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LETTER: Worship of money impacts all human societies

Wednesday 14 July 2021 | Written by Supplied | Published in Letters to the Editor, Opinion

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LETTER: Worship of money impacts all human societies

Letters for July 14, 2021

Dear editor,

As an anthropologist and frequent (pre-pandemic) visitor to Rarotonga I am interested in Thomas Tarurongo Wynne’s recent Opinion article (‘Religion and culture’ CI News, Saturday July 10, 2021).

The interplay of culture and religion is something of considerable interest to me, especially as it relates to Pacific cultures. In the article Wynne wisely pursues a middle ground, referencing Jesus’s comment that the worship of money is the root of evil, not the fear of Tangaroa or other gods from the Cook Islands past.

Certainly, the worship of money is a problem that impacts all societies around the world and leads to great evils, as a recent American president effectively embodied by his lifestyle. The irony in Wynne’s article is that money was introduced by Westerners, made possible by the very missionaries who introduced Christianity. These people introduced a concept vital to the functioning of Western society, but also warned it must not be worshiped.

What is not discussed in Wynne’s Opinion article is that the Evangelical Church is a form of culture in its own right. It demands people believe specific things, act in specific ways, and understand the world in a prescribed, primarily American-influenced, manner. The basic cultural prescriptions of Evangelical Christianity are not supposed to be challenged or questioned.

As a former Evangelical, I began to question what I had been told about the Bible. I discovered the Bible’s decrees were based on the cultures of the time, and that those cultural views are rooted in a patriarchal pre-scientific worldview that by practice rejects the view that all humans are valued children of God. Never did I hear my Evangelical pastors explain there are two separate and contradictory flood stories embedded within Genesis 6-9, easily discernable by which name for God is used in the Hebrew text (“Elohim” translated into English as “God”, or “YHWH” translated into English as “Lord”).

Never did I have an Evangelical pastor explain to me the difference between behaviors that were “zimmah”, or immoral because they disrupt relationships within the group, and those that were “toebah”, or unclean because they cause contact with substances that originate within the body or are associated with idolatry.

I came to appreciate that Jesus spoke very little about what people should not do, but instead repeatedly focused on what they should do, which was effectively summarised as loving God, that is loving mercy, loving kindness and being humble, and treating others with dignity and respect.

I agree with Wynne that the worship of money, of wealth accumulation at the expense and harm of others, is an evil worth confronting. In order to confront it, Polynesian populations can draw from their pre-missionary cultural practices and focus on the inherent qualities of aro’a.

If all humans practice aro’a, we can overcome the evils associated with the concept of money, introduced by Western Christians, as well as the other biases the missionaries introduced that introduced Western prejudice into Polynesian society.

Patrick Chapman

Olympia, USA