An Introduction to Animism
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An Introduction to Traditional Religion, also called Animism. Included is ways in which Christians might be influenced by Animism. Best practices for evangelizing Animists are reviewed.

An Introduction to Traditional Religion, also called Animism. Included is ways in which Christians might be influenced by Animism. Best practices for evangelizing Animists are reviewed.

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An Introduction to Animism An Introduction to Animism Presentation Transcript

  • An Introduction toAn Introduction to TraditionalTraditional ReligionReligion Jim Sutherland, PhDJim Sutherland, PhD RMNI.orgRMNI.org
  • Who Are Ethnoreligionists?Who Are Ethnoreligionists?  They are animists, polytheists and shamanists tiedThey are animists, polytheists and shamanists tied to an ethnic group, according to the Worldto an ethnic group, according to the World Christian Database.Christian Database.  Other names are “traditional religions,” “tribalOther names are “traditional religions,” “tribal religions,” “cosmic religion,” or “primitive religions.”religions,” “cosmic religion,” or “primitive religions.” Ebenezer Boafo, “Communicating the Message About Jesus to African Traditional Religionists,” p. 1Ebenezer Boafo, “Communicating the Message About Jesus to African Traditional Religionists,” p. 1  ““The essence of all African traditional religions isThe essence of all African traditional religions is the overlaying of our world by another world ofthe overlaying of our world by another world of gods, spirits of the returning dead and rites in agods, spirits of the returning dead and rites in a world where everything is alive.”world where everything is alive.” Boafo, p. 3Boafo, p. 3
  • Traditional Religionists/AnimistsTraditional Religionists/Animists  Missionaries have been quite successful inMissionaries have been quite successful in reaching animistic peoples overall:reaching animistic peoples overall:  In 1900 9.2% of Africa was Christian. In 2000,In 1900 9.2% of Africa was Christian. In 2000, 45.9% were. Population grew 626% in that period,45.9% were. Population grew 626% in that period, while Christianity grew by 3,500%.while Christianity grew by 3,500%.11  Yet ethnoreligionists (tribal religions) were 117,537,000Yet ethnoreligionists (tribal religions) were 117,537,000 in 1900 and 266,281,000 in 2009.in 1900 and 266,281,000 in 2009.22  In 1900 ethnoreligionists were 7.2% of the globalIn 1900 ethnoreligionists were 7.2% of the global population. In 2009, they are 3.9% of globalpopulation. In 2009, they are 3.9% of global populationpopulation (World Christian Database).(World Christian Database). Their percentage isTheir percentage is declining, while absolute numbers are increasing.declining, while absolute numbers are increasing.  1 Michael Jaffarian, “The demographics of world religions entering the 21st century,” in1 Michael Jaffarian, “The demographics of world religions entering the 21st century,” in Between pastBetween past & future& future, J. Bonk ed. 2003, pp. 255, 260-261., J. Bonk ed. 2003, pp. 255, 260-261.  22 David Barrett, Todd M. Johnson & Peter Crossing, “Christian World Communions: Five Overviews ofDavid Barrett, Todd M. Johnson & Peter Crossing, “Christian World Communions: Five Overviews of Global Christianity, AD 1800-2025,” Int’l Bulletin of Missionary Research, Jan. 2009, Global Table 5, p. 25.Global Christianity, AD 1800-2025,” Int’l Bulletin of Missionary Research, Jan. 2009, Global Table 5, p. 25. View slide
  • Religions Based onReligions Based on BeingsBeings ““High” ReligionsHigh” Religions  ““cosmic gods”cosmic gods”  ““angels”angels”  ““demons”demons”  ““spirits of other worlds”spirits of other worlds”  When Christianity confrontsWhen Christianity confronts otherother highhigh religions, it is areligions, it is a truthtruth encounter.encounter.11  Deal with ultimate issues.Deal with ultimate issues.22 ““Low Religions”—BeingsLow Religions”—Beings on earthon earth  ““local gods andlocal gods and goddesses”goddesses”  ““ancestors and ghosts”ancestors and ghosts”  ““spirits”spirits”  ““demons and evil spirits”demons and evil spirits”  ““dead saints”dead saints”  When Christianity confrontsWhen Christianity confronts animisticanimistic religions, it is areligions, it is a powerpower encounter.encounter.11  Deal with “immediate”Deal with “immediate” issues.issues.22 1 Paul G. Hiebert, “The Flaw of the Excluded Middle,” Missiology: An International Review, 10:1, Jan. 1982, p. 40, 45. 2 Dean C. Halverson, “Animism,” in The Compact Guide to World Religions, Dean Halverson, ed., 1996, ISBN:1556617046, p. 40. View slide
  • Charms and RitesCharms and Rites  In Uganda spouses sometimes put a picture ofIn Uganda spouses sometimes put a picture of their spouse in a bottle and wear it, to increasetheir spouse in a bottle and wear it, to increase love from the partner.love from the partner.  Women will sometimes wear beads around theirWomen will sometimes wear beads around their middle for the same purpose.middle for the same purpose.  In South Korea, people will put sacred words on aIn South Korea, people will put sacred words on a paper.paper.  In Uganda men and women may smoke a pipe andIn Uganda men and women may smoke a pipe and speak what they want to happen into the smoke. Forspeak what they want to happen into the smoke. For example they might want a particular person to loveexample they might want a particular person to love them or to give them money.them or to give them money.
