作者: Jim Harries
Category: 世界信仰, 宣教的经文, 领袖培训
To say that African people believe in spirits can be misleading. I am not sure if they know what ‘spirits’ are. ‘Spirit’ is, after all, an English word; but even native English speakers, if asked ‘what is a spirit’, often struggle to give a straightforward answer. Many have never seen a spirit, and only hear vague things about spirits. How can we ask whether ‘Africans believe in spirits’ if we do not know what spirits are? If Africans do ‘believe in spirits’, then what exactly does that tell us?
It has become widely accepted that Africans ‘believe in spirits’. Most of my African English-speaking colleagues, if asked ‘do you believe in spirits’ will probably say ‘yes’. This is because they know that ‘Africans believe in spirits’, and there seems to be something different in their way of life from that of native English speakers, a difference that is credited to being related to the fact that they ‘believe in spirits’.
Because many native-English speakers neither ‘believe that spirits exists’ or ‘know what spirits are’, it is very difficult to explain to them the difference in the African way of life that arises from ‘believing in spirits’.
Many native English speakers are stuck on the question of whether spirits are ‘real’ or not. For them, there are ‘real’ things, and ‘unreal’ things. The category that deals with the ‘unreal things’ is called ‘religion’. Real things are generally considered under the label of ‘science’. We could ask ourselves; how can there be a category for what does not exist (i.e. is not real)? Perhaps those things that are ‘unreal’ can be said to exist ‘only in people’s minds’.
Having said that, I am forced to ask myself, what is it that exists that is not ‘in someone’s mind’? I must admit that all the things that I consider to exist, I so consider only because I perceive them and of them in my mind; there is nothing that I know that is not in my mind. If I did not have a mind, then presumably for me nothing would exist.
African people, at least as I understand them, have not made the distinction that native English speakers have made between ‘what is only in the mind’ and ‘what is real’. The distinction seems after all to be arbitrary. For African people, spirits are at least as ‘real’ (or as ‘unreal’) as anything else.
We have still not yet learned ‘what spirits are’. In many ways, native English speakers cannot learn or know what spirits are. It is hard to say more than that they are ‘that which is not believed in’, or ‘that which is called by any other name’.
The ‘spirits’ that affect African people and their ways of life are therefore as ‘real’ as anything else in the absolute sense of what it is to be ‘real’ (but not in the typical native English sense of what is real). Telling people to ‘ignore them’, is like telling a woman to ignore her husband – she can’t! In order to come to terms with where African people are in their approach to life, one can say, it is as important to learn to be familiar with the ‘non-real’ (according to native English speakers) as the ‘real’ things that they contend with. Amongst these are ‘spirits’, which are in some ways incomprehensible to native English speakers.
Some theologians may have red flags flying at this point! Where is God in all this confusion between what is ‘real’ and ‘unreal’? In terms of the ‘absolute’ sense of ‘what is real’, nothing can be more ‘real’ than God. If anything (anyone) exists – then it must be God. Anything else may exist or not exist. This is why, I suggest, God is the basis of any true ‘objectivity’. He is what all people have in common. Therefore, true intercultural communication consists of sharing the Word of God.
A big question that remains of course is: Who is God? What is God? What does he want of us? Many people around the world answer those questions in different ways. Christians believe that God has revealed himself in a special way to Adam, Abraham, Moses, the prophets, other Biblical characters and authors, and then especially to Jesus. It is this Biblical revelation that missionaries take to challenge African belief in ‘spirits’. Others take this same message to challenge ‘native English speakers’’ belief in no-spirits.
(For the purposes of this piece, I consider native English speakers to be those people who use English in the way that native English speakers do.)