Christian Living

Cultural Confusion: One Better than Another?

Sad to say, I am a product of the public-school system. I did not grow up in a family that earned a lot of money (I still remember a time when we got our milk in a box…all you had to do was add water!) and so any other option of schooling was not possible. I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy my time there. I did. Even though my academic career was spent as a sojourner; State to state, city to city, school to school. While I did not become familiar with the Eagles until I was a sophomore in high school (94-95), he’s the “New Kid in Town” would have served nicely as my theme song.

One constant, however, from one school to another was the beloved subject (in case you can’t hear it, sarcasm is dripping from every syllable now) social studies.

The goal of multicultural study has not only reflection on other cultures habits, practices and beliefs in mind, but a slow and steady assimilation of that culture with the students own. One of the overarching premises is that all cultures are essentially equal. One culture is not seen as better than any other, all are valid expressions of a world and life view. Or so many assume.

Of course, this raises the question about culture itself…what is it? How do we define it?

Most often when people try to define culture they refer to the traditions, beliefs, practices and customs of a particular group of people. What people value as individuals within a collective group is the guiding force behind all cultures. Culture may be divided between various ethnicities (what some still call “the races” today). A culture finds expression in obscure parts of the world, different cities, opposing neighborhoods, or even small family units. Culture is seen in the various expressions of food, art, clothing, entertainment and…oh yes, religious beliefs.

That last one is often seen as unimportant. That’s a bit ironic since culture is actually a reflection of one’s religious beliefs. Where else do you suppose those guiding values come from? Religion offers deep seated convictions about the nature of reality and the source of knowledge. Religion acts as a buffer to life’s most pressing questions: “Why am I here?”, “What’s my purpose?”, “Is this life all that there is?”, “Will how I live have lasting consequences?”, etc.

            At every step, men [i.e. people] build culture according to their beliefs, because building a culture is only working out in practice what men have in their hearts. A man’s religion thus determines everything he does; it gives him the motivation to do what he does, it also informs him what is of value and what is not…

When men build a culture, they ask questions about the nature of reality, the nature of man, the issue of good and evil, the issues of values, and the future. The answers to these questions determine how they [live]…Their every cultural action in every area of their individual and social life—family, education, science, politics, economy, even leisure and recreation—will be based on those answers.[1]

In other words, there is not one area of life that is not culturally driven apart from religious belief. A given culture will always reflect the religious values from which they people draw from as authoritative. It is for this reason that “some cultures operate on assumptions that are inherently better than those of other cultures because of the biblical truths that inform those worldviews that have produced these distinct assumptions. Those elements of a given culture that reflect divine revelation should be celebrated and promoted.”[2]

I realize that may smack in the face of some who have been taught and come to believe that all cultures, and the societies that are fashioned around them, are fairly equal. How can a person make the claim that one culture is inherently better than another? A study of history would help. Was Hitler’s Germany a better or worse culture than say, American or British culture? What about Japanese culture in the past that forbade normal people from possessing any form of arms that provided self-defense against tyranny, in comparison to other cultures that believed people should have a right to protect themselves from physical harm regardless of where the source of violence against them came from?[3] How about the Aztecs that practiced sacrificed virgins or children on the altar of their gods?

Surely, civilized culture is better than that…right? Well, this really depends on whether or not that civilized culture is built upon the precepts of a biblical worldview. I want to close with a short discussion on current fight over unborn children in our nation, in order to shed further light on the vast differences between one culture versus another within the same nation as allegiances shift between one religious’ system to another.

Did you know that the current battle for unborn children is not a new thing?[4] During the 19th century in the United States this battle was fought and won when a culture saturated with Christian ideals came against the secular humanism that was growing at that time.

Like so many times before, the dark specter of death cast a long shadow across the American landscape during the nineteenth century. And like so many times before, faithful followers of Christ rose to the occasion to defend the needy and the helpless with their very all-in-all…they demonstrated in word and deed that every human being is made in the image of God and is thus sacred.[5]

The result of this battle was that victory for a culture influenced by the Word of God. “At the outset of the nineteenth century child-killing was actually legal—if only marginally—in ever state in the Union. By the end of the century the procedure had been criminalized across the board. Most of the legal changes came during a short twenty-year period from 1860-1880. And so once again the message of life and hope overcame and defeated the minions of death and despair.”[6]

In closing, my point is two-fold. First, culture is an outward expression of a societies (large or small group) religious convictions. Second, culture influenced by a biblical worldview is markedly better than other cultures; contrary to what I was taught in public schools. Although there will always be imperfections even in a culture led by Christian thinking (we are all sinners), I would much rather have that type of culture than anything this world has to offer today.

ENDNOTES:

[1] Bojidar Marinov, “Can a Christian NOT Create a Christian Culture?” American Vision (Blog), August 3, 2011, https://americanvision.org/4963/can-a-christian-not-create-a-christian-culture/.

[2] “Article XIII,” in The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, https://statementonsocialjustice.com/#affirmations-and-denials

[3] Don’t get me wrong I love the fact that from this tyranny in ancient Japan helped foster the practice of various forms of martial arts; of which, I myself am an avid student (Matsubayashi-ryu; Pine Forest). Not to mention chop sticks which make eating Japanese style cuisine all the more favorable!

[4] Actually, this fight has been fought throughout the annuls of history. What may surprise some is that this fight has been won on several fronts by people who believed in the one true God of Scripture.

[5] George Grant, Third Time Around: A History of the Pro-Life Movement from the First Century to the Present (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers, 1991), 109, PDF e-book.

[6] Ibid, 109.

[7] The image above is a reconstruction of the Gutenberg printing press created by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century (1436). This creation was a product of a culture influenced by biblical precepts.

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