“Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you,” Job 12:7-8.
An Apologetic by Bill Redondo
The oldest religion of mankind is animism. All tribal groups were animists regardless of what continent they were from: The Barbarian tribes of Europe and Asia, the African hunters and gatherers, the Aboriginals of Australia, the Indigenous tribes of North, Central and South America, as well as the Islanders of all oceans, all were animist. Animism is the belief that everything is endowed with a soul or spirit. It is also the belief of animism that when the spirits are offended sickness, strife and death occur. To re-establish balance the offended spirit must be identified and appeased. A shaman or medicine man/woman is called upon to discern the problem and perform the appropriate ritual to bring healing and renewal. At the heart of this faith tradition is the conviction that everything is related or interconnected and if one part of the equation is out of sync, the big picture is affected.
One of the reasons why we are looking at animism is because it is closer to the Biblical view than the western rationalistic worldview, which our culture is based upon. What we’d like to do is consider how animism and the biblical view of the spirit world measure up and compliment one another.
DOES EVERYTHING HAVE A SOUL OR SPIRIT?
“No,” is the natural response because our culture is a product of the enlightenment, a humanistic movement of the 18th century, which replaced faith with human reason as the main criteria for investigating the world around us. With this tradition, it is the scientific method not intuition and conviction that open the door to knowledge. Anything that cannot be tried and proven is labeled superstition. Since the spirit and the unseen world fall into this category they are dismissed as an unreliable source of knowledge. Western civilization, therefore, has a real problem believing in things that cannot be demonstrated by laboratory tests; i.e. God, miracles, spirits, the soul, heaven, and life after death, etc. We are a culture of Thomas’, “unless we see it for ourselves and touch it with our hands we won’t believe!” We are skeptics by birth! Even our churches struggle and are more skeptical than spiritual. For most Christians, things like spiritual gifts are replaced with education, demon possession and oppression are replaced with natural causes for sicknesses, spiritual warfare is replaced with voting for the right political party and miracles are replaced with new discoveries in human genetics. We have a natural explanation for everything!
Does the bible support our skepticism or does it have the view that everything has a soul or spirit? The first hint that the bible has an animistic-like perspective is the fact that Hebraic language is considered “dynamic, vigorous, passionate, and sometimes quite explosive in kind,” “Hebrew thought compared to Greek thought,” T. Bowman, p. 27. Words, were action expressive, they conveyed life. They did things, not merely described and labeled things in a descriptive manner. Having said this, we must remember that the church within two hundred years of its founding transitioned over to a non-Hebraic culture dominated by Greek thinking and Language.. In Greek thought in comparison is static, language is more an expression of settled, harmonious ideas and concepts. We therefore inherited a static or conceptual view of language, but Hebraic language and thinking is not static but dynamic! Language is a powerful presence that can bless as well as curse. That language is action was verified when Jesus said that we would be judged by our words. “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned," Matthew 12:37. Our words will come full circle returning to either forgive us or condemn us. This is why Jesus said such things as “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you,” Matthew 7:1-2. “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,” Matthew 6:14. “God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows,” Galatians 6:7.
Consider these additional examples of the power of words:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth … And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light,” Genesis 1:1, 3.
”The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit,” Proverbs 15:4.
“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart,” Hebrews 4:12-13.
”This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words,” 1 Corinthians 2:13.
”The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life,” John 6:63.
“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven,’‘ Matthew 18:17-19.
”He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life,” 2 Corinthians 3:6.
Here we are seeing that Hebrew language is alive with spirit. It is an action more than an abstract concept. Words impart blessings and curses because they are alive with spirit.
