Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What do Indian Grave Robbers and Atheists have in Common?

What does the atheist Dan Barker (head of the Freedom from Religion Foundation) have in common with two American Indian grave robbers who dug up a white person's body? More than you might guess!

Dan and FFRF are in the news again. They're well known for their hard-line stance on the separation of church and state in America. For example, last year the FFRF caused a ruckus when they responded to a Christian display at the Washington State Capitol building with a an atheist sign that closed with, "Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds." They did it again this year, prompting a lawsuit from an enraged Christian.

What does this have to do with grave robbing? Well, a few years back there was a darkly funny story about two young American Indian men who snuck into a graveyard and dug up a white woman's body, just to show whites how the Indians feel when whites dig up the Indians' ancestors. If whites can dig up Indian bones, why shouldn't Indians be allowed to dig up white people's bones?

This is so obvious it shouldn't have to be stated, yet even today Indian remains are not treated with the dignity that the American Indians' culture requires. Those two young men felt compelled to turn the tables on whites, and actually rob a grave. And quite predictably, there was outrage. But I hope their act of civil disobedience gave at least a few people a new perspective on what it means to desecrate the bodies of American Indians.

And that's exactly what Dan Barker and the FFRF are trying to do with religion in government. All Americans have a right to access their government, without any hint of religious bias. Christians in America are particularly insensitive to how their religion can give offense. Their purportedly innocent nativity scenes look cute and beautiful to a Christian, but to everyone else these displays are shouting, "You're going to HELL to burn FOREVER because you don't believe this cute little baby, who is actually God!"

The "winter solstice" display that the FFRF places alongside the Christian displays is deliberately designed to be edgy, to be slightly offensive. If atheists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Jains and Buddhists can't walk into their state capitol buildings without passing a "You're going to HELL" display, it's only fair that Christians should be treated to an equal amount of unpleasant rhetoric.

"How do YOU like it when we treat you the same as you treat us?" That's the message that both the FFRF and those two Indians were sending, and I hope both messages sink in. Government and religion should be separate, and it's impossible to mix the two in any way without offending citizens.

(P.S. If anyone can find a link to the news articles about those two American Indians, or correct my memory, please send it along. I googled it a bit but couldn't find that particular story among the thousands of others about whites digging up Indian graves. It was probably ten or twenty years ago.)


  1. What is it with Americans and the term Indian? Is that still socially acceptable in the US? Shouldn't this be about Native Grave Robbers?

  2. We call them Indians because that's what they prefer. Every one that I've ever met says something like, "I'm an Indian, just call me an Indian." So I do. Yes, it is socially acceptable.

  3. It nothing about Americans - its part of the human condition. Once traditions get ingrained they are hard to remove. Look at the queen of england and the pope - two completely defunct offices that still go on rather strong long after they have no use. In this case, Americans are simply perpetuating a mistake a very bad European made.


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