All Christians are not animistic, but some are. You ask, “What is animism?” Well, animism is a term that people who study culture use to describe people who have many gods and/or try to control those gods rather than letting God or their gods control them. A good example of animism can be found in my last post about the Japanese who put rice and tea at the family altar and pray to their ancestors everyday trying to appease the ancestor so the ancestor will send them good fortune and not bad fortune. Another example would be people who carry around a rabbit’s foot for good luck or wear a cross necklace or a Saint Christopher necklace for protection.
As Christians, do we let God make the rules, or do we try to make the rules? Do we read our Bibles thinking, “That is just not practical, so I am not going to do it”? I was teaching a Bible class once, and a deacon actually argued the idea of not being practical as a point against some scriptures we read in the class. Where should Christians get their rules? Who is in charge? Do we tell God how we are going to go to Heaven, or does he tell us how to get to Heaven? It is not always easy to do what God asks us to do. Even the Apostle Paul had trouble with it. Read Romans 7. He was struggling with trying to do the right thing, struggling with doing what God asked him to do, but he did it anyway. Do we try to change scriptures? Do we ignore scriptures? Look in the last chapter of the Bible. It says that if we take anything away from what is written in that book, our name will be taken out of the Lamb’s Book of Life which means that we won’t go to Heaven. If we are not letting God make the rules, but just picking and choosing things in the Bible we want to do and forgetting about the rest because they are inconvenient, then we have become animistic. because we are making the rules rather than God. Christians need to keep God on his throne and take themselves off:
“”Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in the very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, on Heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).
When I was in Romania, I heard someone tell a story. They said they were walking in the village at night and heard footsteps behind them. They began walking faster, and the footsteps became faster. They began running, and they could tell whoever it was behind them was running too. They ducked into a doorway and did the sign of the cross. All of a sudden, the footsteps stopped, and they felt safe. They thought doing the sign of the cross got rid of whatever it was that was following them. Didn’t they think God was already in control protecting them? Did they have to summon him by doing the sign of the cross? Is the sign of the cross a kind of magic? They never knew who or what was behind them. They didn’t even know if they were really after them or someone else who just happened to be in the street. Perhaps the other person ran because they saw the first person run and it scared the second person and made them think there was something to run from. That sign of the cross is animism, trying to summon God for protection like the rabbit’s foot some carry for protection. It is animism, a kind of paganism, not Christian at all. It is up to you if you want to use the sign of the cross, but it has no basis in the Bible, and if you look at Galatians 5, using magic is condemned in the Bible.
We had a question in a Bible class once in Romania. Someone asked doing the sign of the cross one way, “Do we do the sign of the cross this way?” then they did the sign of the cross another way, “Or do we do it this way?” No one had heard that question before, so the preacher asked to go home and study. He found out that the sign of the cross came from an emperor in the Roman empire when they were fighting off the pagans. He saw the sun shinning through the clouds in the shape of a cross and took it as a good omen so that he should go ahead with his holy war, and did the sign of the cross himself. “Holy war”? That is a contradiction to Christianity. Omen? That is a pagan idea. This emperor’s wife was a Christian, but he wasn’t, but he was trying to understand Christianity. The preacher’s studies found out that the sign of the cross had come from someone’s misunderstanding of Christianity, and that you could find the sign of the cross no where in the Bible.
Some Christians also pray to saints. They pray in front of statues or icons (Christian pictures). I have talked to them, and they say they are asking that person to talk to God on their behalf. There is only one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). When you pray to saints, it is making them a god. You are worshiping idols and other gods which is completely forbidden in Christianity (Romans 1:21-25). Those icons and statues people pray in front of are just the kind of images Christians are asked not to pray in front of. These people have become idol worshipers, pagans, and animistic.
When I was in Romania, I read a book on where the icons came from. At one time, Christianity had already come to Romania, and there were many Christians in Romania. However, most of the people were uneducated. They couldn’t read the Bible. There was a prince who wanted the people to know the stories in the Bible, so he had them paint Christian pictures all over the walls of the church buildings to teach these uneducated peasants about Christianity. The people were thrilled and in awe! When they saw the pictures, they began kissing them and praying to them. It upset the prince, but the damage had already been done. No one wanted to take the pictures away, so they continued with the pictures, the icons, and it became part of the Orthodox tradition. Poor uneducated, animistic people who didn’t understand Christianity began the icons.
I could probably continue if I thought hard about instances where people who say they are Christians are actually practicing animism, paganism, without even realizing it. We want to go to Heaven. We need to figure out if we think like a pagan or a Christian. Just because we mouth the word “God” doesn’t mean that we understand what he asked from us. We need to understand what the Bible says because it is the word of God and do it. We need to question our practices and make sure we are not the ones who should be called pagan because we want to go to Heaven.