Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Do You Believe?

In a recent conversation with members of the small group Bible study I'm part of, talk turned to film. One of the guys is a real movie buff. His eyes lit up as he told us about one film he though had a great premise:
"A young couple moves into a new house and hear a lot of strange noises. The guy decides to set up a movie camera at night to see what's going on when they are asleep..."
That's all he had to tell us before we started to get goosebumpy.

Later that night the roommate and I speculated about how the story would unfold under the pen of various novelists or screenwriters... might make a good writing exercise!

Yet your typical American does not believe in the supernatural, or doesn't think they do, and even those in my small group haven't thought about these things all that much. We typically proceed on the assumption that what you see is what you get, that life and the world more or less make sense without reference to spiritual powers, except, perhaps for the goodness of God and/or some notion of luck. That's how I was raised anyway (minus the God bit). Took a long time to get to the point where I could seriously entertain any other world view.

It's different in most other parts of the world. If we want to relate to people in many other cultures we'll have to learn to recognize and respond to the needs, fears, concerns, priorities. etc. that arise from worldviews that explain things in terms of supernatural phenomena. For example, I've spent time in at least half a dozen countries where many people would consider it unthinkable to live alone, and some would not ever want to be alone at all, for fear of ghosts and evil spirits.

This weekend I picked up a book at the library which does a pretty good job showing what happens when a rationalistic Westerner moves to North Africa and tries to make a life for himself and his family in a place that - all the people he meets assure him - is already inhabited by powerful jinn. It's called The Caliph's House, by Tahir Shah.

The story below - published in Atlantic Magazine - comes from a little further south, the Central African Republic:
"Snaking around the outer wall of the courthouse in Mbaiki, Central African Republic, is a long line of citizens, all in human form and waiting to face judgment. It’s easy to imagine them as the usual mix of drunks, reckless drivers, and check-bouncers in the dock of a small American town. But here most are witches, and they are facing criminal punishment for hexing their enemies or assuming the shape of animals.

"[In Mbaiki]—where Pygmies, who are known for bewitching each other, make up about a tenth of the population—witchcraft prosecutions exceed 50 percent of the case load, meaning that most alleged criminals there are suspected of doing things that Westerners generally regard as impossible."

>> Keep reading.
What do you think?

Do I believe? Yes and no. Of some things I'm not sure. I'm not one of those people who feels the need to nail down a black-and-white opinion on everything... 

Labeled cultures.

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