A quick study of the history of Hawaii reveals the profound influence that the Bible had on the historically pagan culture in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The Hawaiian islands, united under King Kamehameha in 1810, were ruled by his wife and son following his death. It was this pair, Queen Ka’ahumanu (the wife of the deceased King) and King Kamehameha II, who abolished the country’s pagan religion along with its practice of human sacrifice. Soon afterward, the first missionaries arrived from New England and began to teach about Jesus. By the year 1823, the queen herself requested to be baptized, along with six high chiefs. At this time, prostitution and drunkenness became illegal in Hawaii. By the year 1840, the country’s new constitution read:
“It is therefore our fixed decree,
I. That no law shall be enacted which is at variance with the word of the Lord Jehovah, or at variance with the general spirit of His word. All laws of the Islands shall be in consistency with the general spirit of God’s law.
The Word of God, though not always presented in its purity, was having a profound influence on the culture in the islands.
I spent a few days last week in Honolulu and then boarded a plane for American Samoa, where we’ve been blessed to be invited to teach for the Nu’uuli and neighboring congregations here in Samoa. When I got seated on the plane I opened the airline magazine placed in the seat pocket in front of me to read a feature story celebrating eastern idolatry and its popularity on the island of Oahu. The article was entitled “New Year’s Cleansing” and it read (in part):
Folks are lined up at 8 am on New Year’s Day, almost around the block. Rock concert? Hangover clinic? Hardly. This is the New Year’s blessing at the Daijingu Temple of Hawaii at Nu’uanu, purifying all comers for the New Year as early as possible. Rev. Akihiro Okado waves a stick festooned with slips of white paper over bowed attendees, reciting a chant in an archaic form of Japanese used solely by Shinto priests.
The article continued: You don’t have to practice Shinto or even be human to get the blessing. People bring their pets, too. Once people (and pets) are cleansed they head on over to nearby stalls to buy omamori or amulets to keep on blessing them through the year. They buy little charms for traffic safety to hang from the rearview mirror of their cars or tiny gold frogs to keep in their wallets or purses so that they will always have money. There’s a also a “home security triple pack” that, hung properly in three places in your house, protects from fire, ensures peace and brings prosperity in the home. Instructions make it clear that you hang these with tape and not with a tack. In order for these to work, they must be destroyed yearly by temple clergy and new amulets must be purchased yearly after the cleansing. Many people donate hundreds of dollars to the temple to purchase amulets for family members and friends who cannot afford or do not wish to purchase their own for the new year.
It’s interesting to notice that those who come for cleansing are not required to live pure lives. They are just required to bow down before the priest to get the cleansing. It’s telling that the blessings they are counting on are independent of any truth or of any choices made by the intellect of the comers. They are counting on little gold frogs for prosperity and little strips of paper for home safety–frogs and strips of paper that will never require anything of them, except (for those who purchased their own) the money they paid for the privilege of carrying them around for a year prior to turning them in and re-buying them for the next year.
Psalm 115:4-8 comes to mind:
Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of men’s hands.
They have mouths, but they speak not:
eyes have they, but they see not:
They have ears, but they hear not:
noses have they, but they smell not:
They have hands, but they handle not:
feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat.
They that make them are like unto them;
so is every one that trusteth in them.
Those little gold frogs are the works of greedy men’s hands. They have little frog mouths and little frog legs and tiny little frog feet. They have little frog eyes. But they cannot see inside that man’s wallet. They do not croak inside that woman’s purse. They cannot jump out of her change purse or his pocket. And those people who make and sell the little gold frogs?…Those who buy and trust in the power of the little gold frogs?…They are just like the little gold frogs. Their existence will be spent in the darkness, powerless to avail any good or accomplish any worthwhile goal. And, in the end, they, too, will be destroyed, but in everlasting fire.
Hawaii was onto something when its monarchy abolished pagan worship back in the early 1800s. It’s sad that the islands have come full circle and, once again, find something to celebrate in idolatry, the ultimate affront to the real Giver of every good gift. It’s tragic that so many choose to believe in the power of something so utterly impotent. But there is nothing new under the sun. The Psalmist had it right all those years ago.