Animism, America, Religion and Politics

Animism, America, Religion and Politics

In a recent visit to South Africa I spent two weeks traveling in areas where Animism is the primary worldview, regardless of what religion is practiced.  Animism, at its most basic, is the belief that there is a spiritual world and a physical world, and one can control or affect the physical world via the spiritual world.  It is a mechanical system that believes if one says or does certain things (prayers, incantations, sacrifices, curses and charms), then the spirit world is impacted and this has direct effect on the physical world.  The Animistic Worldview does not promote a belief in a Creator, but recognizes there are good and evil spirits whose favor must be bought, earned or stolen through power and/or deceit; whose anger or evil must be appeased and/or used for self and against others; and that some people have the capacity or power to coerce the spirits to do their bidding (shamans, witch doctors, spiritualists, warlocks and witches).

One new revelation for me during my discussions about Animism with David Broodryk of South Africa was that in the Animistic Worldview there is a fixed amount of stuff and energy in the world.  This means that for one person to gain, another has to lose.  If one wants to be less poor or more rich, then one has to take from others or through the spiritual world cause the transfer of stuff from one person to another.  Most hexes and curses are for this purpose.

In recent years I have seen the Animistic Worldview gain de facto ground in modern Christianity in America.  There are books, sermons, and attitudes that reveal a strong tendency among Americans to think that if they say or do certain things, then God will respond in certain ways.  If we tithe, God will bless us.  If we pray, God will do what we ask.  If we wear or display certain medallions or symbols, God will protect us.

It seems we have forgotten that the life of a Christian is about conforming to God’s will, not God conforming to our wills.  Faith is being obedient to God regardless of the outcome for me personally.  Prayer is not about getting God to do things for me or us; it’s about changing our attitudes and actions to please God, getting to know Him better, and serving others more effectively.  Ministry is being used by God to answer the prayers of others through service.  And worship is not just about going to church to receive a blessing; it’s about being the church every day and presenting our lives as living sacrifices that are individually and collectively pleasing to God and a blessing to others.

Politically, I am seeing a significant worldview shift in America.  When I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, when one saw someone who was successful, the thought was not “How can I get what they have?” – the thought was “How can I learn what they know and create that for myself?”.  The basic worldview was based in a Creator who created us in His own image, which included knowledge and creativity, and the ability to create new stuff, wealth, energy, and a better life.

Today, we have Occupy Wall Street, which is grounded in an Animistic Worldview that believes, “In order for me to have the stuff I want or deserve, I must take it from others who have that stuff.” There is a fixed amount of stuff and energy, so for me to be happy and healthy I must take what I want or need from others by any means available.  As a matter of fact, those who have stuff have it because they took it from others, so it’s perfectly OK for me to get stuff by taking it from them.

At its root, any form of socialism or progressive-ism is an Animistic Governmental System that attenuates the flow of stuff and energy from those who have to those who don’t have in a way that promotes law and order in a worldview that says it’s OK to take what you want if you have the power to do so.  In effect, government becomes the shaman or witch doctor that causes the redistribution of wealth at a level that keeps both the rich and the poor happy.  This system causes a loss of creativity and accountability that is at the core of a worldview that acknowledges a Creator who endows His creation with the ability to create – not simply in the physical world, but in the world of ideas and service to others.  The Animistic Worldview fosters deceit, control, low accountability and hatred.  A Creative Worldview generates openness, cooperation, high accountability and care for others.  Idealistic?  I hope so!  How else can we set goals for ourselves and our society?

Those who subscribe to a Creative Worldview are engaged in society, making sure everyone has the opportunity to learn and be creative in knowledge as well as service to others.  This produces the stuff we need, and we are open to sharing it with those who don’t have because there is no end to resources when we are creative.

