Is Kabunian Jesus? Part 2

I really think you will need to read Part 1 to make any sense of this post. You can CLICK HERE.

I suppose I might summarize the first post in saying that one should reject naivety in presuming that a simple YES or NO suffices. Kabunian (a central mythological figure in Cordilleran traditional religion) is NOT Jesus (the central historical figure of the Christian faith). However, there are enough similarities to wonder whether one can use Kabunian as a bridge to the Christian faith, especially since it is quite possible that Kabunian changed through interaction with Christianity such that the deity has taken on a some characteristics we would associate with Christ. I have written before on the Longhouse Religion of the Iroquois as a faith that bridges the polytheistic older faith of the people with the Christian faith. For some people the Longhouse Religion has kept people from converting to Christianity. For others, I believe it has served as a bridge to Christ.

I have talked to a number of Christians over the years who are Cordilleran. Generally the view is that one cannot use Kabunian in any way in the Christian faith. Kabunian is seen as too interwoven into the traditional religion so that it is seen as mixing bad with good, or syncretistic. One cannot separate the name from its associated worldview and beliefs. Myths have power. Sometimes such power is beneficial. Paul used the myth of Epimenides and the Unknown God and its powerful place in Athenian thought to express key aspects of the Christian faith. I doubt however that Paul kept using that myth during the discipleship phase of those who converted to following Christ. I could be wrong of course. On the other side, the powerful role of Olympian gods in Hellenistic regions could also undermine Christian ministry. In Lystra, Barnabas and Paul did miracles— presumably not only as acts of compassion, but also as signs of the veracity of their message. However, the firm belief of the locals in the Greek myths led them to interpret these acts as evidence that Barnabas and Paul were Greek gods walking among them. Myths have power to enlighten as well as to confuse.

Perhaps there is a better question that can be asked:

CAN KABUNIAN POINT TO CHRIST?

In this view, we start asking the question of whether God is at work in other faiths and cultures, utilizing the hopes and fears to slowly draw them to Himself. If one takes this view, Kabunian is NOT NECESSARILY a snare of Satan. He could be a human construct that informs us of what people in the culture value most. Or it could be a divine work that can serve as a redemptive analogy, a preparation for the gospel.

Or maybe it is all three. Regardless, it is not a healthy endpoint. In the most positive expression, Jesus Christ FULFILLS Kabunian. Kabunian points in some sense to Christ. The qualities of Kabunian that meet the genuine spiritual need of the people point to Christ, who can ultimately meet those needs. And those aspects of Kabunian that fail to meet those needs point ultimately to Christ because of that lack.

As I said in my last post, I am in no way and expert of Cordilleran Traditional Religion. As such, when I talk to my students and friends who take a very negative stance regarding this faith and theology, I am simply not in a position to tell them they are wrong. In fact, I really am compelled to trust them in this. I have read a paper that takes the ethical system of the culture (‘Lawa at Inayan’) in a very positive light. But it appears to be an exception to the rule— at least among Evangelicals.

However, I would add a small caveat. This caveat is that when one meets a Cordilleran who embraces the traditional religion… or (often more commonly) expresses their faith with a syncretistic mix of that religion and Christianity… don’t react with repulsion. See how their genuine hopes and fears are expressed through their faith, and how their faith can serve as a bridge to the One who can, ultimately, satisfy these hopes and relieve these fears.

I do believe that Christ may not be expressible in terms of Kabunian, but that Christ ultimately can be expressed in ways that honor the best of Cordilleran culture (rather undermining and replacing). Jesus challenged much of Jewish culture while ultimately be a fully inculturated Jew.

What would Jesus look like as a fully inculturated Cordilleran? I saw a picture of Jesus, with His disciples, as a Cordilleran. The image, of course, is far from adequate to answer that question. Still, I think the image points towards a better expression of Christ than we often see where I live. At least it opens the door to questions that need to talked about in community. I will share that picture here again. (The picture is in a Cordilleran restaurant, Ay Wada Casa Lomi House, outside of Baguio City, Philippines. Sorry for the poor quality of my photography skills.)

Is Kabunian Jesus? Part 1

We had an interesting, even if short, discussion in class on whether it is okay to say/believe that Jesus is Kabunian. For those not from a very specific part of the world, this question is meaningless or at least confusing. However, similar questions have come up in many settings. For example, “Must one use the term ‘Jehovah’ or ‘Yahweh’ as the God of the Bible?” as some Jehovah’s Witnesses and some Messianic groups suggest? Is it okay to say that the God of the Bible is Allah, or that the God of the Bible can be called Allah?” Perhaps it is easier to discuss this with less emotional baggage (for many Christians at least) with the case study of Kabunian.

