Thursday, June 09, 2011

Discerning Pagan Spirituality from Christianity

Recently on CBC Radio One's "The Current," a documentary was featured which highlighted the conflict which emerged in the village of Oujé Bougamou in Northern Quebec. Apparently, Redfern Mianscum built a sweat lodge behind the home of a village resident. It was "to help his people." However, since the majority of the village are evangelicals, a petition was circulated to remove the lodge and following a municipal vote the structure was torn down.

CT even caught wind of this and posted an article reporting on the incident. Within the CT article, even Native American Christians seem to be divided on the issue - and it doesn't surprise anyone to point out that the Native Americans from the liberal Christian camps are the ones landing squarely within the "inclusive" zone.

So we've got white media reporting on a Native issue (or as we in Canada refer to as "First Nations"), FN Christians from both the left and right - in reality TV fashion - battling out in front of media. Then there is this "white guilt" temporary separation of "religious freedoms and traditions" thing happening. White north Americans will never fully understand that traditions and customs for the rest of the world is often times rooted deeply in spirituality. To argue for one's customs and traditions is very often a fight for one's spiritual beliefs and values.

The village elders of Oujé Bougamou (who incidentally belong to the Pentecostal tradition) felt deeply about the meaning behind the tradition in question. Their ban on the sweat lodge was a ban against the open practice and acceptance of shamanism and pagan spirituality. Maybe this was motivated by numerous testimonies of people who were experiencing demonic attacks which resulted in the inability to sleep and function? Whether or not this was a decision which was made "justly" (according to our pluralist North American legal worldview) is another story. What I found interesting was the commenting from "well-meaning white folk" and "jaded FN folk." I guess all FN people are "suppose" contain within their DNA anti-establishment and "church"-hating tendencies. Or at least that's what the FN activists teach. But then what about the FN Christians? Are they all suppose to pick up assault rifles, march the standoff lines, sign petitions, and adopt the leftist agenda?

Or perhaps we should be asking, "Can Christians attend pow wows, sweat lodge ceremonies, rain dances, etc.?"

From the CT article one pastor commented, "Where in the Bible can you go where sacred objects used by nations were ever redeemed and used to worship God?" asks Ojibwe evangelist Craig Smith, whose ministry is affiliated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. "In the Old Testament, that didn't bring God into the sanctuary. That drove him away."

Regardless of what Pastor Smith (who is native) has to say, "freedom of religious expression" seems to be the band wagon on this round . . . which only further promotes my confusion of white folk. How and why do they "go to battle" over certain religious/tradition-related issues and not over others? For example, down the road at UBC, the majority non-Asian Board of Governors (2 Chinese) has approved the building of a hospice next to a neighboring high-rise. Despite the protest of the many Chinese & Korean tenants, the white liberal, pacific northwest agenda still goes forward.

*Side note: Even though 40% of the UBC student population is Asian, out of 49 seats in the student council (for the 2010-2011 year) only 7 are Asian. My math is pretty bad, is that 14%? Back in 2009, MacLeans reported that there were no Asians on the student council.

For those who are late to the show, there is some cultural nuance and hidden gems worth mining in this story. For the majority of Asian cultures, customs and superstitions regarding the dying and dead inform and dictate daily life and existence. If someone in the family dies, depending on whether the person is older or younger, the rites of the dead will follow suite accordingly. If the person who dies is younger, the elderly never show respect to those who are younger. Whereas if the person who dies is older, everyone who is younger must show respect to that individual even to the extent of postponing weddings and other festive events (everyone pays and everyone mourns - life ceases and stops). In regards to death itself, it is very improper (bad luck) and potentially virally improper to reside in a dwelling so close to a place where people who are confirmed to die are spending their last day. To live next to a hospice could potentially destroy a person's future, livelihood and social network; the cause & effect of the present situation will ruin one's future of luck, success and happiness.

But then again, for the Chinese Christian, this is a area of familiar tension. Many Chinese Christians do not bow - out of the respect - for the dead at funerals. Many Chinese Christians do not live in superstitious paranoia as many Chinese normally do. Many Chinese Christians don't care about flow of fire, water and spiritual energy in their homes as many other Chinese may do. Then there are the Chinese Christians who are so afraid of their dead relatives, parents and grand parents that they "do all the Chinese stuff" anyways. So aside from the the issue of the Oujé Bougamou elders perhaps unjustly using their municipal powers to ban something they felt was not right, what was the issue again? Then again, if the entire community which voted and supported the elders in the first place democratically decided and confirmed the ruling . . . what was the issue again? This sounds a lot like the folks down in Lynden, WA fighting over whether or not businesses should be allowed to be open on Sunday . . . the Lord's Day . . . the Sabbath . . . and did I mention the town was founded by Dutch Reformed folks?

I vaguely remember something about a pagan golden calf being God's temporary stand-in somewhere in Exodus. I guess He didn't like that one either.

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