The shift from a Creative Worldview to an Animistic Worldview will destroy America.  This shift takes place as American Christians practice de facto Animism in our homes, businesses, churches, and political systems across our great nation.  Our political system grew out of a Creative Worldview.  As the Animistic Worldview replaces the Creative Worldview in America, America will go the way of many countries that are rooted in an Animistic Worldview – poverty, and class warfare brutally controlled or used by government or rebels to shift power and resources from one group of people to another in order to empower and enrich those who are in control or who gain control.

Dear God, help us to know you better and serve others more effectively!

Blessings!

David Watson
Irving, Texas

 

 

22 Replies to “Animism, America, Religion and Politics”

  1. Wow, David, that was well written. I learned two things from your article. One, the connection between limited resources and animism. And, two, and this is personal, that I as a believer in Jesus Christ have been influenced by the belief in limited resources. In certain areas of my life, I have allowed the "limited resources" belief to influence my thinking about relationships with others where there are financial transcations involved. I will consciously apply the Creative Worldview in all areas of my life. Peace to you and thanks.

  2. David, thanks a lot for this input. It is very important. One aspect you left out. The anaimistic world view is what comes naturally. If you don't decide consciously, if you let the flow of things flow, animism is what you get. One has to decide on one's worldview, goals and values to leave animism behind. If you follow your feelings, it is animism. If you follow your mind, it is animism. If you follow your creator and saviour, things change. It takes an act of our will and not just one.

    1. Thanks, Jeffrey. Good input. When our children are immersed most of the day in Animistic Worldview, if there is not a conscious imparting of the Creative Worldview on a day to day basis in such a way that decision is required, then the likelihood of adopting an Animistic Worldview increases dramatically. We must be living out our faith consistently at home and in the world, and we must be teaching/training our children to be critical thinkers. To allow ourselves or our children to mindlessly accept or ignore what is being said or portrayed through all forms of media is courting disaster for our families and our society.

  3. David, I agree with what you are saying and have been known to say it myself. I remember you saying years ago that the sinner's prayer may be leading as many people to hell as to heaven. I'm not sure of the good/bad ratio, but I do know that it can be used as a magical spell that obligates God to grant salvation. I know a young man who lives a horrible, non-repentant lifestyle and quotes "Once saved – always saved". I agree that animism is alive and well in America – unfortunately even in the church.

    1. I don't know the ratio, either. But if our church stats are correct, more than 75% of the people who profess to be Christians never enter a church of any kind. I can't speak to their service/ministry to others, but my gut tells me it's close to zero. Our love language for God is obedience to His Word and service to His creation.

  4. That is an astute analysis of both our political and spiritual climate. Very well put. The church in America is vulnerable to this animistic influence because of the lack of obedience based discipleship in our approach to evangelism, I think.

    1. So many chain emails are animistic in their pattern as well. I am often amazed at how many strong believers perpetuate these types of emails through their networks. While the actual content is often not the problem, it is the "promise" that something good will happen to you if you pass it on to 10 others.

  5. Unlike others, I found this post underwhelming. If, as you claim, socialistic government is tantamount to animism, then it seems to me that the Torah encourages "animism." Just read the Levitical and other accounts which doubtlessly espouse a kind of socialism (year of Jubilee; forgiveness of debt every 7 years; consistent redistributions of wealth; etc). Certainly the economics of God's Torah are not animistic!! That said, I wholeheartedly agree with you that church life in America is steeped in animistic mumbo-jumbo. I don't take issue with that point. But your political arguments reveal more about your own ideological dispositions than they do about any kind of essential link between animism and socialism. (Highways; libraries; police force; fire fighters; public education; the penal system; potable public water; and countless other systems are radically "socialistic" and also radically American. And they all depend on the redistribution of wealth, which is a fundamental feature of taxation.)

