When White Idealism Goes Too Far:
Spencer J. Quinn
Saints of the American Wilderness
John A. O’Brien
Saints of the American Wilderness: The Brave Lives and Holy Deaths of the Eight North American Martyrs
Manchester, N. H.: Sophia Institute Press, 2004
What if I told you that there exists a book which fully encapsulates what is both glorious and tragic about the white race? Would you buy it? Would you read it? Mind you, there is no middle ground in this book. People who are banal, mediocre, pretty good — not there. The funny, the pleasant, the mildly irritating — all banished. There is no one who is normal or average in this book, okay? When you look at the greatest accomplishments of white people across their many crowning moments throughout history, you can point to this book and say, “There! There it is!” And when the last pureblood white person draws her final breath and expires in the late twenty-fourth century after centuries of immigration and demographic displacement, we can point to this book and say, “Yep! There it is, too!”
Not the greatest consolation, but still pretty cool, no?
The book is Saints of the American Wilderness by Reverend John A. O’Brien. First published in 1953 under the title The American Martyrs, it tells of how eight French Jesuit priests were violently killed while spreading the Word of Jesus Christ in the backwoods of seventeenth-century Canada. I’m reminded of the following quotelet of sage wisdom from the nearly-martyred musical virtuoso David St. Hubbins: “There’s a such a fine line between stupid and clever.” Only in this case, replace “clever” with “beatific” and “stupid” with “suicidal,” and you’ll get an idea of what you’re in for if you ever decide to pick up Saints of the American Wilderness.
It is a pretty fine line, and boy, did these eight men walk it like they talked it.
O’Brien makes it clear from the beginning that the goal was to “achieve the spiritual conquest of the Indian.” Maybe Christian missionaries had the same superior attitude toward the Anglo-Saxons, the Picts, and other European pagans 1,500 years ago — and maybe converting them was just as dangerous. In either case, these Jesuit priests intended to attain spiritual (and cultural) dominance over the Indians of Canada — mostly the Hurons — through pure persuasion. They would live and work among the Indians as well as minister to the sick, comfort the elderly, and instruct the young. Most importantly, however, they would baptize as many people as possible and never shut up about Jesus.
This was the stated goal of these Jesuit missionaries. But there was another — also stated, but more so in private correspondence than in face-to-face dealings with non-Jesuits – namely, death. Yes, in all cases these missionaries traveled from France to New France not only hoping to achieve the glories of martyrdom, but expecting it. For them, the Divine Trinity was far more real than the clubs, knives, and arrows their Indian clients would eventually apply with cruel force upon them.
To give one’s life for an ideal as noble as the Christianization of the world is an honorable thing indeed. It requires a person of exceedingly high moral caliber and discipline to forego all comforts and personal gain to work tirelessly for the betterment of others. Throw in talent with languages, the constitution of a billy goat, and jaw-dropping toughness, and you have a solid description of the great men O’Brien depicts in Saints of the American Wilderness. It just seems a little suspicious that they would throw their lives away so eagerly. Perhaps the dank flipside of all these missions was membership in a perverse death cult to see who would wind up on God’s glorious honor roll of martyrs alongside the Anointed One himself. There’s also the question of whether Christianization actually helped or harmed the Indians, a question without a clear-cut answer despite O’Brien’s naturally pro-Christian slant.
When the 17-year-old Isaac Jogues completed his education in 1621, he enrolled in the novitiate of the Society of Jesus at Rouen, France. There he announced that the two things he sought were “Ethiopia and martyrdom.” His father did not approve, but not in the way one would expect. He replied, “Not so, my child. You will die in Canada.” How’s that for parental advice?
Once in the new fort of Quebec, Jogues learned of the Herculean tasks which lay before him. First, he and an 11-year-old boy named Jean Amyot had to travel 900 miles with a party of Hurons to the Indian village of Ihonatiria. As O’Brien describes:
The journey was full of hardships. They had to carry boats, provisions, and luggage around fifty cascades. For distances of four, eight, and ten miles they dragged the canoes through rapids where the water came to their waists and sometimes even to their necks. They lived on one meal a day, consisting of a little ground Indian corn mixed with water. They slept on rocks and in the woods. Jogues had to carry Jean Amyot on his shoulders part of the way, for the boy had become sick. The party was plagued by mosquitos, and they had to be on constant guard against lurking Iroquois.
This last part is crucial, given that while the Hurons had proved at least somewhat receptive to Christianity, the Iroquois rarely were — at least at that point in history. In fact, they were quite hostile both to the French and to other Indians. But while the Iroquois would grudgingly sign treaties with the French and then trade with them, they were bent on nothing less than the extermination of the Huron and other tribes. And this went both ways, as Jogues realized once he stepped off the boat in Quebec. There he witnessed a large number of Algonquins — men, women, and children — descend upon a lone Iroquois. They beat him with clubs, slashed him with knives, bit off his fingers, and rammed a flaming torch down his throat.
