About 60 years ago when I was an undergrad, some of us made fun of the more extreme anthropologists on campus. One, whose surname we parodied as “Whistletweet”, seemed to be too impressed by “Coming of Age in Samoa.”The sexual customs of such far-off places looked enticing, but we argued “Toronto is not Samoa, so what’s the point?”
Well, since then, Toronto has become a lot more like Samoa and many other places, and has the reputation of being the most cosmopolitan city in North America. We have to think not only of the Little Mosque on the Prairie, but also the Big Mosque in the City, the Big Temple - Hindu or Sikh or Buddhist, - and our own aboriginal healing circles. Many of the new customs are very attractive to Canadians brought up on lean, puritanical or agnostic lines.
I, for one, miss daily worship with a group as we experienced it in college, and can be envious of the Moslems who find a room to say their prayers together five times a day. I, when a layman, found places, a priest, and other worshipers to have communion privately in what Bishop Strachan had once called the “godless university!” That seemed quite adventurous at the time.
I think we are already learning much from our Canadian aboriginal people. Their sense of the beauty, order and holiness of animal and geographical nature, has converged with our own growing sense of our responsibility to be nurtured by nature and to work parallel to rather than against natural forces.
We do have our social and sexual rituals, and the least understood by people of my age are those of the teen to thirty age group. But each of us within our own customs, must learn to grow where we are planted. Anthropology, far from being a threat to religious faith, can illumine the variety and integrity of human societies, and help us to know how we are ourselves grounded in and nourished by our own customs and traditions.
We can learn from other customs, just as we learn most importantly from friends. ”Only in a friend…shall we meet the unexpected, the imponderable that astonishes us, and recreates us” so that we live as forgiven and forgiving, with no self-justification. The neighbour becomes the friend and the friend is “the only concrete manifestation of God” (from Rowan Williams, interpreting the work of Werner and Lottie Pelz, in his book Anglican Identities, page 112).
Other fields look greener, but we grow in our own when we get our own “nourishment” together.