act to preserve territorial, or social, order. The bird attacks an intruder not to kill, and still less to conquer the intruder’s territory, but to drive away. While this does little to inhibit the search for food on the part of predators, it honors the principle that territory forms the basis of individual life. Indeed, protection of territory surpasses any other motivation for violent conflict. The fact that tribal behavior was often to kill intruders does not pervert this basic principle, as humans act in groups, according to a social mind, and killing an individual communicates to that individual’s group a territorial claim in just the same way as a bird harassing an individual away from its nest. It is still interesting, however, that animals rarely fight to the death. They generally kill only to eat, though territorial conflict can and does produce fatalities.

We see emerging here a sense of spatial relationship, "fit," or "familiar place," available in one’s place of origin. This sense presupposes that we are "connected to the land." This sense of connection for Native Americans is extended to much more than the land, including the "two leggeds, four leggeds, the winged people," etc. Of course, the Native American tribes did not express this connection in terms of all things being basically distortions of the space-time continuum. They expressed, and continue to express, their relationship with the land religiously. The way Western scholars have interpreted this religious meaning of land, animals, trees, mountains, etc., for primal peoples in general, not just Native Americans, is in terms of animism. Animism is defined as the belief that every thing or object has its own power or soul, or everything is "alive" in some sense. We have seen how this sense of connection can both inform an individual identity and be used to solidify the individual’s identity in her group.

This does not mean we have described some sort of idyllic existence, much less made any claim for such an existence on the part of Native Americans. There are still conflicts between the good of the group and the good of the individual. Both must survive. Again Ardrey says, "the anarchistic instincts favour the demands of the individual creature, the instincts of order the demands of his kind." Perhaps we are surprised to think of our efforts to establish a stable family and express ourselves, as I am now doing, as anarchistic, contra-group behaviors. But we think of stable family as nuclear family, perhaps focusing along with the rest of our culture on sexual relationships. We can just as easily think of stable families in terms of clans.

The Cherokee social order required that a male suitor live with the female’s clan, sometimes building a cabin (they never lived in teepees) for her on their territory as part of his suit to "marry" her. Each of the seven clans had a territory. This meant that the male was in the presence of her brothers, her father, and other males who took protective interest in her. There was very little abusive behavior in this situation, and Cherokee boys were victims of extreme romantic feelings. If she wanted him, and he was acceptable to her clan, she moved in with him. Their children, however, were not considered related to him. Rather, they were related to her clan. Her brothers would teach her male children how to be male. Their father was superfluous in this task. She herself and her female relatives would teach her female children how to be female. If the mother ever placed the "husband’s" belongings outside the door of the cabin, he was to pick them up and leave. If he crossed the threshold of the cabin, he was liable to extreme punishment, including death, at the hands of her clan. What remains stable here is the clan, not the nuclear family. The phrase "nuclear family" has no real meaning in this context. We note, however, the foundational role played by place in the identity of the clan.

The Native American model for family life is the wolf, a fact that has been challenging for the Western mind. Wolves have generally just been considered savage predators by white men. Recent studies of wolf behavior make clear the basis for another perspective, however. In a wolf clan, relationships are stable except in cases of death or new wolves coming into the pack. There is an alpha wolf, who is male and dominant. The alpha wolf chooses a female mate. They are the only two wolves who have sexual relations. The entire pack parents the offspring of this union. Another wolf who attempts sexual activity will be abused or even killed by the alpha wolf. There is an omega wolf, on whom the entire pack takes out its frustrations. The omega wolf is treated badly, forced to passively accept dominant behavior from any other member of the pack, and almost always eating last. But if even the omega wolf is attacked from outside, the entire pack will risk death to protect it. And, needless to say, wolf packs have hunting and nesting territories.

The role described here for place in the identity of Native American individuals, clans, and tribes, is easily seen to be incompatible with a notion of land as a commodity to be traded for other wealth. The idea of land as wealth does not even compute here. Land is a question of identity, not wealth. For Native Americans these feelings of connection to the land manifested themselves in terms of ceremonies which "referred to" the land and animals in many ways. Vision places, usually high places within the territory of the tribe would be used by an individual to seek a vision, a kind of dream, which would be brought back to the elders of the group for interpretation. Often in these visions, animals would speak.

The religious stories which back these practices tell us that animals speak because they were created earlier than people by the Creator. They therefore are more familiar with the ways of the Creator, and can inform a human individual, or a clan, or a tribe, of what to do to be in concert or harmony with the Creator’s creation. The standard, seven-directional prayer recognized the place where the pray-er stood as holy and capable of granting visions. The prayer was to the four cardinal directions, east, south, west, and north, then up to the sky, down to the earth, and the seventh direction was purposefully ambiguous between the place where the individual stood and inside that individual. The prayer is an attempt to put the individual in harmony with the place where she stands.

People who write about Native Americans, such as Lee Irwin, say that the sense of place, meaning the actual land, has "the highest possible meaning" for these people. Unlike transcendent religions, such as Christianity, particular landscapes root authentic Native American religious practice. Deloria goes as far as to suggest that Christianity itself, and indeed most religions originally, were similarly rooted, and that the dependence of the Western religions on lineal history is evidence they have lost their original meanings. This loss of meaning is directly related, for Deloria, to exploitative, colonialist attitudes. And there is no doubt, independent of Deloria, that Christianity played a willing and critical role in the American attempt to exterminate the Indians. This is shown clearly in a number of books, the best of which is George Tinker’s Missionary Conquest: The Gospel and Native American Cultural Genocide.