  • Religion Based on CosmicReligion Based on Cosmic ForcesForces ““High” ReligionsHigh” Religions  ““kismet”kismet”  ““fate”fate”  ““Brahman and karma”Brahman and karma”  ““impersonal cosmicimpersonal cosmic forces”forces”  predestinationpredestination ““Low Religions”Low Religions”  ““mana”mana”  ““astrological forces”astrological forces”  ““charms, amulets andcharms, amulets and magical rites”magical rites”  A witchdoctor gave small piecesA witchdoctor gave small pieces of a lion pelt to hold for courage.of a lion pelt to hold for courage.  ““evil eye, evil tongue”evil eye, evil tongue”  In the DRCongo, the “oola” is theIn the DRCongo, the “oola” is the evil eye from certain women. It’sevil eye from certain women. It’s believed that if they look at abelieved that if they look at a baby it starts to cry and then dies.baby it starts to cry and then dies.  witchcraftwitchcraftPaul G. Hiebert, “The Flaw of the Excluded Middle,” Missiology: An International Review, 10:1, Jan. 1982, p. 40.
  • PowerPower EncounterEncounter Huntington Mammu is an elder at Ntenjeru CommunityHuntington Mammu is an elder at Ntenjeru Community Presbyterian Church, near Kampala, Uganda. He purchasedPresbyterian Church, near Kampala, Uganda. He purchased land that had a stone on it considered to have powerland that had a stone on it considered to have power (“mana”). People who approached that stone brought(“mana”). People who approached that stone brought money, out of respect. He couldn’t find anyone to clear themoney, out of respect. He couldn’t find anyone to clear the new property, due to fear of this large stone, so he cleared itnew property, due to fear of this large stone, so he cleared it himself. But he offered nothing to the stone. Two weeks laterhimself. But he offered nothing to the stone. Two weeks later he was near the stone and a cobra bit him. He called out tohe was near the stone and a cobra bit him. He called out to the Lord, ate onion, but deliberately did not go to a doctor,the Lord, ate onion, but deliberately did not go to a doctor, since he considered it demonic. He was not hurt.since he considered it demonic. He was not hurt.
