Animism is the most widely practiced religion in the world. A vast majority of the world’s nearly seven billion inhabitants are actively involved in some variety of this spiritualistic worldview. Animism(1) may also be the most subtle aspect within the major world religions, reshaping itself into countless mutations and blending (aka “syncretism”) into virtually every religious expression across the planet, including North America.
Consider these examples from various world religions:
- Hindus and Muslims in Central and Southeast Asia, and most Buddhists in China, intermingle their religion with various animistic spirit beliefs and practices. Hindus believe in karma and reincarnation. Folk Hindus pray to a variety of spirits.
- Japanese Shintoism and Chinese Confucianism emphasize ancestral veneration.
- Folk Muslims attempt to harness the power of baraka which is an impersonal, but friendly (hopefully) spiritual force. An example of Folk Islam would be one who prays five times a day to Allah, but may also be a sorcerer who seeks power from the five evil spirits written about in Arabic script(2).
- Voodoo in Haiti encompasses bizarre beliefs of spiritual metamorphosis where demonic spirits change into different animal forms (lycanthropy), including the ability to reanimate human corpses (zombies).
- Melanesian cargo cults regularly seek to manipulate ancestral spirits to reveal the true source of the “white man’s wealth.”
- Modern Neo-pagans describe themselves as animists, meaning they respect the diverse community of living beings and spirits with whom humans share the world.
Animism also permeates North America. Consider these elements of animism:
- More than 50 million Americans seek the counsel of astrological charts to determine how the alignment of the stars will affect their day.
- Wiccans may use the term animist to refer to the concept that a Mother Goddess and Horned God are within everything that exists.
- New Age philosophers embrace animism in the form of the existence of nature spirits, divination, and (attempted) communication with the dead (necromancy).
- Traditional Native American religions are fundamentally animistic. There is a Native American Indian shaman with an office in the downtown section of the city where I live who is eager to assist those with a need to know the future.
- Television clairvoyants (seance mediums); fortune tellers; ridiculous good luck superstitions; naivete in regard to Halloween witches and goblins; and the mystical rituals of transcendental meditation, yoga, channeling and breath prayer (which all seek an altered state meditative consciousness) are examples of North American preoccupation with animistic observances.
I am compelled to blow a trumpet of alarm for North American believers. If animism is principally a “search for power sources by which a man may manipulate the spirit world to execute his own will,” we must be alert to the tendency of carrying animistic belief and practice into Christianity. Tribal peoples are not the only ones affected by harmful syncretism. The Western world is also immersed in a culture of false gods.
Melanesian cargo cultism (mentioned above) is little different from “health and wealth,” “blab it and grab it” religious scams that attempt to manipulate God and materially exploit their followers. “Your Best Life Now” is not the biblical gospel (Mark 10:17-45). “In Jesus’ name” is not a tribal chant that will “wake up God” in order to get fleshly wishes granted. This is prostitution of the genuine power of the Holy Spirit that God demonstrates through his people for the spread of the gospel throughout the earth.
The demonic objective is to deceive humanity and to lead them away from God. Satan’s plans are never for our good, but always for destruction (John 8:44; 10:10; Hebrews 2:14). So it is with the nations of the world that are enslaved by the spiritual cesspit of animism. Satan has detained them from millennia, and he’ll not let his slaves go without a fight. Yet, he will release captives through the gospel.
1. Animism is not a religion, strictly speaking. However, it is a significant facet of virtually every religion.
2. Loren Entz. Challenges to Abou’s Jesus. Evangelical Missions Quarterly. Jan, 1986, page 46
*Editor’s Note: Originally Printed in the Spring 2011 issue of TET magazine