JOURNEY FROM ORAL TRADITION TO IMAGE TO A WRITTEN ALPHABET
Tribal peoples perpetuated their worldview through oral traditions. In other words, they did not have a written language but only a spoken language. One generation passed down the tribes’ wisdom and creation stories to the next by word of mouth. The tribes’ storytellers were held in high regard because they had been entrusted with vital information, which made possible the recreation of the past into the present. Because speaking was animated with spirit, the authors of the original stories (the ancestors) spoke through the contemporary storyteller. Being true to tradition was the means by which the ancestors spoke in the here and now. Interestingly, this sense of bringing a past event into the present is seen in the New Testament when the gospel is orally presented: St. Paul says to the Celts of Galatia, “Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.” This occurred when they “heard” and believed the gospel story (Galatians 3:1-2). Telling the story made visually present the crucifixion, which had occurred years before. Obviously, the power of the spoken word, which was universally acknowledged in tribal cultures, was also appreciated in the early Christian communities. Jesus sent his disciples to faithfully tell his story verbally and it was his and their understanding that “faith” in the good news story “comes from hearing the message,” and seeing it portrayed before their “very eyes”, Romans 10:17. Through faith, the story would be re-created in the lives of those who heard it and the saving event that occurred in the past would become a present reality. Those who believed in him would in turn re-tell the story as his witnesses to all nations. Therefore Christians like tribal peoples have an oral tradition, which like theirs has the power to make contemporary the past and bring its wisdom to bear on this generation.
At a very early date, mankind started to portray the animate world through artistic re-creations. These have been preserved in Rock Art throughout the world. There is much speculation over the meaning of such symbols but considering the animistic vision of early mankind it is very probable that these representations were considered alive as well. Perhaps creating a bison or antelope on a rock wall would attract other such animals to come to that place so that the hunter could make a successful kill. Perhaps a wall portraying symbols of rain clouds, game animals, corn stalks and spirals (journeys) were like an action movie played on a high definition TV. To view these symbols and to speak their story was perhaps the earliest form of written language and reading.
Around 3100 BC the Egyptians started creating picture symbols or hieroglyphics. From these pictures of nature and animals developed the world’s first alphabetic script. The development of writing became the hallmark of civilization and progress but it also marked the beginning of a gradual shift away from listening to the animate world to reading symbolic representations of life. New Bible Dictionary, pg. 1345, Douglas.
An important ingredient in this shift was the creation of the Ancient Hebrew alphabet, which came into existence after the Exodus from Egypt about 1500 BC (Petrie and Grimme). It is believed that the Hebrew alphabet evolved out of Egyptian hieroglyphics. Evidence of this transition has been found in the Sinai desert engraved on a sandstone sphinx in the Temple of Hathor on the plain of Serabit el Khadim. An interesting aspect of the differences between Egyptian hieroglyphics and this transitional script is that the transitional script represents a departure away from the pictorial Egyptian hieroglyphic script. Both forms of writing are inscribed between the paws and on the right shoulder of the sphinx,
Another protective feature of Hebrew alphabet is that it did not include vowels because vowels require breathe (animation or life) which is considered sacred. Such an image (a vowel symbol) might encourage speech and because speech is spirit communication, thoughtless speech would be detrimental to both the speaker as well as the person spoken to! The original Hebrew alphabet is 22 consonants with no vowels! Therefore to read Hebrew words, it required the person reading to add the vowels and in so doing animate or bring to life the words! Clearly not only physical things but speaking as well (as we have already seen) was considered to be alive and therefore to be used wisely! The most protected word was the name of God, the fourth commandment was instituted to protect it and guard against using it in vain. In the Old Testament, artistic images may be used to represent God’s acts but not God himself perhaps for the same reason. How can God who is greater than the entirety of creation be portrayed in a solo piece of art? Such art would limit and diminish who he is! The aim is honoring God; if images or words misrepresent God or worse replace Him, then that image or word becomes an idol. Even in popular Greek religion, the gods are present in the image, as is shown by the miracles and magic associated with images. The copies have powers, feelings, etc. as the originals, Kittles NT p. 205. Therefore when the ancient Hebrews created their alphabet they were careful not to animate them and make them into potential idols and