Kabunian is the traditional deity (or prime deity) of the peoples of the Cordillera mountains of northern Luzon Island (Philippines). While a majority of Cordillerans would identify themselves as Christian, Kabunian still has a strong role in this region. Some argue that early Cordilleran religion was built around spirits and ancestors, and the focus on Kabunian is a fairly late evolution of the faith that post-dates contact with Christianity. As such, Kabunian did not have a strong role in the religion until he was needed as an alternative to the God of Christianity. Truthfully, I am not an expert on Kabunian or of Cordilleran traditional religion. Because of this, I truly don’t know if this is actually true, or is a false reinterpretation of that faith.

<Aside here… sometimes there is a strong temptation to reinterpret a religion through a preferred lens of an outsider rather than through its adherents’ own self-understanding. For example, those who embrace the History of Religions school of thought, believe that traditional faiths are polytheistic (and animistic, and shamanistic) and so a traditional faith that has a strong central deity must have gotten that way through interaction with a ‘more mature faith.’ Additionally, within Evangelical Christian circles, there is the belief of some that God only reveals Himself through Christians. Other religions are traps of Satan, and therefore any other belief system that embraces something that is seen as ‘true’ must have gotten that truth through interaction with Christians. Note here, I am just bringing up two possible reasons for falsely believing that Kabunian as primary deity is a recent innovation. I have not studied the issue enough to know the truth. But one must always be cautious of people who are too quick to say that a group believed “A” centuries ago, when the tradition of that group is that they believed “B.”>

But this gives one POSSIBLE reason for saying that Kabunian can be said to be Jesus. PERHAPS KABUNIAN IS A LOCAL CONTEXTUALIZATION OF JESUS. After all, if Kabunian developed in response to Christianity, couldn’t it be seen as a local expression of Christ? I have issues with this idea. A contextualization is more than simply grabbing a term and linking it to another. The name Kabunian means, essentially, “The one to be prayed to” (in the Kankana-ey language). Kabunian as chief god and the one to be prayed to certainly aligns with Christ. However, the stories of Jesus and the stories of Kabunian don’t really line up. The teachings of Kabunian and Jesus don’t really line up (sometimes). That is also a major issue with linking the God of the Holy Bible and Allah from Al-Qur’an. Although there are historically common roots, and Arab and Aramaic Christians called the God of the Bible Allah before the time of the founding of Islam, many of the characteristics of each do not align. Because of this, lazy conflation can lead to confusion. Confusion can be a problem and lead to syncretism. However, to simply reject everything local and simply bring in an outside term can lead to its own form of syncretism— unhealthy mixing of the Christian faith with an outside, rather than local, culture. So let’s consider further.

On the other hand one could make the argument that Kabunian CANNOT be equated with Jesus because the two names are different. Relatedly, some would say that Kabunian is pagan and so can have no part of Christian theology or terminology. On this I think we have to be a bit cautious. While YHWH appears to be a Hebrew-only term, Elohim appears to have been connected with the Phoenican god El. Does that mean that the two are being equated? Well, Yes and No. Let’s take it further, in the New Testament, the dominant term used is Theos. This term has roots in the Greek culture and religion. The term Theos seems to have a link to the term Zeus, the chief Olympian god of the Greeks. Supposedly, the English term ‘God’ has a similar connection to Odin or Wotan, through the proto-Germanic term “Godan.” Does this mean that we have to throw away all terms for God in Christianity with pagan roots. I would argue that the answer is decidedly NO. If one takes the individual cases above, in the case of Elohim, the term may be linked to El, but is transformed in both its written form, but in its meaning as well. Elohim is above all creation and “gods” much as is the Phoenician god El, but differs as God is NOT the father of Baal and Ashtoreth (among other differences). The choice of term draws people to think of the God of Israel as the god of the heavens but its transformation helps avoid too close of a link. The same could be said in the New Testament. The Bible used the Greek term Theos for god, but did not use Zeus. One could argue that there is too much baggage associated with the character Zeus, but there is value in the more abstract Theos. Likewise, in English, the term Odin has too much pagan baggage, but the more generic/abstract term “God” is open for utilization. In places in Asia, for example, missionaries have often sought to equate the God of the Bible with the local expression of the god of the heavens. Is there problems with this? Sometimes there can be. There can be problematic baggage to deal with in the term. For this reason, sometimes the local term is not used, or it is used but changed somewhat. There is, however, considerable value in helping people understand that the God of the Bible is their God as well. In the Philippines it is more common to use the term “Diyos” which is a Spanish term that ultimately traces back to the Greek Theos. At other times, the term Panginoon is used, which is seen more as a descripter of God rather than a name for God.

I think perhaps a better goal in language is that of “Fulfillment” rather than EQUATE OR EQUIVOCATE. We can talk about this in Part II. To go there direction, you can CLICK HERE.