  • The “Excluded Middle”The “Excluded Middle”  Hiebert points out that Christian missionaries fromHiebert points out that Christian missionaries from the West have been able to help concerningthe West have been able to help concerning matters of eternity and matters of human societymatters of eternity and matters of human society (family, marriage, other social relations). But, at(family, marriage, other social relations). But, at least in the past, they haven’t been able to giveleast in the past, they haven’t been able to give alternatives to tribal religionists who go to thealternatives to tribal religionists who go to the witchdoctor or shaman for guidance and protectionwitchdoctor or shaman for guidance and protection from evil spirits, or for help in times of crises.from evil spirits, or for help in times of crises.  What does Christianity say about getting rain for theWhat does Christianity say about getting rain for the crops, knowing to whom to give a daughter in marriage,crops, knowing to whom to give a daughter in marriage, or how to counter magic directed against you? Thisor how to counter magic directed against you? This “middle area” was not adequately addressed.“middle area” was not adequately addressed. Hiebert, p. 44Hiebert, p. 44
  • Taking Spirits SeriouslyTaking Spirits Seriously  Rodney Henry, inRodney Henry, in The Filipino Spirit WorldThe Filipino Spirit World relatesrelates that there is a “conspiracy of silence” amongthat there is a “conspiracy of silence” among laypeople in that they don’t go to clergy about spirits,laypeople in that they don’t go to clergy about spirits, because they don’t think the clergy will take thembecause they don’t think the clergy will take them seriously.seriously.  Henry wrote of a layman who went to an AmericanHenry wrote of a layman who went to an American missionary to pray for a friend who was “troubled bymissionary to pray for a friend who was “troubled by demons.” The missionary laughed and began talking aboutdemons.” The missionary laughed and began talking about something else.something else.  Dean C. Halverson, “Animism,” inDean C. Halverson, “Animism,” in The Compact Guide to World Religions,The Compact Guide to World Religions, DeanDean Halverson, ed., 1996, ISBN:1556617046, p. 43.Halverson, ed., 1996, ISBN:1556617046, p. 43.
  • ““Folk” ReligionsFolk” Religions  All major religions have those who mix their beliefsAll major religions have those who mix their beliefs with animistic ones, on the level of daily living. Forwith animistic ones, on the level of daily living. For example:example:  Most Muslims rely upon holy men—“marabuts” who headMost Muslims rely upon holy men—“marabuts” who head Sufis, etc.—for their prayers, breath and even spittle forSufis, etc.—for their prayers, breath and even spittle for miraculous intervention. They also look to saints, bothmiraculous intervention. They also look to saints, both living and dead, for their intervention when in need.living and dead, for their intervention when in need. Sacred objects, such as trees and rocks, are associatedSacred objects, such as trees and rocks, are associated with saints. Also relics from holy men are used as awith saints. Also relics from holy men are used as a talisman against thetalisman against the jinnjinn—evil spirits, generally, and to—evil spirits, generally, and to protect from the genie or devil-mate.protect from the genie or devil-mate. NormanNorman Anderson, Islam, Ch. 9 inAnderson, Islam, Ch. 9 in The World’s ReligionsThe World’s Religions, pp. 113-114, Inter-Varsity Press., pp. 113-114, Inter-Varsity Press.
  • Generally Held Animistic BeliefsGenerally Held Animistic Beliefs  A supreme creator god has been offended by those,A supreme creator god has been offended by those, so god abandoned humankind, and is nowso god abandoned humankind, and is now inaccessible, even by prayerinaccessible, even by prayer  The chief god may be named the Sky God or Supreme God.The chief god may be named the Sky God or Supreme God.  Lesser gods are those with whom tribal religionistsLesser gods are those with whom tribal religionists deal. They were created by the high god and live indeal. They were created by the high god and live in inanimate things, but can indwell animals.inanimate things, but can indwell animals. (Boafo, p. 3)(Boafo, p. 3)  Lesser gods live in towns or are served by families orLesser gods live in towns or are served by families or individuals.individuals. Boafo, p. 3Boafo, p. 3
  • Personal Spirit BeingsPersonal Spirit Beings  Those that have bodies, including dead ancestorsThose that have bodies, including dead ancestors  Those that do not have bodies, such as spiritsThose that do not have bodies, such as spirits and gods.and gods.  These spirits are seen as helpers in life, or those thatThese spirits are seen as helpers in life, or those that hinder us, if they are not given honor.hinder us, if they are not given honor.  Dean C. Halverson, “Animism,” inDean C. Halverson, “Animism,” in The Compact Guide to World Religions,The Compact Guide to World Religions, DeanDean Halverson, ed., 1996, ISBN:1556617046, p. 40.Halverson, ed., 1996, ISBN:1556617046, p. 40.