Deloria’s point about linear time is that made earlier concerning the Western religious notion of a holy timetable, set at creation, which nourishes eschatological hope. Christianity in particular, according to Deloria, once it lost its place roots, beginning in 70 CE with the expulsion of the Jews and Christians from Jerusalem by the Romans, became carriers of the divine plan of history, exclusive agents of temporal truth, and this status empowered their at best parental view of non-Christian peoples. Native American traditions, by contrast, are grounded in local, place-based narratives which empower local, place-based behaviors and rituals. Such traditions are not portable. Deloria consideres it impossible, for instance, to "join" a Native American religion, as this requires growing up in the sacred landscape of the tribe. The geographic location is primary, not a metaphysical chronology. As Irwin says:

The focal point of much of this geographic orientation is found in the symbolizations of nature É. Further, these forms are tied to dreams, visions, and a variety of cognitive states unique to advanced practitioners of the religions. The epistemology is grounded in a synthesis mediated between ritual practices in local, highly revered settings and a receptivity to natural forms imbued with power that exceeds normal human awareness.

We have seen that there is something transcendent in the capacity of the human mind to reflect, to be conscious that it knows. This act in itself transcends the explanations of human experience which can be given from a physical, or evolutionary, viewpoint. Thus I am immediately suspicious of Deloria’s immanentist claims for Native American religious or epistemological consciousness, for the same reasons I am suspicious of Hilary Putnam’s claims to a position of immanentist realism. But this does not mean that I cannot appreciate that particular landscapes may well have been critical in the formation even of transcendent systems of religious thought. These experiences of knowing are "compulsive" in Peirce’s sense, and publically correctable. This last is honored in the Native American tradition by the insistence that the person with the dream or vision must needs seek the interpretation of that dream or vision from the elders of the tribe.

Far from not being able to appreciate place-based meaning, I am impressed by the capacity of landscape to inform religious understanding. This is partially due to a personal experience, which I will briefly share. In January of 1998, I took a group of students to Israel. We were fortunate to be able to descend into the "Hasmonean Tunnel," so named not because it had anything to do with the Hasmonean Dynasty of the Maccabee family, but because it emerges under aquaducts built during their reign. This tunnel runs along the outer wall of the Temple Mount, simply continuing the so-called Western Wall, but underground twenty-five or thirty feet. At this level the burn marks, ashes, and fragments of exploded marble are clearly visible from the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. This and other experiences allowed us to at least begin to enter a place-based consciousness of Jerusalem. Everywhere we went in our four days in Jerusalem was marked by whether we could or could not see the Temple Mount, which is indeed central in a spatial/visual sense. An amazing scale model of Jerusalem helped orient us to the geometrical relationships between things: the Temple Mount, Golgotha, the Kidron Valley, the Garden of Gethsemene, the Valley of Hinnom, etc.

As I took this awareness in, I discovered an unresolved piece of business in my understanding of Jesus of Nazareth. I had always wondered about the violent tendencies of Jesus, and never heard them addressed very straightforwardly. Jesus, for instance, told his disciples to buy swords before he entered Jerusalem the week of his death. He physically frightened the money-changers, who were likely not easily intimidated men. He attracted men like Judas, a tough-minded Zealot, dedicated to the violent overthrow of Rome. His intensity and passion, not to mention the deliverer nature of the Jewish wish for the Messiah to come, had always seemed to me to flirt heavily with violence. You can imagine how most Christians would shut that one down pretty quick, substituting the painting of Jesus with the cute little lamb in his arms. But I was raised to military violence in a military family, and could dwell on these things in comparative comfort. In the Garden of Gethsemene, a new, place-based understanding swept over me. I looked through Jesus’ eyes as Peter attacked one of the guards sent to arrest him. Looking over the man’s bleeding head, I saw the Temple, its white marble and gold gleaming in the starlight as it would have that night, and I felt my own arm rise to stop Peter from further bloodshed. I was flooded with an immediate and physical awareness of Jesus responding to the image of the Temple as if it were Socrates’ daim™n, telling him "No!" Socrates daim™n was never positive, only hegative, and he never tried to make it rational, or give reasons for its admonitions. He simply obeyed it. I felt Jesus acquiesce to an outside force, originating in this landscape. He took steps to stop Peter’s violent direction, and never said another aggressive word in defense of himself or his mission. Thus a new understanding became mine, an understanding of a man who may have never decided against violent revolution internally. Instead, the message of the land of Jerusalem, "Do not travel this path" a full message full of pathos and mystery, quelled externally the energy and willingness of this man to go down fighting.


In conclusion, speaking philosophically, I think we as participants in a social mind are yet free to choose how we relate to the land and to one another. There are no restrictions on our metaphysical schemes at the level of substance or matter, or at the level of social organization. There are many ways to accomplish patterns on both levels. Some are inspired by this to limit epistemological grounding to experts in common practices of a particular culture. I think Peirce is closer to the truth. There are special experiences in which we rub up against an outside world. These experiences are complex, and contain a component which compels assent, and is yet checkable, testable, before a public, objective tribunal. For Native Americans, it is the elders who interpret visions. For us, it is our educated peers to whom we submit our views, for publication, for approval, for making ourselves better in the sense of participating in the development of the social mind in our culture. For Jesus and Socrates, there was an external, non-reflective, immediate force of a mysterious nature. I do not know whether it was specific place, as my own experience suggests. Perhaps my own experience was suggested to me by Deloria before I went to Jerusalem. But I still feel very strange, emotionally and spiritually, about trading large amounts of wealth every month to legally own a piece of land. I wonder if I could ever let that land inform me of its, or my, place in the scheme of creation.

Thinking About Religion, Volume 1
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