    1. The post certainly reflects my religious and political views. However, there is a significant difference between the theocracy of the OT and socialism – i.e. God. Your argument that infrastructure is socialistic is way off. Socialism is the redistribution of wealth, often against one’s will and with no benefit to the person whose wealth is taken. Supporting infrastructure is an integral part of government of all stripes and is about the fair payment for goods and services that make community work. Education and healthcare are certainly a part of this equation if minimum standards for everyone are established and provided, but allows for those who have the means to strive for more (if they want). You equate taxation with socialism. This can be true in some systems, but certainly not all. Monarchies tax. Dictatorships tax. Republics tax. Democracies tax. Interestingly enough, extreme socialistic systems don’t tax because the government owns everything and keeps the profit for themselves while forcing the people to live at often substandard levels of housing, income, healthcare, infrastructure, and quality of life.

      The real issue here is about doing what’s right in God’s sight for those who cannot take care of themselves. One of the functions of government should be to protect the weak members of society. This is quite different than coddling the lazy members of society or saying that every member of society should be paid the same regardless of capacity, training, excellence and hard work. There are differing values for the way in which individuals support society. Not everyone has the capacity or is willing to work hard enough to become a physician, scientist, engineer, business owner and etc.

      In a society that has the Creator God as a significant part of it’s worldview, everyone should be given the opportunity to develop to his or her capacity. This is for the good of the society. This is not socialism, which tends to bring everything to a common minimum. It seems to me that most socialistic systems want to make sure everyone reaches the same level of incompetence so that the elite in charge can keep what they have. The socialistic worldview is based on the view that there is limited stuff that must be kept and protected, and just enough is given out to keep people happy while the elite can enjoy their wealth of stuff.

      OT law allowed for those with capacity to excel and rise up in society. But it also recognized that power would supplant ability, so every fifty years the table was reset (Year of Jubilee) to make sure that power was not the basis for society, but that capacity and hard work were the basis for society. You will note that the value of everything was measured by the time remaining to Jubilee. Jubilee is not a system that can be made to work in modern society. But we can make sure that every person has access to quality education and opportunity to excel. Quite frankly, this seems to no longer be the case in America. When I attended university my tuition, books and fees were less than $250 per semester. A month’s work in the summer covered all my educational costs for a year. Today, university education starts at about $250 per semester hour, or about $4,000 per semester including books and fees. At $10 per hour one has to work 800 hours, or about 5 months full time to pay for one year of university. In other words, the average person cannot go to university and survive without loans or support in some form. The system has developed into one that only the elite can have easy access. This is a table that needs to be reset. Power and wealth should not be the determining factor for getting an education if one has capacity for learning and giving back to society. A Creative worldview society would make sure that everyone has access to education at a fair price. This resets the table every generation, allowing society to continue to develop, improve, and create. Power and influence will always be a part of the fallen world. But we can put in systems that attenuate this power.

      This is too big a topic for a complete review. This article is about worldviews – Creative or Animistic; and the impact these worldviews have on society.

      Blessings!

      David Watson

      1. Excellent point with the example of the state of higher education in our county. National Inflation Association has done extensive research in their latest video offering called "College Conspiracy" found at http://inflation.us/videos.html
        Great post and reply,
        Blessings Brother.

  6. There is an interesting dichotomy in Western society regarding Animism. On the intellectual level, anyone who would overtly subscribe to animism (or anything acknowledging the reality of spiritual power or a spiritual world) is marginalized by the intellectual elite — not through rational argument but through sarcasm and derision. Classic Greek sophistry at work. But on the "lived life" level, we are increasingly attracted to and influenced by Animism. We are among the most "spiritual" cultures in the world, just no longer biblical in our spiritual roots. Note the fascination with the occult, the Twilight phenomena, our preoccupation with the Walking Dead, etc. We intuitively know there is a spiritual world that our intellectual facade of materialism can't explain, so we are more and more characterized by the split level world that Francis Schaefer described many years ago. But since as Marx says the point of philosophy is really to change our world, it would be interesting to hear how you propose that we can strategically engage this trend as Christians.

