September 07, 2009

Sacred Rain Arrow is religious?

In Oklahoma Plate Violates First Amendment? I quoted a letter by Herb Van Fleet about the Allan Houser statue on the Oklahoma license plate. In the comments section, Van Fleet posted a rebuttal. Alas, his response was even shakier than his original letter.

Okay, Herb, let's go through your rebuttal:

1) I know what "sacred" means. When you quoted, you gave us the first three definitions but conveniently left out the last four. Here they are:

sacred4. reverently dedicated to some person, purpose, or object: a morning hour sacred to study.

5. regarded with reverence: the sacred memory of a dead hero.

6. secured against violation, infringement, etc., as by reverence or sense of right: sacred oaths; sacred rights.

7. properly immune from violence, interference, etc., as a person or office.
These four definitions are more or less secular in nature. So you can't conclude a statue is religious merely from the word "sacred" in its title.

2) Your Apache literature comes from History of Arizona by Thomas Edwin Farish, whom I believe is a non-Indian historian. The book was published in 1918. I wouldn't trust any white man's retelling of an Indian legend, especially not one that old.

Farish was supposedly quoting Geronimo's autobiography. But non-Indians undoubtedly transcribed and edited Geronimo's words before they were printed. So we're talking about one, two, or more layers of filtering between a genuine Apache source and Farish's text.

Killing dragon = praying to God?

3) Most important, the passage you quoted refers to an Apache boy's duel with a deadly dragon. There's no real mention of a god or anything sacred until after the story's end. The rain starts falling because the dragon died, not because the Creator responded to the boy's plea for help.

Here's the context of the quote in your letter:Then [the Apache boy] sped the fourth arrow with true aim, and it pierced the dragon's heart. With a tremendous roar the dragon rolled down the mountain side—down four precipices into a canyon below.

Immediately storm clouds swept the mountains, lightning flashed, thunder rolled, and the rain poured. When the rainstorm had passed, far down in the canyon below, they could see fragments of the huge body of the dragon lying among the rocks, and the bones of this dragon may still be found there.
So where's the sacred prayer the arrow supposedly represents? Nowhere that I can see.

4) Finally, it's hard to believe your goal was to point out the narrowmindedness of Christians who believe only in Jesus. It sure sounded to me like you wanted a tit-for-tat retaliation. I.e., if the ACLU gets the Ten Commandments banned, you want the license plate banned.

My mistake if you actually support Oklahoma's choice of plate. I'm with you if you want our society to be more multicultural, less dominated by Christians. We've had enough of conservative hypocrites (e.g., Vitter, Engisn, Sanford) who push Christian morality onto others while they continue to sin.

But I'm guessing you don't care about the license plate. You want only to see the Ten Commandments preserved. Feel free to write again and let us know.

1 comment:

Herb Van Fleet said...

Rebuttal #2

First, you are reading way too much into my rather innocuous letter to the editor. My point was simply that our elected officials have their heads so far up their, er, noses, that they probably never even raised the question about the possibility of any religious symbolism being attached to the sculpture. My aim was just to point out yet another hypocrisy that seems to always plague narrow minded religious fundamentalists, especially of the Christian variety.

That said, I have no idea what was in the mind of the esteemed Mr. Houser as he was chiseling away on the subject sculpture. But he did name it “Sacred Rain Arrow.” And, as Anne Brockman, Gilcrease Museum’s public information officer, has said, “It (the sculpture) is depicting a young Apache warrior who was selected in a time of drought to shoot a rain arrow into the sky, into the heavens, to bring his people's prayers to their gods so that they would get rain." (See “'Sacred Rain Arrow' image picked for new plates,” Tulsa World, August 2, 2008.)

So, now we have “sacred,” “prayers,” and “their gods” as attributes pertaining to this sculpture. The religious symbolism should be patently obvious. Therefore, the first three definitions in that I referenced for “sacred” are the appropriate meanings within this context. The other four are irrelevant.

Your rebuttal then goes on at some length about Apache literature, saying that the source of the quote I used was somehow misinterpreted by some white guy and other stuff apparently aimed at discrediting that part of my letter. Of course, even if you take that part out, the message is still valid. So, frankly, I really don’t care about the provenance of that quote.

Next, you refer to the ACLU and then try to impute what my goal was as to the license plate. Please know that I used the ACLU merely as a devise to set up the topic, and because the Ten Commandments monument is a current controversy in this state. I could care less what the ACLU does or does not do.

As a registered dues-paying Humanist, I am, among other things, a secularist. I would prefer that Oklahoma’s legislature had not felt it necessary to give the finger to our Constitution and place the Ten Commandments somewhere on the Capitol grounds. If the Founders wanted us to have a theocracy, they would have given us one. Anyway, the whole thing just embarrasses the hell out of me as a citizen of the state

Almost two-thirds of the estimated 3.5 million tags with the “Sacred Rain Arrow” imprinted on them have been issued. Now, every time I pull up behind a car or truck that has one of the new plates, I chuckle a little. I just hope those who may have read my little letter do likewise. That's all I ever intended, nothing more, nothing less.

Herb Van Fleet