Christian Animism

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Animism a belief system that all matter, whether living (animal and vegetable) or inert (rocks and stones), is animated by spirit and as such is alive and sentient in some manner. It is about as different to our modern secular, materialist and consumerist view of the world around us as you could possibly get. This is because it is the diametric opposite to the current prevalent view that sees our Mother Earth as a resource to be used to satisfy our own wants and greed. There are those who blame Christianity itself for this, citing passages of the Bible such as Genesis 1:28 “And God said to them (Adam and Eve), “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

 

 

The Church has tried to counter this position, particular the interpretation of ‘subdue’ as ‘exploit’, by arguing the passage is making human kind stewards of creation with responsibilities to ensure that it is properly cared for. Such ideas of stewardship have become the cornerstone of modern ‘Green Christianity’. But Christian animism goes further than stewardship as this still emphasises what man is supposed to do to creation. It is still essentially a one-way relationship, even if it is less exploitative than current materialism. But Christian Animism is more about a two-way relationship between humans and the creation. It recognises that both parties are alive or animated by Spirit and interact with each other at that as well as the more mundane material level. So, we are not simply doing something to an inert material. We are doing something to matter which is alive and able to respond to what we do to it. Furthermore, as we are animated by the same Spirit we are intrinsically inter-connected with each other. The manner in which different forms of matter are ‘alive’ will differ, but if we work on the basis that all matter is animated in some way by Spirit, we are forced to reassess our perception of how we interact with creation.    

 

 

 

 

At first, the term Christian Animism is likely to sound like an oxymoron or even a dangerous blend of the faith with superstition and paganism. Surely animists are those primitive tribesmen from Africa and South America who know nothing of the revelation of Almighty God through Jesus Christ and of the splendour of Christian worship? However, closer inspection reveals not only that the Christian faith is compatible with many animist beliefs, but that it is deeply enriched by them. Indeed, Christian Animism is a central part of any Folk Christianity, not only connecting us more deeply with the natural world around, us but strengthening our bonds with the soil and spirits of our native lands.  

 

 

 

For the Christian, it is the Holy Spirit of God that dwells within and around all things and it is this Spirit which animates them with a living spirit. Christian Animism, then, is inextricably linked to the concept of panenthesism, which holds that God is both separate from creation but also exists throughout creation. Whilst somewhat mystical, panentheism is compatible with orthodox Christianity. This way of looking at other parts of creation to ourselves allows us to enter into a deeper relationship with it and allow us to see ourselves as an inter-connected part of a whole. The Christian does not worship the creation, but we can see the Spirit of God that dwells within it and forge new relationships with it on that basis. Just as our inert bodies are animated by Spirit, so is all matter.  

 

 

 

Christian Animism is actually not a new concept. For example, Celtic Christianity, in the way it wove together its faith in Jesus with its Pagan-Druid worldview, clearly fits this description. So does the teaching and actions of Francis of Assisi. Today, many Indigenous peoples influenced by the Christian faith continue to show that the two understandings are completely compatible. The understanding that God’s living presence is found within all matter making it both sacred and alive, is found in the teaching of Jesus, the foundational Hebrew biblical texts, and among the earliest Christian communities. Jesus himself says that ‘rocks may cry out’ and ‘mountains may move’. He tells us to ‘consider the flowers and birds and learn from them’.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, Christian Animism offers a way of relating to the natural world differently to our current exploitative and materialistic ways of thinking. It offers a way of greater harmony and respect, more in keeping with that of our ancestors. But Christian Animism is first and foremost a spiritual outlook, rather than a social or political one. Once we begin to recognise the Spirit of God that dwells in and around all created things, we can start to understand these so called primitive ideas as manifestations of the spiritual energies of God Himself. We can also better appreciate the spirit beings that dwell within the creation as manifestations of these same divine energies and start to rediscover how our ancestors recognised and related to them. In short, we can recover a deeper part of our spirituality, which will eventually lead to a different way of relating both to creation and to God.  

 

 

 

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