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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Can an Animist be a Catholic Christian?

This post is a contribution to the February issue of Animist Blog Carnival :
 on the theme of Animist Ethics, through a blog called animist jottings:

The question I ask as a person who feels a strong connection to both Animism and Catholic Christianity is: Can an Animist be a Christian and vice versa? Are they mutually exclusive or can they be compatible?
The Animist Blog Carnival suggests that animism is open to interpretation. Many examples of other's definitions are listed. Graham Harvey’s Animist Manifesto  states that “All that exists lives All that lives is worthy of respect You don’t have to like what you respect Not liking someone is no reason for not respecting them Respecting someone is no reason for not eating them” This and other definitions proposed suggests that Animism doesn't have with the Christianity.

But how does Christianity feel about Animism? Clearly Animism has strong associations with pagan religions and Christianity denounces other gods. Christianity is often in competition with other religions for followers. Frequently this competition has led to violence of which Christians were usually, but not always, the cause. Christianity also has a checkered past in respect to its attitude toward and treatment of the natural world. There is a long list of abuses of nature in Christianized countries and a general attitude of disrespect for the non-human world. Yet I maintain that depending on your definition, Christianity does not reject Animism.

Protestant beliefs and teachings on this and many other subjects, vary widely. Though the voice stating firmly and loudly that humans are commanded to subdue the earth can be heard in most churches, and I'm fairly sure many teachers and preachers turn a blind eye to abuse, condoning and practicing it, and even claiming scriptural support for these practices, no church doctrine actually teaches Christians to abuse God's creation. Scripture does not support this destructive behavior, despite such claims. The Bible, on which all church doctrine should be based, teaches that the Creator considers His creation good (Genesis 1) and that He loves everything that exists. (Wisdom 11:24) And fortunately there are also many voices that speak out in defense of the Earth.

The Catholic Church teaches that the word “subdue” used in the Bible (Genesis 1:28) means stewardship, “not arbitrary and destructive domination.” And that we are responsible “for the world God has entrusted” to us. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 373) It further teaches that the use of “animals, plants and inanimate beings”... “cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives.” Man's dominion is not absolute. It “requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2415)

Though Church doctrines teach animals, plants and minerals are for the legitimate use of humans, for food, clothing, and experimentation, within reasonable limits, to care for and save human lives (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2418), an animist can respect creation while using it.

I maintain that Christianity is a good home for an animist, because the Catholic Church teaches that “each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection” and “reflects in it's own way a ray of God's infinite wisdom and goodness.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 339) Therefore, “men owe [animals] kindness.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2416) And “it is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2418). Further, “Man must therefore...avoid any disordered use of things which would be in contempt of the Creator and would bring disastrous consequences for human beings and their environment....God wills the interdependence of creatures. Creatures exist only...in the service of each other.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 339-40) In fact, “the truth that God is at work in all the actions of his creatures is inseparable from faith in God the Creator.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 308)

Unfortunately financial gain tempts many Christians away from these biblical and ecclesiastical teachings. The lack of focus on the sacredness of God's creation from the pulpit and in the classroom condones disrespect for nature among the careless and those looking to victimize.

On the whole, in theory, I would dub Christianity friendly to the natural world and compatible with Animism, if a bit anthropocentric. In practice Christians have a long way to go. Thankfully, there are Christian heroes like St Francis of Assisi , who was firmly grounded in respect and communion with the natural world around him. He has been given the title of Patron Saint of Animals and is a refuge for animal and nature lovers, in Catholic and Protestant circles alike, from the more zealous anthropocentric teachers and participants .

I would love to see Christians more actively embrace protection of the environment and creation. There are some organizations within Christianity that are moving in this direction. Knowing that humans so easily succumb to greed and destructiveness, we need to shore up the teachings of respect and care for what our Lord has made. Even if one does not see humans and creation as equal, one should do what one can to protect what is voiceless, sometimes powerless, yet wholesome and beneficial.

Ideally the differences of believe of equality or inequality should not result in different behaviors if respect and reverence guide the Christian choices. There is doctrinal room for Christian Animists and all Christians should be practicing an Eco-friendly religion.

Pope Francis's choices bring me great hope that simple lifestyles instead of opulence will pervade the decisions of the Catholic Church, for the good of all people and creation. I would love to see churches fully embrace environmentally friendly uses of paper and resources. We must remember we are first a Church of God, not a business trying to keep ourselves competitive. And further, I would love to see more Animist Christians filling the pews to call the careless and the victimizers to a healthier respect for our natural world.

What do you think the relationship between Animism and Christianity is and/or should be?

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