From Genesis to the present, the biblical worldview has clashed with the worldview of
animism. Animism (or folk religion) is a religion that sees a spirit or spiritual force
behind every event, and many objects of the physical world carry some spiritual
In most parts of the world, animism blends in with formal religions. Among followers of
the major religions lie many animistic beliefs and practices. Animistic beliefs actually
dominate the world. Most Taiwanese believe in the Chinese folk religions. Most Hindus
and Muslims in Central and Southeast Asia, and most Buddhists in China and Japan
combine their religion with various animistic beliefs and practices. In many parts of the
world, Christianity has not displaced the local folk religion but coexists beside it in an
The animistic worldview contains both the observed or physical world and the unseen or
spirit world. There is no sharp distinction between the two realities; what happens in one
affects the other. The physical world consists of what we can see, feel, and
experience. It includes forces of nature and physical beings. In the seen world the earth
plays a prominent role because it is viewed as a living entity and is often worshipped as
Mother Earth. Nature is believed to be alive. Hills, caves, mountains, and lakes are often
revered as sacred places. Animals may be embodiments of spirits. Many are worshipped as sacred, such as the cow and monkey in India.
Plants can also contain spirits and some are worshipped. Forests are seen as places where
the spirits dwell. Trees like oaks, cedars, and ash are worshipped in Europe. In many
parts of the world, there exist numerous subhuman beings that are supposed to live in
lakes, forests, and caves. For example, in Europe they include mythical beings like trolls,
gnomes, and fairies.
The unseen world of animism begins with the understanding of "mana," or the life force
that permeates the entire universe. This power is impersonal and not worshipped. This
sacred power concentrates more heavily in the deities, sacred people, places, or objects.
This mana rules over all creation and is not controlled by the gods or man.
Also part of the unseen world is the Supreme God. Following him are a host of lesser
gods who dwell in particular regions. Following the gods are the spirits, who often dwell
in nature and are confined to a specific area. Then there are the spirits of the ancestors
who continue to play a role with the living.
There also exist unseen forces that include supernatural powers like fate, cosmic moral
order, the evil eye, magic, and witchcraft. There are also impersonal energy forces in
objects that give the objects power. These objects are believed to give a person power to
do good or evil.
In the Bible, God transforms the animistic views of Israel into a biblical view. He teaches
them that the other gods are not gods at all (Isaiah 43:10). He condemns the use of magic,
witchcraft, and divination. He shows that suffering is not the result of the spirits or the
gods but His sovereign act of bringing people back to Himself.
Do you ever wonder why some Christians worship their ancestors? It derives from the
first of several themes within the ancient religion of animism. The first of the themes is a
community-centered life. The ancestors, the living, and the unborn are the center of
existence. The clan life is the most important entity because an individual has meaning
only in the context of a community.
The second theme is the role of the spirit world. Humans live in a world surrounded by
supernatural beings and forces, most of which are hostile to humans. The worlds of the
seen and the unseen are interconnected. For this reason, people spend their time...