Animism in Today’s World

So, you think Animism is only found in primitive societies or in pockets of small uneducated people groups in more advanced societies? Think again. How about these recent headlines on the world stage.

Kyrzyg Palriment Expells “Evil Spirits”

UN Prepares to Debate Whether “Mother Earth” Deserves Human Rights Status

In the first article, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament sacrificed seven sheep in a traditional religious ceremony in order to drive evil spirits out of the parliament chamber. This is that country’s national legislative assembly.

In the second article, the United Nations decided to devote an entire day debating the rights of “Mother Earth.” There is a group of governments which want to grant the same rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to Mother Nature. If passed, this would establish a legal system to maintain balance between human rights and the inalienable rights of other members of the Earth community (plants, animals, terrain).

All of this may seem way out in left field for most of us, but we live in a world where Animistic worldview beliefs have a significant amount of backing. We might look at a country like Kyrgyzstan and dismiss them as a backward third world country whose people are too ignorant to know better. But these same kinds of beliefs are being promoted at the UN, of all places. And the major countries supporting this include Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua, Barbuda, and Syria, plus 11 more countries. Indeed, Animism is spreading, and its spread is far reaching.

What is Animism?
Animism is one of the four foundational worldviews. This is the one that affirms the belief that there are many gods in the universe and that they interact with humanity in a symbiotic relationship. Typically, the gods are understood to be expressed in the natural world – some in material objects, some in heavenly objects, some in animals and others being the spirits of departed human ancestors.

Most Animists affirm that human beings are spiritual at their core and that upon physical death, they, too, will become spirits in the spirit world. They believe that it is their duty to do what they can in this life to make sure that the needs of the spirits are met.

Animists generally believe that the ultimate goal of life is to achieve as much peace and prosperity out of this life as possible and to promote harmony between the material and spirit worlds. The way they go after this is to do all they can to appease the gods who are able to affect their earthy lives. They do this by learning what makes the gods happy, and performing the deeds to accomplish it.

Why Christians Need to Be Familiar with Animism
It is estimated that 40% of the world’s population is Animistic. It used to be that various forms of Animism were not at all prominent in America. That is simply not true anymore. Accurate numbers are hard to come by, but the number of people looking to some form of Animism is rising dramatically.

There are, perhaps, tens of millions of Americans who at least give a nod to Animistic practice, even if they claim another religion. Those who check their horoscopes or call on a palm reader or other soothsayer are looking to Animistic practice for life’s answers. And a couple of the most popular movies of all time have Animistic foundations – The Lion King and Avatar.

But the numbers of people who overtly follow an Animistic religion are also rising. In 2007 the US military counted just under 2000 service members who list their religion as Wica, and they have even approved an official military grave marker with the Wiccan insignia. Other belief systems which are overtly Animistic or have significant elements of Animism incorporated within them include New Age, Voodoo, Native American religions, Astrology and Fortune Telling. Combine Wiccans with other Animistic belief systems together and estimates of their numbers in the US range between 600,000 and 800,000 people.

In comparative terms, this may not seem like a large number. But it does represent a significant rise in the last several decades and growth rates seem to be rising. What this means is that Christians in America are more and more likely to interact with people who claim an Animistic belief.

It is not merely for interests sake that Christians ought to be active in learning more about Animistic practice. We have been called by God to be witnesses to those who don’t know Christ, and to do that we must be familiar with what they believe. It used to be that American Christians didn’t have much need to learn about Animists. That has all changed.

How to Witness to Animists
The starting place for witness to someone who holds an Animistic worldview is to bring them to the possibility of the existence of only one God. Animistic belief recognizes divinity in all of the created order – material objects, heavenly objects, animals and departed human spirits.

Animistic belief really doesn’t have much to support its claims – primarily only anecdotal evidence. Any particular Animistic belief system cannot even provide a reason why its own system is better than some other Animistic system. There simply is no means of arbitrating between them. The basis for belief is simply based on the assertions of its adherents.

Once you are able to create doubt within the person due to the fact that they cannot give any reason why their faith might be the truth, an opening has been created which could lead to an opportunity to share the gospel message. In doing this, you must start with a thorough explanation of the God of the Bible. They must understand the distinction between their belief in many gods and the One God of the Bible.

Once they understand who God is, you may then proceed to the condition of mankind as fallen, as well as the problem created by the fall regarding our separation from him. Finally, you can explain salvation by sharing how God provided a solution to the separation problem and the steps they can take to receive Christ.

To be effective in your sharing, though, you will have to do your due diligence. You must make the effort to learn about the basic foundation of Animism as well as the particular belief system of the person you are interacting with. It is very difficult to carry on an intelligent conversation about something you don’t know much about.

Worldwide, Animism is actually quite large. In America, not so much, but definitely growing. As such, it is essential that Christians learn the key elements of Animism so that we can be faithful in sharing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

© 2011 Freddy Davis