A final offering for this week from our (or actually my) resident Anthropologist.
It was a pleasant late summer’s afternoon when we gathered on the patio overlooking the manicured lawn and built-in pool to celebrate Niñon´s 29th birthday. Not many of the eight ladies present are able to live so elegantly so it was quite a treat to be served tea in china cups and be attended by a uniformed maid.
The conversation became quite interesting when I overheard Alicia say the words "faeng shwee", now I thought that sounds quite familiar but badly pronounced, I wonder does she mean "feng shwei" (say "fung shwey"). Yes, she did and the gist of the conversation ran something like this.
Alicia "A lady came to my house and asked if I wanted it reorganised according to the Chinese art of faeng shwee".
Wilma "I think you must mean ´feng shwei´ it is Chinese and means literally wind and water".
Alicia "Oh, you lived in Taiwan so I suppose you know what it means?"
Wilma "It is a Chinese magical art aimed at helping people live in harmony with nature. The idea is that you balance up the various forces of nature so that your surroundings are harmonious with the Tao. It is based in the animistic world view of the ancient Chinese".
Well, that certainly raised eyebrows and all of a sudden I was the centre of attention! The momentary silence was followed by a flood of questions.
Alicia "You know, you have to be so careful about these things, we have had so much bad luck recently. Our house has been broken into five times and we had a car accident. My mother in law stuck a charm on the front door that she got in Egypt and I think things have just got worse since then."
Wilma "It is probably lucky words from the Koran. Was it blessed by some kind of local imam or magician?"
Alicia "Yes, it was".
Wilma "It probably has no significance but if you are worried about it you should burn it. However, we must not credit these things with too much power. Most of their power is just the weight of tradition and fear. If you don´t fear it then it won´t have any power over you. It is rather similar to the Apostle Paul´s attitude towards food offered to idols, the food has no power to harm you so don´t bother your conscience by asking questions about it. In Taiwan we lived in the parish of a Taoist temple and we frequently ate with families during Chinese New Year. If these beliefs and traditions have any power we can be sure that it is completely insignificant in comparison with the power of our God."
Adriana "Would you not even be afraid to have a pyramid in your house?"
Wilma "No, I don´t believe that a pyramid has power just because of its shape".
Adriana "Wilma, you must be the least superstitious person that I know!"
So, I´m left thinking what is all this about? Here are a group of young women, all educated, sophisticated, and evangelical Christians, who are afraid of Egyptian charms and pyramids! What is going on? Is it that I have become too rational and secular or have they given too much weight to these "new"oriental ideas infiltrating our western society. If we can so easily reject old western beliefs as "superstitions" and "old wives tales" why do we give so much credence to new "superstitions" just because they are oriental? How do we discern between silly superstitions and genuine dangerous occult beliefs and practices?
The upshot of all that conversation is that I had to give a talk to the ‘youngish marrieds group’ about New Age influence on our western society and guide a discussion on what the Christian´s response should be.