“These Native Americans [in the south-west] believed that nature was filled with spirits. Each form of life, such as plants and animals, had a spirit. Earth and air held spirits, too. People were never alone. They shared their lives with the spirits of nature.”

While the account tries to show respect, Loewen argues that it reduces the believers to simple-minded caricatures. Their beliefs are presented as childish make-believe. A similarly literal version of Christianity would offend believers:

“These Americans believed that one great male god ruled the world… They ate crackers and wine or grape juice, believing that they were eating their [god’s] son’s body and drinking his blood. If they believed strongly enough, they would live on forever after they died.”

Loewen points out that textbooks never describe Christianity this way. The reason is not hard to find: believers would immediately recognise that such literalism fails to convey either the symbolic meaning or the spiritual satisfaction of sharing in the beliefs and practices of a religious community. Rather than reducing their faith to a listing of the bizarre and the irrational, researchers need to pay as much respectful and sympathetic attention to the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of the underdogs of the world as they do to those of the orthodox elites and the powerfully established.

You know what? I’m just going to let the brilliance of these two Jesus and Mo cartoons speak for me here.