This very title suggests an either/or conflict which I hope to show is unfounded. This article is the opinion of Grey Eagle of the Florida Wolf Clan, not necessarily the position of the Overhill Nation. So that the reader doesn't just have my opinion to go on, I will use notes to point to the biblical references when practical.
Ignorance can be a terrible and destructive thing. Unfortunately most people, including many (if not most) professing Christians are ignorant about the most fundamental principles of Christianity!
That's a strong statement, but easily verifiable. Conduct an informal survey asking random people, Christian and non-Christian, what Christianity is about. Note their answers.
Christianity is following the teachings of Jesus Christ. No big surprises there, but most people trip up by not knowing what those teachings were.
Human nature being what it is, many people are more willing to accept what someone they consider an authority tells them than they are to research things for themselves.
If I write an instruction book on how to assemble an electronic kit and someone fails to read or follow my instructions, they cannot reasonably fault my instruction book when their kit doesn't work. This has basically happened with Christianity. Too many people have professed to be Christians without actually following (or often even knowing) what Christ taught!
Most people in fact view Christianity as a celestial "ledger book". If your good deeds in life outweigh your bad deeds, you go to Heaven. If not, you go to Hell. (Oddly, even with this view, relatively few people go out of their way amassing good deeds!)
You could search the Bible for each statement Jesus Christ was recorded to have made and see just what His teachings were. It's a little tedious, but not rocket science. (I would recommend it when you can, in fact.)
But a seeker in Jesus' time made it easy for us by asking Jesus to "bottom line" things. He asked what was the greatest (most important) commandment [Matthew 22:36-40]. Jesus answered him "Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And thou shalt love thy neighbor as yourself. On these two hang all the law and the prophets." (The law and the prophets were how the scriptures were referred to back then.)If we love God that fully, we are going to want to spend time with Him and learn all we can about Him. We are going to want to be like Him. Our behavior will become more like that of His children. We will fulfill the purpose of the Ten Commandments. If we love others as ourselves, we will always be looking out for one another's well-being.
Getting back to that seeker's question, according to Jesus Christ, the very founder of Christianity, It's ALL ABOUT LOVE! How simple is that? Yet clearly much of organized Christianity has missed that point entirely over the years.
Look at the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the conquest of the American Natives. There's no possible way to stretch it to say that love had much to do with these things.
Certainly there have been many individuals within Christianity who have been sincere followers of Christ who did a lot of good in His name. Somehow we don't hear as much about them as we do those who led the crusades, or those missionaries who insisted that besides accepting the Gospel message, the Native peoples had to give up their own culture and adopt European customs in order to escape Hell.
Much of the problem arises when people get away from the fundamentals of Christ's teachings and add in a lot of man-made cultural baggage
The basis of Christianity is loving God with all our heart, mind, and strength (spirit, mind, and body), and loving our fellow man.
The basis of the Overhill Cherokees' spirituality is loving the Creator with our whole self as well. Our people lived in an attitude of prayer. It was woven into everything they did.
While we don't necessarily explicitly hear about the Overhill Cherokee loving each other as themselves, we do explicitly find the idea of respecting each other, which is a major component of love.
With today's knowledge, it's easy to see that the Native Americans had a better grasp of ecology than the Europeans did.
On the other hand, the Europeans had a better grasp of engineering and physics. The Europeans' systematic approach to the sciences led to faster advances. At first contact, the European and Native American medicines were very comparable, but European medicine did eventually outstrip the native in many areas. In other areas, Western medicine is finally realizing the natives had some things right all along.
It doesn't take much to see that both cultures had much to teach each other. In some areas, such as agriculture, they did teach each other.
It shouldn't be surprising that both cultures have spiritual lessons to teach each other as well. Truth is truth, no matter who realized it first.
The apostle Paul taught that the flesh and the spirit were contrary to each other [Romans 8:6, Gal 5:17]. By looking at the context, it is clear he refers to the lusts of the flesh (man's baser tendencies).
But by the time of first contact, many European Christians held the notion that spiritual and physical were complete opposites. You could not be spiritual if you valued the physical world. (It doesn't take much to see the fallacy here. When Jesus himself needed spiritual refreshing, He went out into the physical world of nature to pray!)
This devaluation of the physical helps explain how the Europeans could so easily destroy so much for their own convenience or profit, rather than respecting and adapting to the rich environment Creator placed here.
Our Overhill Cherokee approach views the physical and spiritual as one. Everything in nature has spiritual as well as physical aspects. Respect for the environment is inherent because we respect Creator and what He has done for us.