O’Brien’s description of the Hurons’ domestic life is only slightly less bleak:
Ihonatiria was a picture of filth and decay. The Indians’ cabins were littered with dirt, fish, bones, furs, scalps, refuse, and dogs. At mealtimes and at night they were crowded with men and women who were strangers to elementary sanitation. The stench was unbearable. The dirt floor upon which everyone reclined was crawling with vermin. Smoke from the invariable fires inflamed the eyes, and if visiting missionaries reclined on the floor, dogs and children crawled over them, completing the litany of discomfort.
After a period of mild success, Jogues became the victim of an Iroquois ambush when returning home with a party of Hurons. Indian marauders beat him unconscious and then chewed off both forefingers and all his remaining fingernails. Upon waking, he convinced his Iroquois captors that he wasn’t a flight risk, and then set to work baptizing all the dying Hurons with water squeezed from his drenched clothing. The Iroquois held him prisoner until his wounds began to putrefy, during which time they tortured him by pulling out his hair, scratching his wounds raw, and burning his arms. They also forced an old woman to cut off his thumb. Once, when a brave was about to cut off his nose, Jogues implored him to remove his head instead. Later, when one of his torturers was dying of disease, Jogues gladly comforted him until he passed. The Iroquois eventually made him a slave, during which time he wrote a 30-page account of his suffering with mangled fingers — all to prove to the Indian that love triumphs over hatred and that there is much more to life than warfare, torture, depravity, promiscuity, cannibalism, and barbarism.
Saints of the American Wilderness goes on for over 200 pages like this. A French priest feels the rapture and preaches the Good Word to the savage Huron. He converts a few, makes some dear friends, and baptizes as many as he can — all the while preaching and practicing abstinence when it comes to alcohol and sex (to the chagrin of more than a few squaws, as it turned out). Things improve until the tribe’s superstitious medicine men blame him for a drought or until a band of angry Iroquois crash the party. After this, the pious white man takes a tomahawk in the cranium or endures the kinds of torture which make the crucifixion at Golgotha seem like a mercy in comparison.
In Jogues’ case, the Queen Regent of Austria intervened. She pulled strings to get him sent back to France — but he didn’t stay long. After a tearful parting with his mother he returned to Canada, where he was abducted by Mohawks and ambushed by an Indian lurking behind a door with a hatchet.
Another martyr was the strong and towering Jean de Brébeuf, who performed the agonizing task of composing a complete grammar of the Algonquin language, as well as detailed descriptions of all that he had encountered. As being the first white men in the wilderness of seventeenth-century New France, posterity has come to rely on these Jesuit priests for more than just religious inspiration. Their linguistic and historical contributions have proved invaluable for a greater understanding of that part of the world. The Hurons, for their part, eventually relied on Brébeuf for his limitless stamina and enthusiasm for labor. They called him Echon, meaning “He who carries the load.”
Of course, he also carried the load for Christ — and for this, the Iroquois singled him out for torture after raiding a Huron settlement. O’Brien lingers for two-and-a-half pages over Brébeuf’s torment, which lasted four hours. It is difficult reading, and makes what happened to poor Isaac Jogues seem mild in comparison. A sense of propriety prevents me from quoting any of it, since much of what they did to him was not just cruel, but disgusting. Suffice to say, they did everything to Brébeuf in an effort to break him and to make him utter reproofs or beg for mercy. But the big man never broke. It was astonishing. All he did during this inhuman ordeal was beg God repeatedly to forgive his oppressors — that is, until they yanked out his tongue and rammed a firebrand down his throat. After that, he didn’t have much to say at all. Seven years and 7,000 baptisms since his arrival in Canada, Jean de Brébeuf finally achieved his precious martyrdom on March 16, 1649.
One other wilderness saint I would like to highlight is the kindhearted Antoine Daniel. This sweet man did his work among the Huron as diligently as any other O’Brien includes in his book. He was popular, if not loved, among the Indians. He also achieved the uncommon honor of making progress in civilizing them. But his even more uncommon ending during an Iroquois raid is most remarkable. I’ll let O’Brien take it from here:
The Iroquois were assaulting the palisades in strength, and the Hurons fought them off with desperation. But it was plain that it was only a matter of time before the much superior numbers of the attackers would prevail, and the Hurons, seeing all hope of ultimate safety crumbling, flocked to their spiritual leader, whom the unbaptized implored for the sacrament. Father Daniel dipped his handkerchief in water and baptized them by sprinkling.
The church seemed to many the best place to die, and into it they crowded. Seeing this, Daniel hurried to it and urged the people to escape while there was yet time. “I shall remain here,” he said, “while there is a soul to save. My life is of no account if I can help you.”
The Iroquois had broken through the palisades. They poured through the streets and with upraised tomahawks into the cabins. Soon they were streaming towards the chapel. Daniel advanced toward them and forbade them to enter. For a moment they paused in amazement at such a spectacle; then they rained a shower of arrows upon him, and a bullet pierced his heart. With the name of Jesus on his lips, he fell to the ground. The Iroquois pounced on him, tore off his garments, hacked his body, and perpetrated every manner of indignity upon it.
