About 50% of people in Togo adhere to animist beliefs. Animism, though not really an “organized” religion, is one of the oldest belief systems known to man. And, in fact, people all over the world practice animism.
Tribes in South America, for example, hold to the same animist beliefs as tribes in West Africa, despite their physical and communicative separation.
During our EMC training in July, we had a breakout session about animism. And there, we were told, “Animism is the belief system people come up with when left to their own devices.” Interesting.
Animists tend to believe these key things:
- There is one (remote) supreme being and many other gods.
- All living and material items (including that tree outside your window) have a soul or spirit within them.
- When one spirit dies, it returns in another form. When ancestors die, their spirits live on in other things.
- Everything should be treated with honor and respect…
- … but sometimes, your actions make the spirits angry.
- As a result, you have to appease the spirits through offerings or other acts.
Animists tend to live in fear: every action can cause an issue with the spirits, resulting in illness, misfortune, poverty, or even death. They rely on shamans, fetishes, and voodoo to help protect and guide them. When something happens, they participate in ceremonies to seek guidance from spirits.
Sharing the Gospel with animists is difficult: Jesus is seen as another spirit to be worshiped… but not in whole. He is simply “added” to the mix. Animists may not easily understand their need for a Savior because there is no real comprehension of sin (“sin” is seen as the culturally unacceptable things they do/are caught doing). There’s no need for eternal life after death, because they believe that they’ll just come back as another spirit.
But you guys… we see traces of this belief system here in America, too, especially through the extremes of materialism.
- People who struggle with getting rid of belongings, because they all have value, memories, deserve to be kept, etc…
- … and people who focus entirely on getting rid of everything except very few items that mean the most to them and bring them unmatched joy.
- Best selling books telling us to thank our belongings for their service to us and respect their feelings when we put them away.
- People may hold onto wealth rather than using it for Kingdom causes because of their belief (admitted or not) that finances are more important, that a large bank account is worthy of pride.
Do you hear the traces of belief (however visible or invisible it may be) that things have more value than our Lord and Savior? That there is something in them that has value, beyond the monetary? That we need to hold onto things because they give us life and joy and peace? That our identity comes from our tiny (or huge) home or our minimalist décor or our curated closet?
But I think I sometimes have a tendency to point my finger at how wrong other people are without taking time to reflect on my own actions and thoughts. Allen and I have been trying to simplify our belongings, get rid of clutter, etc… but why? What is our heart motive? Is it to be good stewards of our time, money, and space to honor God? Or is it because we put value in our things where it doesn’t rightly belong? Are we spending more time worshiping the things we own rather than the One who so richly provided them to us?
Whether our focus is on trees, rocks, the seasons changing (hello, fall!), or the clothes in our closets, we ought to step back and worship the Creator, rather than the created things. Let’s get back to the Gospel and allow the Holy Spirit to work through the living and active Word of God… there in Togo, and here in America.