  7. Great article!
    As to the belief in a "fixed amount of goods," most of the world lives with the belief in limited goods. Many North Americans, from a "go west young man," mentality, work off of a new frontiers to conquer paradigm, and often find it hard to understand another point of reference. I believe that earth is not totally a closed system; God enters in and adds his blessings, but for the most part there is a limited amount of land, water and other resources. Just as it is a rare wind that blesses nobody, it is a rare blessing that hurts noody.
    Most of the eastern Mediteranean world was and remains in a limited goods paradigm. Reading the Bible from that position changes some of the teachings. Community becomes much more important. Sharing and voluntary rationing are a way of life. The man who built bigger barns was not a good manager of his resources! When the goods are limited for us, we don't cope well and can get violently greedy; check out the videos on Black Friday shopping.

  8. I believe that the best perspective on this matter is the principle of faithful stewardship that operates from the fact that God owes everything and he is the great creator. So neither the application of an Animistic Worldview or that of a Creative Worldview will satisfy God's standards for the human care and use of his created resources. Any view of the world's resources that claims that human beings have any ownership rights or creative rights over anything that is in this world is materialistic idolatry, which God strongly rejects.

    1. Hi Bob,

      It is not materialistic idolatry to obey the command “Thou shalt not steal.” Property is culturally defined, but God has given us property as our own possession that we have in stewardship to Him alone. We have ownership rights and creative rights because God has given them to us. This is NOT idolatry. Finally, it is clear that these rights are given to us so we can exercise Love.

  9. Wow. I have learned so much from you.the first time i met you in person I was amazed by your stories. But yet kept on thinking is it worth it to give your whole life. Because what today’s Christians say is that if you follow God he will meet your needs. Meaning most of Christians are Christians for self-gain and when i see Christians being Christians to help others They are often poor and begging for support. This forces me to choose animism as it guarantees a better life-style. A better life-style meaning helping others with money and wealth i took and stole from others by doing a Job for example selling loans.
    Guide me please i am 19 now and confused with all the different views of Christians

    1. Hi, Stanford. Animism is about taking/controlling stuff and relationships by force, trickery, or spirit world manipulation. Exchanging goods and services for money or barter is not animism and it is not stealing.

      We need to remember that the world of money is in the domain of man and the domain of satan. The Fall resulted in this sad state. Many who are striving to live within the Kingdom of God and work for the Kingdom will find themselves short of funding from time to time. There are times when God chooses to intervene in the worlds of man and satan, but these of few and we call them miracles.

      I have benefited from these miracles on occasion over the past 40 years. But I never asked God to intervene. I asked Him to let me know His mind and to give me wisdom in making good/right decisions. There were also times when good people chose to help because they could. They were a blessing to me and honored God with their wealth.

      Blessings!

      David Watson
      Irving, Texas

  10. David,

    I just came upon this entry, and unlike many others, I find it very misleading. For one, the word to use the word “animistic” in describing someone’s religion is very colonial. We, African theologians, have asked you to drop this term for a long time. (I presume you know the work of John Mbiti, “African Religions and Philosophy.” Two, your definition of “animisim” is not nearly accurate. You fall back to the Western dualism of the spiritual and material worlds, and even there, your explanation raises more questions than it helps us understand what you are talking about. And third, you to take it from South Africa and connect it with the Occupy Movement and some Americans’ sense of entitlement even disconnects you with the old missionaries’ meaning of “animism.”

    1. Hi, Collins. I am dealing with animism as a worldview issue, not as a religion, though there will be overlap. This worldview, as I have described it, is spreading to the Western world. I have had conversations with hundreds of African leaders, and animism is a common term used by them. I have often explored what they mean by the term. I’m not sure how my use of the term makes me colonial, since most of what I know of this worldview comes from African and Asian leaders, the vast majority of whom are not Western trained, and did not become Christians through Western Christian agencies. I am examining/commenting on one aspect of that worldview which is growing in America, i.e., in order for someone to get something, then someone else must lose something. The adoption of this aspect of animist worldview is destructive to a biblical worldview and the core values of American society, regardless of what terminology is used.

      Blessings!

