Jesus Radicals Blog 2005-2017
By: Ric Hudgens
Animism was practiced before it was “believed in”. Human beings living life immersed in a living world of “other” voices is a universal phenomenon found in every indigenous culture. By “indigenous” please understand that I mean the dominant worldview of the majority of human beings for the majority of our time on this planet. Animism is our native belief.
Sir Edward Tylor, the founder of the “science” of anthropology, was the first to give a formal, academic (and pejorative) definition of “animism”. Tylor defined animism as “an idea of pervading life and will in nature.” Writing in 1871 in his tellingly titled magnum opus Primitive Culture, Tylor asserted that this naïve idea was a childish and underdeveloped stage in human development common only among primitive hunter-gatherers. A century later psychologist Jean Piaget proposed that the ability to distinguish the animate from the inanimate was the inevitable product of education and learning.
The consensus of the great Western intellectual tradition has been that the majority of human beings for the majority of human history have been fundamentally and tragically mistaken about the world in which they lived. It is not a coincidence that the academic disparagement of “animism” as the primitive belief of primitive peoples arose simultaneous with the rise of industrial and technological civilization. Before nature can be bound it must be gagged. The world must be silenced so that only the human voice can be heard; and only the human will can dominate.
In 1997 philosopher David Abram wrote The Spell of the Sensuous, a sophisticated philosophical work that questioned this Western prejudice against animism. Abram drew upon a broad survey of oral, indigenous societies, weaving these insights together with the phenomenological philosophical work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Martin Heidegger. Abram’s first book and it’s recent sequel Becoming Animal (2010) should become foundational reading for anyone concerned with life on this planet: human and (in Abram’s wonderful phrase) “more-than-human”.
For this month’s post, we decided to respond to people’s requests for more specific details and examples by sharing anonymous stories we solicited from people of diverse sexualities and gender identities. One of our aims was to highlight the often invisible diversity that exists in our communities and movement.
We know from the Gospel parables that Jesus conceptualized the Kingdom of God as an unexpected infiltration that brings renewal from the margins. In a sweeping act of rewilding, a weed diversifies a monocultural wheat field; an unclean culture infests and transforms a hard cracker into something more satisfying. Jesus says in the gospel of Matthew (13:31-33), “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come make nests in its branches.” He then tells another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” That which has been excluded, including non-normative sexual experiences and people of marginalized identities, is often a crucial missing ingredient for realizing the kingdom.
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