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Christian Animism

Come follow the Cosmic Christ on the path of the green priesthood, deep into the heart of a living web of Divine Creation. “Christian animism“, for many, can suggest nothing more than crude syncretism, or a blasphemous oxymoron. In this book the author challenges that view, from his own experiences and reflections, and those of many who find themselves on the fringes of church and society. He also searches out the fertile places of his own Christian tradition, seeking to hear a Word of healing for our Earth, a Word of grace for the trees and the animals, and a Word of invitation back to the garden of Creation, our once and future home.

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Posted in Animal Deities, Animism.

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  1. Noel Moules says

    This book is a ‘must read’!

  2. Ric Hudgens says

    Towards a deeper ecological holiness Christian AnimismShawn Beck’s short, suggestive essay (60 pages) on “Christian animism” is a provocative delight. I want to highlight some of his most salient points and indicate some further directions for those who want to go further. Beck writes:“To say that a Christian can, and should, cultivate a relationship with the spirits of nature, the spirits of the land, is something new. What was natural and somewhat unconscious up until the end of the medieval period now requires consciousness and intentionality.” But can’t we do that without calling it “Christian animism”? Beck argues that we need not fear animism, nor should we see the conjunction of Christian and animism as something so foreign or idiosyncratic. Christian animism according to Beck is “what happens when a committed Christian engages the world and each creature as alive, sentient, and related, rather than soul-less and ontologically inferior.” Christian Animism seems so foreign and frankly eccentric because we have all been indoctrinated into a “cult of reductionism” that reduces the world’s wondrous multiplicity to a series of justs: just a tree, just a rock, just the earth. In my own initial writing about Christian Animism I have noted how the voices of creation have been bound and gagged by modernity so that only the human voice can be heard. Beck is defining Christian Animism through the lens of contemporary systems theory and an integral worldview. His type of contemporary Animism entails a broadening the concept of person to include the rest of the created world: “animism can be reclaimed as a concept which sees the natural world as sentient, personable, and very much alive.” I agree with Beck that even historically earth-friendly forms of Christianity (such as the Franciscans and Rhinelander mystics) still saw creation as a means to an end. I would add that American Transcendentalism was also prone to this with Emerson turning nature into symbol (not so Thoreau by the way). Beck also draws upon the contemporary fiction of C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien, the Christian spirituality of Celtic Christianity; and the political ontology (my term) of Walter Wink to demonstrate that forms of Christian Animism are already vitally present in Christianity. Perhaps Christian Animism is not an objectionable syncretism, but the reclaiming of the entire scope of divine presence recognizing as Beck says that “there is ultimately more to our faith than God and the human soul.” I would call Christian Animism a species of radical incarnationalism. The implications of Animism (hinted at but not fully developed in the context of an essay) include contributions to ecology, interfaith dialogue, and personal spirituality. I welcome Beck’s very personal story and how especially the work of Christian Walter Wink and Neo-Pagan Starhawk informed his journey in Christian Animism. What benefit I gain from bringing Wink and Starhawk into the discussion is the recognition that a newly articulated Christian Animism would be political to the core: “A truly green spirituality will engage us in the work of Earth-protection and Earth-healing.” I would add that it will also push us (esp in the Americas) to more intentional alliances with contemporary indigenous communities and their struggles. Christians have been major contributors to this desacralizing of the world and have shored up an oppressive anthropocentrism in the name of dominion or stewardship – as Beck notes merely the hard core and soft core versions of the same dynamic. But Beck does not foresee any solid theological objections to Christian animism. Christian hostility and the conflicted relations between the two are partly the result of an avoidable confusion and confluence of animism with pantheism and polytheism. Beck confesses his lifelong struggle to reconcile his “inner pagan” with his faith in Jesus; and it is simply the case that many in the West are still dispositional pagans despite years of reductionist, secular education. In marking his own trail Beck has found help from a number of different sources including Neo-Paganism, Engaged Buddhism, and Native American spirituality. Within the broader Christian tradition he draws upon some of the animistic elements in the apocryphal Enochian Apocalypticism asserting that within the “Enochian lore reveals a universe in which all created beings have a spiritual aspect”. Beck says that the Book of Psalms is “thoroughly animistic” (which theologian Mark Wallace has provided some support for in his own Christian Animist work). From the Cree worldview Beck has learned that “newcomers (non-Indigenous people) would not truly find our place here in Turtle Island…

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