This post is a continuation of Macquarrie’s distinction of religions seen from Christian perspective. This time it is historically coherent to start from the farthest end of the series. In other words, we will start from the outermost and work our way nearest to the center.
The farthest end of this series is fetishism. Fetishism is the term used in anthropology to identify the concept of devotions to object. It applies to a form of belief and religious practice in which supernatural attributes are imputed to material inanimate objects. Here fetishism is considered to be a limiting case just like atheism in transcendence series because the idea of a divine being has vanished to beings. Both atheism and fetishism make man the measure of things. Atheists place his trust in technology while fetishists place his on magic and the manipulation for his own ends of occult power. Hence in either cases trust in divine being or God is completely absent.
The next level closer to Christian perspective in immanence series is animism. Tylor defined animism as the general belief in spiritual beings and considered it “a minimum definition of religion.” He asserted that all religions, from the simplest to the most complex, involve some form of animism. According to Tylor, primitive peoples, defined as those without written traditions, believe that spirits or souls are the cause of life in human beings; they picture souls as phantoms, resembling vapors or shadows, which can transmigrate from person to person, from the dead to the living, and from and into plants, animals, and lifeless objects (Encarta). In animism the divine being is experiences as immanent in the beings, but it is experienced as fragmented and diffused. Here awareness of time is nil and ritual and ceremonies seems violent.
Next in the series is polytheism. Perhaps this develops out of animism. Presently this type of religion is still present in India, Egypt and elsewhere. The divine being is being experienced as immanent and as fragmented but not as diffused as in animism. People see nature such as sky, sun and sea as gods with divine personification. Gods may also take a human form. Polytheism expresses itself in myth just like the ancient Greece. However, it differs greatly with dualism in that it has not sense of history and eschatology.
Moving closer is the idea that divine being is immanent and the same with the multiplicity of individual beings. This is best seen in pantheism of Hinduism and Taoism. And Macquarrie says that here change and multiplicity are only illusion. “The reality is the ‘uncarved block,’ the one simple all-inclusive being. Even the gods are only appearances of the one. The goal of the religious life is communion with or rather union to the primal being and the typical form of the religious experience is mysticism.
Next closest to the center is best represented by Buddhism. Here the primal being is indistinguishable from nothing and so the idea of God is reduced from the One to simply the immanent cosmic order. There is no personal God as symbol of divine being but an impersonal order like dharma or logos that is immanent to the world. Events move in cycles, symbolized by the Buddhist wheel of becoming. Consequently history and temporal world is not important. The emphasis of its ethic is quietism. Its adherents value non-attachment to the world and conformation self-effacement in the order of the world.
Then the center is of course is Christianity which is a religion that makes and effort from its adherents to maintain the balance between the transcendence and immanence of the divine being.
In conclusion Macquarrie defines the value of looking at this analogy is that enables us to see both the unity and diversity of the religions, and affords a frame of reference for dialogue about the relationship between different religions. All religions can be seen as variations on a fundamental theme: the revelation of a divine being on man. It certainly helps Christians to see that our faith is not discontinues with non-Christian faiths and that there is no one exclusive revelation of God.