  • Personal SpiritsPersonal Spirits  Spirits have local power, rather than universalSpirits have local power, rather than universal power.power.  Some exercise power over people.Some exercise power over people.  They may influence business deals, marriage, relationsThey may influence business deals, marriage, relations with others, etc.with others, etc.  Some spirits influence, or seem to influence,Some spirits influence, or seem to influence, nature.nature.  Sacrifices are made to the river god in S. Sudan andSacrifices are made to the river god in S. Sudan and Uganda.Uganda.  They seem to control rain, or harvests, etc.They seem to control rain, or harvests, etc. Dean C.Dean C. Halverson, “Animism,” inHalverson, “Animism,” in The Compact Guide to World Religions,The Compact Guide to World Religions, Dean Halverson, ed.,Dean Halverson, ed., 1996, ISBN:1556617046, p. 41.1996, ISBN:1556617046, p. 41.
  • Impersonal SpiritsImpersonal Spirits  These are believed to indwell inanimate objects.These are believed to indwell inanimate objects. This concept is called “mana.”This concept is called “mana.”  Additionally, spirits may inhabit words or ritualAdditionally, spirits may inhabit words or ritual practices.practices. Dean C. Halverson, “Animism,” inDean C. Halverson, “Animism,” in The Compact Guide to World Religions,The Compact Guide to World Religions, DeanDean Halverson, ed., 1996, ISBN:1556617046, p. 41.Halverson, ed., 1996, ISBN:1556617046, p. 41.
  • Concept of SinConcept of Sin  ““Sin, for the African traditional religionist, is not aSin, for the African traditional religionist, is not a state of being, as in Christianity. Rather, it isstate of being, as in Christianity. Rather, it is primarily blasphemies or breach of vows againstprimarily blasphemies or breach of vows against the gods or ancestors. Murder, theft and allthe gods or ancestors. Murder, theft and all ‘offences against persons or property are matters‘offences against persons or property are matters which have to be settled primarily by the family andwhich have to be settled primarily by the family and society’ (Williamson, 107). It would appear that thesociety’ (Williamson, 107). It would appear that the gods and ancestors are mainly concerned aboutgods and ancestors are mainly concerned about their dignity and about offerings to be paid to them,their dignity and about offerings to be paid to them, and that man’s concerns must be rectified andand that man’s concerns must be rectified and punished by man.”punished by man.” Boafo, p. 3Boafo, p. 3
  • DivinationDivination  To find out information about spirits and the futureTo find out information about spirits and the future and other matters of interest, divination is used.and other matters of interest, divination is used. These methods include:These methods include:  astrology, reading entrails of animals, using specialastrology, reading entrails of animals, using special stones, and astrology.stones, and astrology.  They also may include “They also may include “tarottarot cards, palm reading, thecards, palm reading, the II ChingChing, tea-leaf reading, observing how feathers fall, the, tea-leaf reading, observing how feathers fall, the throwing of cowrie shells…necromancy (contacting thethrowing of cowrie shells…necromancy (contacting the dead) and interpreting dreams and visions.”dead) and interpreting dreams and visions.”  Leviticus 19:26 "'Do not practice divination or sorcery. NIVLeviticus 19:26 "'Do not practice divination or sorcery. NIV cf. Dt. 18:10.cf. Dt. 18:10. Dean C. Halverson, “Animism,” inDean C. Halverson, “Animism,” in The Compact Guide to WorldThe Compact Guide to World Religions,Religions, Dean Halverson, ed., 1996, ISBN:1556617046, p. 40Dean Halverson, ed., 1996, ISBN:1556617046, p. 40
  • The AfterlifeThe Afterlife  At death, a person’sAt death, a person’s spiritspirit returns to the Supremereturns to the Supreme Being, in African traditional religion.Being, in African traditional religion.  The person’sThe person’s soulsoul goes on to the spirit world,goes on to the spirit world, which is like life on earth, and the departed iswhich is like life on earth, and the departed is considered part of the clan.considered part of the clan.  Of course, now they must be kept happy.Of course, now they must be kept happy.  Alternately, some animists believe inAlternately, some animists believe in reincarnation.reincarnation. Boafo, p. 2Boafo, p. 2
