On the Question of Culture


Normally, I prefer the battle on such issues to rage around me and not to comment, but I do feel that I must address an unfortunate tendency in thought, word, and deed. It seems that one webmaster blogged some remarks that were profoundly offensive to Ono Ekeh ( found via Dylan's Blog, q.v.) as how would they not be to individuals who are seeking common ground and understanding? Admittedly, the excesses of academic multiculturalists lead to a sense of dysphoria among all who do not buy into the world constructed by Foucaultian and Derridan theory (let's not even talk about Paul de Man).

I don't believe that we need to feel good about ourselves by denigrating the accomplishments of others. I don't think that cultural comparisons are particularly relevant or helpful, nor do they lead to the sorts of discussions and solutions we need to find to right historic wrongs.

There are problems in all cultures--there is no perfect culture, just as the only Perfect Human was executed in part because He was Other and made us realize that we were not so good as we thought we were. Comments that seek to elevate our sense of self at the expense of others simply contribute to the forces that pounded a the nails into Jesus' hands and feet. What we need is to address the problem and not return the fire we think we have been peppered with. We need to hear what is being said under the extravagant claims and make room in our cultural understandings for the genuine good present in all cultures. We need not claim it for our own, but neither do we need to say that it has no validity. In the example given, a writer compares a European Clock to an African Mask--perhaps an unfortunate juxtaposition arranged by curators, and extols the clock to the detriment of the mask. But looked at another way, a clock is simply a device invented for the external regulation of human behavior entirely useless to a culture that uses the daylight or the nighttime as need dictates. While technological cultures do provide certain goods that cannot be provided by agrarian societies, we may be blinded to some of the positive things that can come from living close to the Earth and its cycles. We should not conclude that a technological culture is necessarily "better" (after all, technology is a morally neutral faculty) or necessarily "worse." Why can't we simply accept that it is different and not attempt the sweeping generalizations that create an "us and them" attitude. Then we can get down to brass tacks--things nearly all reasonable cultures CAN agree on--slavery is bad, genocide is bad, murder is bad, ignoring God's law and natural law is bad. . . etc.

What we need, to use a very old and worn but tremendously useful phrase, is more light and less heat. What does one propose to gain from forcing a group that already feels disenfranchised into a position in which they must fight or die? It makes no reasonable sense. Simply teach your children to savor the wonderful benefits of the culture they enjoy and the goods of other cultures, to decry the wrongs that they see in any culture, and above all to center their hearts, minds, and souls first and foremost on the loving God who grants all things to all people, black, white, red, yellow. God sees in these colors a wonderful rainbow of images of His Son, we should strive to do the same and teach our children the same. Most important of all "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you." When God is the center all human considerations fly away. The Shema Y'israel, which could be regarded as our chief rule of law says: "Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One. Love Him with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself." Loving as yourself means simply seeing the image of Jesus and not judging that as a greater or lesser image.

I've gone on too long, but I think it's clear--Love is the rule and it leaves no place for comparison. Mother Teresa did not stop to compare Hindu and Christian culture before she cared for the ill; St. Charles Lwanga did not stop to consider who was worthy of salvation; St. Martin de Porres did not ask which culture the poor he tended belonged to; they all simply loved the image of Christ they saw in each person, without having to make themselves feel superior, without having to compare one with another. They accepted people as the beautiful, exasperating, exhilirating images of Jesus Christ that they are.

(Rant officially over, we now return you to your regular station)

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 13, 2002 6:06 PM.

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