Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Sitting in Between Secularism and Animism

One of the weirdest things about moving here has been moving from an entirely secular, materialistic culture to a culture where spirits, demons, and ghosts are seemingly connected to everything.

In the US anything spiritual, supernatural, or not ascertainable by the scientific method is weird and suspect. Except essential oils, which most certainly work because all my friends on facebook say so and anecdotal evidence is irrefutable (sorry, sorry, I went to hallowed ground there. Essential oils must not be questioned). To say one hears God is absolutely bizarre and to believe the stories of scripture is a bit quaint. Contrary to popular belief about America being a "Christian" country, being in the US as a Christian leaves you feeling like a distinct, counter-cultural minority who practices and believes things that are considered strange by the majority.

 On the other hand here certainly one might expect to find people in the villages that believe in spirits, but it's super bizarre as a Westerner to realize that in the world of educated professionals nearly everyone believes in and has personal experiences with some aspect of the supernatural spirit world. Last week I read an article about a mass indwelling/ trance state at a school, and was told this happened in a number of in schools, offices, and neighborhoods over the last two years. You ask people if they've ever seen a ghost and most have a story to tell you. So much of the fabric of regular life is built around appeasing or avoiding the spirits. Some things are very personal and hidden, prayers and offerings and beliefs that one doesn't just talk about. Other things are very open but formal, so as a Westerner I don't even realize what's going on at a neighborhood ceremony until later, when someone explains that it was an appeasement of the spirits so that harm is not brought on the family. There are spirits over the city, the mountain, the area, the family, the house. Because this is all so strange to me, again, I am in the minority.

I have discussed this a lot with our language school instructors recently. I told them that I don't want to just bring Western skepticism, though it is true that when someone first tells me a story about the spirit world here my first instinct is disbelief. The thing is, I do believe in the existence of the spirit world and the supernatural. One instructor asked me if I'd ever seen a ghost or a spirit or seen someone attacked or indwelt by a spirit. No, I answered. Despite living here many years and hearing many stories, I've never seen anything of the sort personally.

What would you do if you saw something, he asked?

Well, I don't know, do I? I think that my first instinct, as a Westerner steeped in secularism, would indeed be skepticism. I would look for a natural answer. What natural explanation could explain what I just saw or experienced? Even though I do believe that the supernatural and spirit world do exist, I am not easily afraid (in fact, I am generally stupidly fearless in many aspects of life). It makes sense that I haven't experienced such things when they wouldn't be inclined to affect me. Beyond that, although I DO believe in that the Spirit world is real, I believe that my God is the God over all, and that those who believe and follow Him have nothing to fear. I need not be afraid.

Scripture says that Satan is the father of lies. He is a deceiver. It is quite striking to see the fear in the local culture towards spirits, so it's clearly an area that can be used to influence people to be afraid, to not believe in a God that can be absolutely trusted and who rules over all things. The ties to spirits are deep, even within the local church. Fear is deep.

On the other hand, why don't we see these crazy things in the Western world? When we are inclined towards disbelief, towards skepticism of all things related to God, why would evil want to change that inclination? Better to have us passive and proud, disbelieving not only in evil but also in God and the traditions of the church. Much better to deceive the West into thinking that we are secure in our knowledge and need not think about such things.


rachieannie said...

First, I laugh every time you 'go there' with EOs. Yes, I have some. Yes, I use them occasionally. But, gasp, my first reach is still for my Tylenol and Advil, even for my children.

Second, I was actually thinking about this last night, especially regarding the American culture. We live in SD, where there are many different Native tribes and reservations. Our church received word from a reservation that 28 children, ages 9-13, made a suicide pact and the last we heard, 7 of them had gone through with it. I mentioned it at a board meeting I was attending, where the people were familiar with the Native culture, but not necessarily Christian. I wanted to make a comment about demons, because I really do believe they hold a lot of power in Native lives, due to stories and what I've seen (and in our own lives, just with different names - apathy, jealousy, etc). However, I didn't want to become the 'crazy Christian lady' so I just left it alone.

Kacie said...

Absolutely. I wonder if they were asked, what they would say. Would they self-identify spiritual involvement?

CatharineKariana said...

I think about this ALL THE TIME. It's weird because what I will accept as plausible in Indonesia and what I will accept as plausible in Australia are completely different. It's like my brain just switches between the two countries and my level of skepticism jumps around depending on where I am or who is telling the story. I don't know if I'll ever understand it. All I know is that there are some things that I know have happened that I can't explain.