  • The Gospel for AnimistsThe Gospel for Animists  Christians have a great alternative to offer:Christians have a great alternative to offer:  freedom from bondage to spirit beings, includingfreedom from bondage to spirit beings, including ancestors and evil spirits.ancestors and evil spirits.  freedom from impoverishing family by offerings tofreedom from impoverishing family by offerings to appease gods and from paying shamans/medicine menappease gods and from paying shamans/medicine men and women.and women.  forgiveness for sins, which animal sacrifices cannotforgiveness for sins, which animal sacrifices cannot accomplish.accomplish.  Hebrews 10:4 because it is impossible for the blood ofHebrews 10:4 because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.bulls and goats to take away sins.  Hebrews 9:28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take awayHebrews 9:28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many peoplethe sins of many people
  • How to Reach AnimistsHow to Reach Animists  Paul Hiebert advocated two ways:Paul Hiebert advocated two ways:  (1 a more holistic ministry—dealing with the(1 a more holistic ministry—dealing with the comprehensive needs of peoplecomprehensive needs of people  (2 not going to the extreme of turning Christianity into a(2 not going to the extreme of turning Christianity into a form of magic, trying to control beings with impersonalform of magic, trying to control beings with impersonal forces, such as formulae—saying the right words.forces, such as formulae—saying the right words. Hiebert, pp.Hiebert, pp. 45-4645-46
  • Why Knock on Wood?Why Knock on Wood?  ““The explanation we prefer is the ancient belief that spiritsThe explanation we prefer is the ancient belief that spirits either dwelled in or guarded trees. We prefer this becauseeither dwelled in or guarded trees. We prefer this because many cultures around the world show evidence of treemany cultures around the world show evidence of tree worship dating back thousands of years.”worship dating back thousands of years.”  ““Greeks worshipped the oak as it was sacred to Zeus, CeltsGreeks worshipped the oak as it was sacred to Zeus, Celts believed in tree spirits, and both believed touching sacredbelieved in tree spirits, and both believed touching sacred trees would bring good fortune. Irish lore holds thattrees would bring good fortune. Irish lore holds that “touching wood" is a way to thank the leprechauns for a bit“touching wood" is a way to thank the leprechauns for a bit of luck. Pagans also held similar beliefs of protective treeof luck. Pagans also held similar beliefs of protective tree spirits. Chinese and Koreans thought the spirits of mothersspirits. Chinese and Koreans thought the spirits of mothers who died in childbirth remained in nearby trees.”who died in childbirth remained in nearby trees.”11  10% of US teens have been in a séance and 8% have cast10% of US teens have been in a séance and 8% have cast a spell or concocted a potion.a spell or concocted a potion.11 1 Ask Yahoo, http://ask.yahoo.com/20040504.html accessed 5/30/09 2 1/23/06 Barna Report www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/164-new-research-explores-teenage-views-and-behavior- regarding-the-supernatural
  • Folk ChristianityFolk Christianity  Christians may try to control God or spiritsChristians may try to control God or spirits  ““Praise goes up, blessings come down.” This is a form ofPraise goes up, blessings come down.” This is a form of attempted manipulation.attempted manipulation.  Some think that by reciting the names of God—such asSome think that by reciting the names of God—such as Jehovah Jirah—that God is somehow obligated toJehovah Jirah—that God is somehow obligated to express that attribute toward the one naming theexpress that attribute toward the one naming the attribute.attribute.  Some give “seed money” to the church to cause God toSome give “seed money” to the church to cause God to give much more in return.give much more in return.  African Americans have the highest rates of readingAfrican Americans have the highest rates of reading horoscopes, church attendance and Bible reading.horoscopes, church attendance and Bible reading.  Barna Group 6/23/03 http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/123-Barna Group 6/23/03 http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/123- fragmented-populations-require-diverse-means-of-connectionfragmented-populations-require-diverse-means-of-connection
  • Folk Christianity & ChanceFolk Christianity & Chance  ““Christians are more likely to invest their money inChristians are more likely to invest their money in lottery tickets than are non-Christians. Overall, 15%lottery tickets than are non-Christians. Overall, 15% of born again and 23% of notional Christiansof born again and 23% of notional Christians purchased lottery tickets in a typical week,purchased lottery tickets in a typical week, compared to just 10% of other-faith adherents andcompared to just 10% of other-faith adherents and 12% of atheists/agnostics.”12% of atheists/agnostics.”  Looking to chance for provision?Looking to chance for provision? 5/24/04 http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/188- faith-has-a-limited-effect-on-most-peoples-behavior