Posts Tagged “animism”

Police in Fairfax county, Virginia are asking this very question: Did shamansim kill Rayoung Kim last year? This report comes from the Washington Post:

Someone pummeled and smothered 18-year-old Rayoung Kim in a bedroom of her home in a new suburban subdivision in Fairfax County. She fell unconscious and later died.

Fairfax police think the fatal injuries occurred in July 2008 during a Korean exorcism, in which a spiritual shaman and family members try to force evil spirits to leave a possessed person. …

After investigating the case for more than a year, Fairfax homicide detectives recently obtained search warrants to take DNA samples from Kim’s mother and brother, whom they suspect might have participated in the ancient Korean rite of kut, in which a shaman communicates with spirits.

This case resembles the death of Madeline Kara Neumann, who died of a treatable illness because her parents preferred to pray rather than allow her to get medical care. (They were recently convicted in separate trials, though their sentence is a laughable arrangement that does nothing to punish them.)

In the occidental world we often think only of the organized, Abrahamic faiths — particularly Christianity and Islam — as causing people harm. But the truth is that religious harm is not limited only to the occidental world or the Abrahamic faiths; it can and does happen even in oriental religions. This is something I’ve blogged about before but find that it bears repeating, since most people have the (erroneous) belief that oriental religions are incapable of causing anyone harm. If in fact Ms Kim turns out to have been killed by a shamanistic exorcism, it will only provide more evidence that the harm that can be caused by religious belief is ubiquitous in human societies.

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Concerning the “gay exorcism” I blogged about earlier, the pastor of Manifested Glory Ministries in Bridgeport, CT has finally stopped being coy about the video they’d posted online but then yanked when people actually paid attention to it. Pastor Patricia McKinney appeared on CNN to “explain” what happened. (Not that she actually “explained” anything.) Video of this train-wreck interview can be viewed at the Friendly Atheist blog.

Near the start, Ms McKinney makes this statement:

I just wanted to tell the world out there that Manifested Glory Ministries Church is not against homosexuality. We do not hate them. We do not come up against them.

This claim, however, is contradicted just a few more moments into the interview, when she said:

You can come in our church, but you cannot live that lifestyle in our church.

Put these statements together, and you have, “We’re not opposed to homosexuality, we’re just opposed to homosexuality.”

That’s about as nonsensical and asinine as anything I’ve ever heard.

An interesting point — which further reveals how medieval this church’s thinking is — that Ms McKinney makes several times in the interview, is “Everything has a spirit.” This is an archaic point of view; not merely medieval, but ancient and primeval. It is also at the foundation of all fundamentalist thinking. To a religious fundamentalist, the world itself — and everything in it — is fully alive, and is part of the vast cosmic contest between Good (i.e. God) and Evil (i.e. not just Satan, but “the World,” sin, secularism, etc.). Everything that happens, emerges directly from this enormous, ongoing universal struggle. People’s behaviors and even thoughts are a manifestation of this struggle … and in a very real, and both personal and personalized, way. In many ways, fundamentalists — of any sort, not just Christian — end up seeing the world as a terrifying place. Everything around them can potentially be arrayed against them and against their cause (God). This is one of the reasons why fundamentalists tend to be so paranoid in their thinking (the gun-toting Louisville pastor I blogged about is a prime example of this phenomenon).

While Christians have traditionally viewed themselves as being “different” from the pagans who preceded them, ironically their view that all things … people, objects, even behaviors … are living, breathing, metaphysical entities (or “spirits”) with their own existence, motives and purposes, is not appreciably different from the animism that was part of most pagan belief systems.

Put bluntly, Christianity has encountered its enemy — and has become it!

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Perhaps one of the single most harmful passages in all of occidental literature is something Christians refer to as “the Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20), in which Jesus ordered the apostles to “go and make disciples of all the nations.” Christians have taken this order literally, and to an extreme, over the centuries, going so far as to use it to justify swordpoint conversions all over the world. The tales of forced conversions to Christianity are legion. They range from the Orkney isles in the Middle Ages (the famous example of Earl Sigurd who was forced to be baptized) to the coercive tactics of Spanish missionaries in the New World, whose policies were backed up by the tacit threat of armored Spanish soldiers. Whole civilizations have been utterly destroyed, all around the world, by Christian missionary activity.

That’s why this news — conveyed in this book review (of Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes by Daniel L. Everett) in the Portsmouth (NH) Herald — is so welcome:

The Pirahã are the “Show me!” tribe of the Brazilian Amazon. They don’t bother with fiction or tall tales or even oral history. They have little art. They don’t have a creation myth and don’t want one. If they can’t see it, hear it, touch it or taste it, they don’t believe in it.

Missionaries have been preaching to the Pirahãs for 200 years and have converted not one. Everett did not know this when he first visited them in 1977 at age 26. A missionary and a linguist, he was sent to learn their language, translate the Bible for them, and ultimately bring them to Christ.

Instead, they brought him to atheism. “The Pirahãs have shown me that there is dignity and deep satisfaction in facing life and death without the comfort of heaven or the fear of hell and in sailing toward the great abyss with a smile.”

The Pirahã are still animists of a sort, though, who believe in and communicate with spirits, which counts as a form of metaphysics. But they don’t really have a religion … they have no marriage or funeral rites, even if they do “pair up” as more matrimonially-inclined cultures do. One of the better-known (if not all that well-understood) features of Pirahã culture is their language, which has minimal ability to describe non-material or abstract concepts. Everett concludes this is not because of a limitation with the Pirahã or their language, but because they choose not to express themselves that way:

Over the years, Everett comes to the conclusion that the Pirahã language reflects and arises from their culture in its directness, immediacy and simplicity.

Theirs is a simple world, one to which they are well-adapted, and they do not perceive any need for gods, much less one which is foreign to them, as is Jesus Christ. Think how different occidental history might have been, had Christian missionaries run up against a roadblock such as the Pirahã, early on.

Note: This book review mentions the controversy among linguists over the nature of the Pirahã language. If you want to learn more about this interesting exception-to-most-linguists’-rules, you can do so here or here.

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