The Faith Crisis of Easter Island

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mfree6464
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The Faith Crisis of Easter Island

Post by mfree6464 » 03 Nov 2019, 14:28

History fascinates me. This weekend I was watching a special on Easter Island. For those unfamiliar, it's a tiny island (15 miles at its widest point) in the middle of the South Pacific covered with massive and mysterious statues carved out of stone. It is estimated that the original inhabitants arrived around 1100AD, thrived for centuries and by the 1800's were all but gone. The prevailing theory that I had always heard about what happened to these people was that the population outgrew the small island and ultimately depleted it of its resources making the place unlivable. The show I just watched offered an explanation that intrigued me and made it sound like these people went through a massive faith crisis.

Imagine you are born on an island so small that you can see every bit of it just by turning your head. Your entire world is literally within your view. Beyond that view is over 2000 miles of open ocean in every direction. There is no escape. All who have left have either never returned or returned reporting that nothing was found beyond their island. Not only that, but it has been that way for you and your people for centuries. Everyone you speak to, those you love and trust the most, the wisest people in your world, all say that this island is all there is. This 15 mile wide island is the entire planet to you and your people. You are told that the giant statues all around you represent the gods. They offer healing and protection from harm, they provide blessings on crops, they help usher in rain and even provide a link between you and those who have gone before you. You are told to worship and respect the existing statues and that constructing new statues is the greatest honor. You have a firm belief that everything you are taught is true. And then comes 1722.

In 1722 European explorers arrive. This must have been confusing. Where did they come from? They look and sound different. Their weapons are strange and powerful. Their ship is unlike anything seen before. Your people welcome these strangers with open arms. You are kind to them. There is no record of conflict and the Europeans record finding a people healthy and thriving. When the Europeans return 50 years later the scene is much different. Many have died from illness and the population is struggling for survival. Your people have thrived for centuries and now in a single lifetime all has changed.

To those on the island these experiences must have absolutely rattled their worldview. They were forced to face the now undeniable fact that there is more to life than just what's on a 15 mile wide island. Additionally, their kindness in welcoming these strangers was rewarded with illness that destroyed them. Their statue gods did not spare them. The position of the program I watched was that this loss of faith is what prompted all the statues to be toppled face-down in the 1800's by the few remaining inhabitants. All statues that currently stand upright on the island were positioned this way in modern times by archaeologists and historians.

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LookingHard
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Re: The Faith Crisis of Easter Island

Post by LookingHard » 06 Nov 2019, 12:36

Wow. Those are some good insights. Thanks for sharing.

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DarkJedi
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Re: The Faith Crisis of Easter Island

Post by DarkJedi » 06 Nov 2019, 13:01

There was a mass European crisis of faith associated with the black plague as well. People figured out that prayers and blessings weren't doing anything to save their family members, and some figured out that it was mostly the Christians dying while the Jews were less affected (not recognizing that this was in part due to the Jewish washing rituals). If you were from the Christian perspective that the Jews were evil because they killed Christ (doctrine for some modern Christian sects) this made no sense. The Catholic Church - the only game in town - lost significant power (influence on individuals) during this time.
In the absence of knowledge or faith there is always hope.

Once there was a gentile...who came before Hillel. He said "Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

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Roy
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Re: The Faith Crisis of Easter Island

Post by Roy » 06 Nov 2019, 16:42

Wow, fascinating perspective!

This reminds me of the movie Small Foot. In the movie the Yetis live so high up in the mountains that they might as well live on an island among a sea of clouds. The main character meets a human and takes him back to the yeti village as proof that the yeti are not alone. It is then revealed that the leader of the yetis knew all along but kept the truth from the villagers in order to protect their way of life. In the end, transparency wins the day and the yetis coexist with humans that have apparently evolved past the point of trying to kill them.

I was left somewhat saddened because the way of life of the yetis was still going to change. Greed, exploitation, disease, substance abuse, loss of language, tradition, and culture. Young people abandoning the old ways and relocating to find other opportunities. I do not like that the yeti villagers had been lied to but opening their doors to humans after having been isolated for so long would surely have unintended consequences.
"It is not so much the pain and suffering of life which crushes the individual as it is its meaninglessness and hopelessness." C. A. Elwood

“It is not the function of religion to answer all the questions about God’s moral government of the universe, but to give one courage, through faith, to go on in the face of questions he never finds the answer to in his present status.” TPC: Harold B. Lee 223

"I struggle now with establishing my faith that God may always be there, but may not always need to intervene" Heber13

Arrakeen
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Re: The Faith Crisis of Easter Island

Post by Arrakeen » 06 Nov 2019, 20:48

That's a really interesting way to see things. I think Easter Island is also a good analog for the modern world in some ways. Humans once believed that the Earth was all there was. We now know we live on a tiny blue dot with limited resources in an impossibly vast universe. For a while it seemed like religion had all the answers to why we're here. But science has opened up a universe bigger than anyone could possibly have imagined, and now there are many unanswered questions. Just like the people on Easter Island, we're finding ourselves on a tiny island in the middle of a much bigger world, with wars among ourselves and quickly depleting resources. Maybe one of these days we'll meet explorers from other planets. Imagine the faith crises that could cause.

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SamBee
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Re: The Faith Crisis of Easter Island

Post by SamBee » 08 Nov 2019, 16:40

DarkJedi wrote:
06 Nov 2019, 13:01
There was a mass European crisis of faith associated with the black plague as well. People figured out that prayers and blessings weren't doing anything to save their family members, and some figured out that it was mostly the Christians dying while the Jews were less affected (not recognizing that this was in part due to the Jewish washing rituals). If you were from the Christian perspective that the Jews were evil because they killed Christ (doctrine for some modern Christian sects) this made no sense. The Catholic Church - the only game in town - lost significant power (influence on individuals) during this time.
Meh, not sure about this interpretation. The Jews got it in the neck, big time, it was a period of massacres for them.

I have heard Muslims were said to have died precisely because of this washing rituals. Dirt isn't just unhygienic in some cases, it helps build up your immune system to some extent.
DASH1730 "An Area Authority...[was] asked...who...would go to the Telestial kingdom. His answer: "murderers, adulterers and a lot of surprised Mormons!"'
1ST PRES 1978 "[LDS] believe...there is truth in many religions and philosophies...good and great religious leaders... have raised the spiritual, moral, and ethical awareness of their people. When we speak of The [LDS] as the only true church...it is...authorized to administer the ordinances...by Jesus Christ... we do not mean... it is the only teacher of truth."

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SamBee
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Re: The Faith Crisis of Easter Island

Post by SamBee » 08 Nov 2019, 16:47

Easter Islanders are Polynesians and as such they presumably would have the usual origin myths. Hawaii and Savaii (in Samoa) take their name from the ancestral homeland of the Polynesians Hawaiki. Some people think it is cognate with Java and the Polynesians do appear to have come from that region.

So I think there would be some awareness that their ancestors came from elsewhere even if it was some kind of nebulous otherworld.
DASH1730 "An Area Authority...[was] asked...who...would go to the Telestial kingdom. His answer: "murderers, adulterers and a lot of surprised Mormons!"'
1ST PRES 1978 "[LDS] believe...there is truth in many religions and philosophies...good and great religious leaders... have raised the spiritual, moral, and ethical awareness of their people. When we speak of The [LDS] as the only true church...it is...authorized to administer the ordinances...by Jesus Christ... we do not mean... it is the only teacher of truth."

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