Tourists & Pilgrims

May 3, 2010

Instead of heading south for spring break this year, as most sensible people do, I went to South Dakota.  I didn’t go for the beaches, but instead to visit the Jesuit community on the Rosebud Reservation.  The cultural milieu of the “Rez” is fascinating, and the Jesuits who live there are fine hardworking men.

One conversation in particular got me thinking.  We were discussing the summer Sun Dances, native religious rituals in which men dance—sometimes for several days without sustenance—and pierce their skin as a way of offering sacrifice to the divine.  Someone remarked that at a Sun Dance he had visited the previous summer there were more German tourists than Lakota worshippers.

I found the incident disturbing in different ways.  Though obviously not a practitioner of non-Christian “traditional” religion myself, I couldn’t help but feel that the practices of those traditions had been somehow cheapened when reduced to a spectacle for tourists.

For me the more disturbing question, however, is what the phenomenon of the Teutonic Sun Dance says about the spiritual grounding of Westerners.  Is part of the reason so many German tourists find the Sun Dance so alluring the lack of spiritual sustenance in their own culture? Read the rest of this entry »

Xavier and Tolerance

March 14, 2010


In the afterglow of the Novena of Grace in honor of St. Francis Xavier, I thought I would comment on a troubling aspect of Xavier’s missionary activity.  Stated baldly, Xavier was not particularly tolerant of other religions.  Deeply imbued with the theology of the later Augustine, he was fiercely jealous of God’s greater glory and deeply suspicious of the untutored efforts of man to scale the heights of the spirit.  In fact, as the late Jesuit Cardinal Henri de Lubac puts it, Xavier considered non-Christian lands to be under the “quasi-exclusive rule of the devil.”

This worldview led him to missionary tactics that today seem, at least at first glance, downright “mean.” Read the rest of this entry »