Saturday, February 05, 2011

Syncretism vs. Sold Out

We often deal in Swaziland with a culture which is trying to mix Christianity into traditional beliefs. Here is a very good discourse from a Swazi on this, published in the Swazi Observer 5 Feb 2011 :

The other day I had a severe headache and I asked my son to buy me some tablets from the shop. Before I could take the tablets he gave me a brief lecture; ‘mummy you must pray for these tablets first, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, not in the name of Jesus.

My friend at school told me the devil also produces some tablets in the world of spirits, where there is a different Jesus, not the one from Nazareth.’
I could sense that my son was engulfed by fear of some mystical powers which are capable of inhabiting anything, even pills.
The public is once again gripped by fear caused by a recurring wave of evil cult revelations. The recent confessions reported in the local media have sparked various reactions from the public.
It is, therefore, imperative to seek a sound balance between the two extremes of on one hand denying the very existence of the evil spirits and on the other demonising everything. One possible approach to this subject would be to explore our ‘world’ as Africans to be able to appreciate the predicament we are grappling with now.
Like all Africans, the Swazi indigenous religious orientation is based on a certain consolidated worldview, which is as old as humanity itself. A worldview refers to a comprehensive conception of the world by an individual or a group, from a specific standpoint; it is his/their way of understanding reality.
The beliefs, values and behaviours of a culture stem directly from the worldview. The African worldview is very distinct in its approach in that it makes no clear-cut separation between what is secular and sacred; the world is one, interconnected and indivisible. As one African proverb has stated, ‘our world is like a drum; strike any part of it and the vibration is felt all over.’ Hence, for Africans everything is looked upon in a religious perspective and every form of behaviour is imbued with religious significance. In a succinct analysis of the African worldview, African scholars have identified a six feature framework which explains the salient features underlying an indigenous conception of the world.
Belief
For the purposes of this discussion I will just mention one of these aspects, which is the widespread belief in the existence of the world of spirit power. From a primal perspective, a Swazi cannot be alone in the universe; he/she is part of a heavily populated spiritual world of powers or beings, even more powerful and ultimate than himself/herself. For that reason he/she has to live in harmony with the universe, obeying the laws of natural, moral and mystical order. The spirits that populate the universe have different but related classifications. You find them everywhere; in persons, trees, mountains, waterfalls, animals, sun, moon, and so on.
Notable about these spirits is that they are both benevolent and malevolent. The malevolent comprise evil spirits, demons, and occult powers of wizards and witches, which always threaten society with destruction. For an African nothing happens by accident; there are always causes and reasons for whatever misfortune, and a scenario must be established in which the malevolent powers are exposed and subsequently placed in a position where the community can deal with them accordingly. For example, a car accident cannot be caused by bad driving because the driver was drunk; there must be some spirits involved which ultimately caused the accident. Religious personages are, therefore, consulted to analyse events in order to determine cause and effect connections. The prescription that they would make would then provide an escape from the terrors of the evil forces.
Worldview
What happens, therefore, at conversion, when a Swazi with such a developed religious sense and thought patterns, has an encounter with Christ? He/she does not discard these traditional religious thought patterns; instead he/she interprets this new data in the light of some frame of understanding. This suggests that one’s worldview provides him/her with a ready made key to an understanding of the nature of the universe. Any new religious orientation would appeal to his/her religious instincts and susceptibilities that already existed. To be more precise, for a Swazi who co-exists with a variety of sources of power which impinge upon him/her, what happens at the level of these powers when he/she is converted to Christ? His/her conceptions of evil are not altered, but they are reoriented by Christ who enters the convert’s cosmology as a primary source of power.
To be continued...
I am convinced that for a sustained conversion experience, a person must elevate Jesus Christ to a position of Lordship in his/her power constellation, and keep him there through a Christ honouring lifestyle. Failing which, Christ is reduced to being simply an additional helpful source of power, perhaps equal in power with other lesser spirits. Without being judgmental, it is true that in this era of power hunger, fame and prosperity, it is not easy to ascertain the place of Jesus in another person’s conversion experience; some Christians would no doubt score high on a commercial gospel questionnaire as to the person of Christ.
If Christ has assumed Lordship in your life, and He has assured you protection from all the powers of darkness, that you consciously know, heavily populate the universe, why should you be enslaved by fear? ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me.’ Such a declaration does not suggest that one denies the operations of evil forces, it just stretches your world further to realize that ‘greater is He that is in us than the evil one that is in the world….’ After the costly, but necessary Calvary experience of Christ, more than two thousand years ago, Christians pain Christ when they emphasize the ‘spiritual war path’ element than the celebration of His victory over evil. On the other hand the devil is tickled and amused to see Christians frustrated and threatened by his presence. I guess he interprets this special attention given to him to be like glorifying him more than Christ.
I know that if Sigmund Freud and Erik Erickson, some renowned psychological theorists were to resurrect from their graves they would give a different interpretation of this Satanism saga. They would attribute the behaviour of the teenagers alleged to have participated in occultism to the many complexities involved in the development and maturational stages of adolescence. They would analyse the scenario in terms of one’s identity at this transitional stage, whereby all earlier crystallizations of identity formed during childhood come into question, with the overwhelming combination of physical changes, increased sex drive, expanded mental abilities, and increasing and conflicting social demands. The theorists would claim that this is a critical stage for adolescents, to an extent that they can even reject their parents, and all that they stand for so that they can make a clean break from childhood as they attempt to form an identity of their own. With their sense of identify influx, they would find a sense of belonging in peer groups. Some would even engage in cult-tendencies as they journey to self-discovery. In the process there would be some ‘control freaks’ who would take advantage of the teenagers’ vulnerability and insecurities to serve their selfish ends.
Another person can give a different perspective of this Satanism saga in relation to the competition within the Christian fraternity, which unfortunately becomes a negation of the universal ontological solidarity revealed and realised in Christ. The competition for members and the money that goes with an increased affluent membership may tempt some Christians to engage in character assassination and blacklist others, thus corrupting the ‘Good news’ of Christ to be portrayed as ‘bad news.’ It is high time that every Christian, the men of the cloth in particular, reassess their vocation and break the chains of mammon and throw off the impediment of this ‘fashioned’ gospel. One even wonders if these new trends are not an indication that the country is now over evangelised, thus risking opening doors for impostors to flood Christians with more distressing religious opinions.
Whatever avenues of approach the public takes in interpreting the Satanism wave, the fact remains that Christians are not condemned to a fate of fear of spiritual powers, but are promised victory through Christ. They must therefore rid themselves of all the obsessive fear of evil and discover in the incarnate Christ the God who is in ontological solidarity with their human destiny. Sadly, this obsession can have far reaching repercussions on the Christian fraternity; it can divert the Christians’ focus to become ‘devil conscious’, at the expense of more threatening issues to the survival of the Church, like ecumenism, morality, poverty, economic recession, and so on. Also it can lead to people engaging in a ‘witch hunt’ to discover who does this and who does not do that. This can have serious implications on interpersonal relationships amongst Christians, thus threatening the unity of the church. Lastly, as much as we can not undermine and trivialize the experiences of some people with the mystical world, and the operations of evil on earth, we would like to maintain this profound truth that Christ gained victory over all evil.
Submitted by: (Mrs) Sonene Nyawo UNISWA Lecturer, Faculty of Humanities
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