The true message and gift of Christianity is the love of Creator for us, and the commandment that we love each other. In love there is no room for greed, or malice. We can't love God with all our being, love each other as ourselves, and at the same time dominate and mistreat each other.
I believe one of the major messages Overhill Cherokee spirituality has to offer is that the physical creation is a powerful place of the spirit. We NEED time in nature to fully experience Creator's presence in our lives.
Similarly, we need to love and respect each other to even begin to understand Creator's love for us.
The Overhill Cherokee realized that no one of was are perfect, as did those of European Christian descent. The European mindset however tended to confuse sin with evil.
The very root meaning of sin is to fall short, or err. Evil, on the other hand is one of those strange concepts like darkness, or cold.
I call these concepts strange because while they clearly seem real, each in a very real sense does not exist. Darkness, coldness, and evil are ideas, not tangible things.
Our visual perception "sees" darkness. Yet darkness is simply the absence of light. You can't measure darkness, or convert it into heat or electricity like you can with light. Yet it would be foolish to deny a room is dark as you're stumbling around in it.
Likewise, there is no such physical thing as coldness. Cold is simply the absence of heat. Nerves in our skin sense both heat gain and loss. If we lose heat faster than we gain it, we feel cold. If we gain heat faster than we lose it, we feel hot. We are feeling heat transfering. But when you're shivering in a 30 degree wind, try convincing yourself that cold doesn't actually exist.
Likewise, we can easily recognize evil behavior whenever we see someone harm someone else, either for their own pleasure or just when seeking their own gain at the other's expense. But Creator, being all good, cannot have created evil any more than He created darkness or cold. Evil is the absence of goodness.
Many well-meaning Christians will assume that if someone sins (acts imperfectly), they are practicing evil, when in fact they may be simply acting imperfectly, but with good hearts and intentions. This attitude has led to much harm in dealing with other cultures. Rather than instructing with love and example, they have often been condemning.
Nearly every Christian is familiar with John 3:16. Not nearly as many continue reading the next verse. Here are the verses John 3:16-17 from the King James Version of the Bible (the translation most favored by conservative Christians).
3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
While I have only quoted two verses, it's important to read the whole passage to get the full meaning. Otherwise, verse 18 by itself can be construed to support the notion "If you don't believe like I believe then you're going to Hell", the whole passage taken in context doesn't say that however.
(It's interesting to note that the only individuals Jesus himself personally denounced during His lifetime were some of the religious leaders of that day, and those who were profitting financially from the organized religion. He was merciful toward humble sinners)
Jesus did say that "No man cometh to the Father but by me [John 14:6]." He also said "He that cometh to Me, I will in no wise cast out" [John 6:37], and that "I and the Father are one" [John 10:30].
Someone who is constantly seeking to fellowship with and please Creator is not going to suddenly wake up in Hell one day because he didn't go to the right church.
Many conservative Christians might disagree strongly with that statement, but think about it. As a good parent, if you have a child who wants nothing more than to please you, you will make sure that you help that child understand what is important to you. You will not just sit back and wait for the child to mess up, then abandon him or her to their fate. Nor would you condone your older children bullying knowledge into this child.
God is a far better parent than any of us! If someone loves God and seeks Him with all their being, He will make sure they learn what they need to know and do to please Him.
If people truly stuck to Jesus Christ's fundamentals and refrained from adding culturally-based interpretations, they would find nothing to start religious wars and persecutions over. Jesus went out of His way to keep things clear and simple.
Shortly before He was about to ascend into Heaven, Jesus said
(John 10:16) And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
Somehow when the Europeans got here they seemed to assume that it was their job to do the bringing-into-the-fold, forcibly if necessary. A much better approach for all concerned would have been to live out Christ's commands, being ready to explain them when asked.
Jesus gave His disciples instructions to go into all the world teaching them to observe the things He had commanded them. This has become known as "The Great Commission.
Interestingly, the only commandments written in the Bible that Jesus gave His disciples were to love God, and love each other.
Most organized churches have assumed that the Great Commission applies to all Christians, even though it was explicitly given to those witnessing His ascension. If Christ's commands were all they went about teaching, that would be a harmless assumption, and in fact we'd have a much more wonderful world now.
1) The teachings and commands of Jesus Christ to love God and each other can only augment our Overhill Cherokee approach to Creator.
2)There's no need to reject the Overhill Cherokee approach to Creator in order to embrace and follow Christ's teachings.
3)The above can be easily be verified by reading the scriptures in context and taking them at face value.
4)Christianity did not run roughshod over native cultures. It was people Not fully following the teachings of Christianity that did that.