      David Watson

  11. I would like to learn more about animism as a worldview. Any resources that you maybe aware of, please. On the issue of Africans using the term animism, of course, they learned it from Westerners. But even then, for them, it is a religious term. It is a colonial term because, in my theological/missiological circles, it is almost derogatory. It is what the early missionaries used to describe African religion in their efforts to dismiss it and replace it with Christianity. As an animist, the African was everything evil (canibal, barbarian, without a soul, worshipper of spirits, backward, without a philosophy, etc). I expect you as a contemporary missionary in Africa to know better than they did.

    The issue that you have with this animism coming to the West is commendable. However, what is happening is a theology that allows for God’s direct involvement in human life through the Spirit (for Africans, there is no gap between the spiritual and the material … the spirits interact with humans on an expected constant basis). This is over against the Western buffered self (Charles Taylor, The Secular Age) where life is compartmentalized and faith and religion are kept in the private sphere. God is not expected to show up in issues that have nothing to do with faith, eg., the economy.

    Of course, the involvement of God in everyday life has been made to represent bad things, for instance, the prosperity gospel. But I do not think that the Occupy Movement was basing itself on any religious beliefs. Even the sense of entitlement that you mentioned is largely overstated in American discourses. I feel it is used only to buffer those who have the means from having to share. Or at least, provide equal opportunity for the poor to survive. When you have 1% of the population control so much in terms of the economy, and the church is silent, thats where I begin to get worried. It is the tie between capitalism and Christianity that freaks the lights out of me. And while I worry about Christianity in Africa, I hope that this capitalistic Christianity that you have here will not be exported to my continent. I can deal with a theology that opens up the material for the spiritual to make contact. But I can not understand a theology that justfies the rich getting richer by any means on the backs of the poor while the poor are gettion poor.

  12. Hi Collins

    I live in South Africa and we struggle with these issues daily. I do not think any true believer can defend raw capitalistic greed. You are right in your concerns that this is too often married with Western Christianity. You are also right in observing that the sacred/ secular divide is another major error in the Western church.

    On the flip side, we are seeing the destructive results of entitlement in South Africa. This is rooted in “the concept of limited good” – the belief that the only way for one person to prosper is to take from another. The belief is deeply entrenched in traditional African worldview – where witch doctors are used to manipulate spiritual forces for personal gain. This personal gain is always linked to the detriment of another person (through a curse, theft, or actual physical harm). It is deeper than material wealth. Many of our murders, crimes, divorces and other societal breakdowns are a direct result of these practices.

    It is unfortunate that the term “animism” has been used to promote colonialism. I am an African. There is so much to be celebrated and embraced in the richness of African culture. At the same time, my heart pains that so much of Africa’s struggle is the direct result of the collective beliefs that are unbiblical (the same can be said of the West!). As Christian leaders, we need to challenge these belief systems that hold people in bondage. If you have alternative, less offensive ways to describe these other than the term “animism,” I (and others) would love to learn from you.

    Blessings

    David B.

  13. The idea of redistributing wealth is what I would call a Christian idea. In 2.Cor. 8:15 it is written “‘Those who had much had nothing over, and those who had little did not lack!”.

    The natural tendency in a capitalist economy is that the wealth stream from the many to the few as is the case in USA. Not because the few are necessarily working harder, but because they, as you say, take what they want because they have the power to do so. That is why a mechanism for making the stream flow in a way that benefit as many people as possible is needed. A government that is controlled by the people through elections can be a good agent in implementing such a mechanism. It is a great shame when it is not possible to make a decent living from a full-time job.

    I would recommend to read The Letter from James in the Bible for a biblical view on capitalism.

    1. Hi, Nils. There is quite a difference between Christian redistribution of wealth through generosity and care-giving, and the forced redistribution of wealth by government to enhance their power, keep their chairs, and enrich themselves while putting meager amounts into the pockets of the poor and the infrastructure of a nation. I’ve never met an altruistic politician.

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