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
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.