Shadow People

Shadow People

journalsofknudrasmussen.jpgI've been musing over the movie The Journals of Knud Rasmussen that I commented on HERE. It is a powerful film that slowly burrowed its way deep into my mind and demands that I consider it. It's the story of a shaman of the Inuit people and his beautiful daughter in the 1920's, when Christianity and civilization sweep into their culture. At one point in the movie they travel from their village which is alive with joyful laughter, a beautiful simplicity and a profound generosity. They eventually make their way to another village which has converted to Christianity under the ministry of some priests. On their way, one of the travelers claims he saw a family in the wilderness. The shaman says no, that what he saw were "Shadow People". They look like us, but they are not like us. Some people think they are real people, some trade with them and some even marry them. But they are only shadows of real people. When they make it to the village, the converted Inuit come out to meet them singing hymns. They are friendly to the whites that have arrived because they assume they are Christians. From then on, we only see this village incessantly singing their hymns. That's the only way they are allowed to eat: if they sing hymns and pray to Jesus. We see a people that were once happy, free and liberal in their generosity become non-stop hymn-singers listening to boring sermons, morose and begging for food. I thought, "These are the Shadow People. They aren't real! They are only shadows of their former selves, thanks to my religion." It is a sad documentary on what religion can do to an entire culture and to true spirituality, and eventually to a people. It made me honestly ask myself:
  1. Do I force people to change? In other words, are we murdering the spirit of people with religious expectations, requirements, or rituals?
  2. Is there anything our people are required to do in order to receive something? In other words, do we use coercion to achieve even a noble end?
  3. Do I treat people with a different faith or with no faith differently than people who believe like I do? In other words, does our community show partiality?
  4. Like the village chief, do I hold the reins of power and dominate people in any way?
  5. Do I respect and honor people where they are right now? Or do I judge people according to my own standards? This is not to endorse all beliefs and behaviors, but do I categorically disqualify people based on these?
  6. Do I encourage and does our community allow people to come out of their own shadow existence and be real, genuine, authentic and free, no matter how different or even offensive that may be?
This film made me angry at the damage we can do to others. It was a time of serious self-analysis. I'm still not over it.

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