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Animism & Christianity

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This week’s offering contrasts a few of the basic ideas between Animism and Christianity. The idea of what Animism is, is hard for some westerners to wrap their minds around. It seems to many western observers that Animism is similar in many ways to Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto, and even many Native American religions. The answer of course is yes, it has many similarities, but it is also different. The ideas of Animism are often mixed with other philosophies and religious beliefs, changing their fundamentals or turning them into something like magic formulas for the benefit of the adherent. Animism is not exclusive to non-Christian religions. The concepts of Animism can be found, most notably, in what is commonly referred to as the Word of Faith or Prosperity Gospel movement.
Very simply, Animism in all its various forms is based upon a simple idea: That the physical world is influenced, guided, or manipulated by the spiritual world. Spirits, or spiritual reasons underlie all circumstances in the real world. This may soundlike Christianity, which subscribes to a spiritual realm having influence with the physical, but it is actually much different. In Animism certain actions must be taken to appease the spirits (both good and bad) and even take power over the spiritual realm through trinkets, charms, idols, rituals, prayers, and declarations.
The purpose of participating in Animistic practices is so the adherent can gain control of his or her life to receive blessings such as wealth, a job, health, love, etc. The most important trait of Animism is that is turns the principles and practices of a religion on its head so that the practice of certain rituals or sacraments is done for the express purpose of bringing benefit to the adherent, instead of enjoying sacrificial service to God. This is equally true in the Animistic-like practices of the Word of Faith movement within Christianity where intercessory prayer, “taking spiritual authority,” and speaking to demons are in essence a form of Animistic Christianity, thus robbing the Christian faith of its true nature and intent. If you are a Christian and involved in such practices, beware! Such practices treat the God of the Bible as profanely identical to the spirits of Animism, which God’s word has already declared unholy.
Here is a simple comparison of basic ideas found in Animism compared to Christianity. This chart is compiled from three separate charts taken from The Illustrated Guide to World Religions, edited by Dean Halverson.
Differences Between Animism and Christianity
The Personal Spirit-Beings of Animism
Limited to one geographic location.
The God of the Bible
Not limited geographically; God of all the earth and the universe (Acts 17:24).

Has power over the various aspects of nature.
Has power over all things (Acts 17:24).


Depends upon our sacrifices.
Doesn’t depend upon our sacrifices because He has created all things (Acts 17:25), and because He has provided on our behalf the “once for all” sacrifice (Hebrews 9:24 – 10:14).

Animism believes that a person using divination, rituals, prayers, charms, and other practices can manipulate spiritual forces; but the Bible declares that such things do not move God. God is rather moved by a humble and repentant heart. God cannot be manipulated or commanded, or made to obey our will through any means (Psalm 51:16-17, Proverbs 21:3). For example, Animist, Animist-Buddhists, and Animist-Christians (if such a phrase can be used) may repeat prayers or chants that will bring healing to a person. The Animist or Animist-Buddhist believes that the words of the chant or prayer have power in themselves. The Animist-Christian (Word of Faith) believes that God “must” respond to certain prayers when prayed a certain way, “in faith.” In essence, these concepts are identical, ascribing power to the words or practice instead of the one and only sovereign God (thus the reference to “Animist-Christians”). The Bible speaks clearly to such practices: “The Lord commanded them that they should not do like them” (II Kings 17:15).
The Animistic and Biblical Worldviews Contrasted
IDEA/GOD
ANIMISM
God exists, but He is beyond our abilities to know Him or to communicate with Him.
CHRISTIANITY
God exists, and although He is beyond our comprehension, He is nevertheless knowable; and He has made Himself known to us through Jesus Christ and the Bible (Hebrews 1:1-2).

ULTIMATE ISSUES
Formal religions are concerned only with the ultimate issues of sin and salvation; but Animism offers the power to cope with the immediate, everyday needs.
The God of Christianity is concerned both with the ultimate and immediate issues. God desires to provide not only for our eternal needs but also for our daily needs (I Peter 5:7).

THE SPIRITS
The spirits are seen as being other intermediaries between us and God or as representatives of God.
The spirits are deceptive; they seek to take the place of God in our lives.

THE POWER OF THE SPIRITS
The spirits and the instruments of magic have the power either to do harm to others or to bring benefit to us.
The spirits do have power, but our utilizing such power leads of bondage. God has demonstrated through Jesus Christ that He is greater than the spirits and magic, for “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (I John 4:4, see also Exodus 8:18) and He has “disarmed the powers and authorities (Colossians 2:15). Submitting to God brings freedom (John 8:32-36) not bondage.

Animism is probably the most dangerous worldview to Christianity because its ideas are so easily incorporated into a person’s faith that it is often not recognized for what it truly is. But even a simple examination of your faith practices can help you discover if you have been caught by the deceptions of Animism – even as a Christian. Asking a few simple questions about your faith in Christ will help you determine your spiritual condition:
  • Do I seek God to bless my life or do I seek a life that is a blessing to God and to others?
  • Do I always seek for God to heal or do miracles as a result of prayer or “taking authority” over demonic forces, or do I seek for God’s character in and through every circumstance of suffering?
  • Am I looking for God’s hand or God’s face, I.E., do I want something from the Lord, or do I want the Lord Himself?
  • Is Jesus the object of my faith, or is having faith the object of my faith?
Remember that Animism is always “me” focused while Christianity is always “Jesus” and “others” focused.