By now the flames from the cabins which the Iroquois had fired were licking at the church. Soon it was a blazing furnace, and into the fiercest part of the fire they tossed the body of Father Daniel; this was near the altar, upon which he had so short a time before offered up the Holy Sacrifice, and there the holocaust was completed. His body was so thoroughly consumed that not a vestige of his bones was ever found.
Later, as the Hurons mourned the loss of their devoted friend, a fellow missionary wrote of his fallen colleague: “Verily, he burned with a zeal for God more intense than any flame that consumed his body.”
Never have I read a book which simultaneously demonstrates what is so right and so wrong with white people. It’s uncanny. Perhaps O’Brien’s saints represent the extreme end of the temperament spectrum, but no great civilization can be built without men of the moral caliber of Jogues, Brébeuf, Daniel, and the others. These are people who recognize an ideal as being effectively more real than the tangible world, and then devote their lives to it. Whether this ideal is religion, science, mathematics, philosophy, the arts, or something else is less important than the fervor with which men pursue it. Western Civilization is so great largely because this fervor throughout history has been so great within it.
Like anything else, however, this can go too far, and I am afraid that the saints of the American wilderness went too far. Yes, they were stalwarts of Christendom who did their best to bring the light of civilization to the savage world. For this, they should be commended or at least respected. But to do so without taking any precautions, and in fact intending or even hoping to die in the process, strikes me as pathological. Life is a gift. Why throw it away? These priests could have at least arrived with arms and gone down fighting. Suicide is suicide, whether you cut off your own head or ask someone else to do it for you, as Isaac Jogues did. According to the Catholic Church, is suicide not a sin?
Sadly, this masochistic foolishness persists among whites today, as among those who preach the Word of God in the inner cities and get shot for their efforts, or who assist stranded black motorists and get shot for their efforts, or who support leniency for black criminals and then get shot for their efforts. The list goes on. In the seventeenth century, this ideal was the Holy Trinity, Heaven and Hell, and whatnot. Today’s it’s anti-racism, cultural Marxism, negrophilia, or whatever you want to call it. Either way, whites continue to endanger themselves and die when they don’t have to for the sake of some ideal.
Furthermore, they withhold the brunt of their scorn for other whites who refuse to be part of this perverse self-effacement program. Today, such whites are condemned as racists or white supremacists and occupy a lower status in the minds of goodwhites than the blacks and browns who attack and kill them. With this in mind, read the following passage from O’Brien [emphasis mine]:
The greatest of these perils, of course, arose from the large numbers of Iroquois lurking along the waterways. Dread of these marauders hung like a pall over river and forest, doubly so because their deadly effectiveness was heightened by the muskets the Dutch were selling to them. Back in Quebec, Father Vimont, the superior there, declared that the traders who put firearms in the hands of such vengeful Indians “deserve the punishment due to all the crimes which the avarice of the one party and the fury of the other have engendered.”
Got that? No matter what, blame the white man. Whites deserve punishment when they don’t kill, while non-whites — in this case, Indians — deserve forgiveness when they do kill — or chew off your fingers, jab you with hot irons, gouge out your eyes, pour boiling water over your head, or strip off your flesh little by little and then eat it with gusto during an hours-long torture session. But who has time to quibble, right?
The mistake here by both parties is to ignore race realism. These whites see aboriginals of varying hues primarily as opportunities to prove their virtue. These aboriginals have no agency and no capacity for sin. They just make a lot of mistakes and are in dire need of redirection — which these condescending, well-meaning whites are happy to provide. Had these whites known that IQ and temperament are nearly 100% biological, perhaps they would have thought twice before throwing away their lives to fix people who cannot be fixed — at least not within the span of several generations.
Yes, there were Indians — Hurons especially — who responded to the call of Christ and behaved impeccably. And good for them. But in Saints of the American Wilderness, these were always in the minority — and they could never resist non-Christian tribes when their hackles were up and the chips were down. This hints at something beyond O’Brien’s text which may be of greater importance than what is in his text: namely, that perhaps the Jesuits did more harm than good to the Huron by Christianizing them. Perhaps by offering them the niceties of Western Civilization, they softened the Huron and introduced traits which would prove maladaptive in the American wilderness. Perhaps because of this, the Huron were less able to compete with the Iroquois in the state of nature when life is, in the famous words of Thomas Hobbes, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
I can’t prove this, since I wasn’t there, and someone such as the honorable Reverend John A. O’Brien would never cop to it even if it were true. But according to Wikipedia, there are approximately 125,000 Iroquois living today and only 11,000 Hurons. O’Brien himself describes how many Hurons had to assimilate with other tribes or with the whites for their very survival, while the Iroquois never faced such difficulties. He quotes twentieth-century Jesuit author Francis X. Talbot, who claimed that “. . . by the Providence of God, which none could understand and none could question, the Huron people and nations were brought to God and to death at the same time.”
Coincidence? Or did one cause the other?
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