Under The Hood Of Culture

What a mess. Busy week hasn’t let me post. You know what they say – the road to an out-of-date blog is paved with good intentions. My wife and I moved to a different part of town this week. Several reasons. First, it’s right next to the new church building, so I should be able to easily spend more time there. It’s about a five minute walk, which will cut out a large part of our transportation costs every month (reason two). Plus, stuff in this part of town is much cheaper. Like half. Yeah – new house is basically the same size as the last one, but it costs half as much. Look at us and our economic selves. And mustn’t forget that we’ve got an elevator in this building – no more climbing five floors to our house.

 

Moving has given us plenty of opportunities to once again plumb the depths that lie between American and Chinese “cultures,” whatever that means. Sometimes when people mean to compare cultures, they measure between extremes from each culture. For example, I don’t know how many people have tried to explain to me that “unlike in the West, here in China family is the most important thing.” They’ve heard that Americans are individualistic, so they assume that the average person doesn’t concern themselves with family. Are there Americans that sacrifice their families on the altar of self-promotion? Absolutely. Are there Chinese that do, too? Sure. I think (loaded two words, I know) that many of the similar values between groups (relationships, ambition, romance, respect) tend to have varying manifestations in the physical world. Both groups want love – how they go about getting it, or any other value, is what is often labeled as “culture.” But that’s still fairly external…

 

More accurate comparisons of culture would necessarily include what’s lurking beneath the surface. And, rather than assuming that cultures are strictly at loggerheads with each other, instead see that we’re all people made in the image of the same Creator, with the same junk going on in our hearts. Rather than assume that a value is vacant from the heart of another group (which inevitably leads to forms of racism), realize that value may not have as high of a place for many reasons, not the least of which may be geographic and circumstantial.

 

Which means that surveying a particular cultural group entails digging around and finding out what values they’re over-emphasizing and making ultimate. Which brings culture immediately into the sphere of religion, even in China where I’m constantly told, “they have no faith.” Maybe no faith, but plenty of idolatry. One culture makes honor the ultimate value, another makes family relationships of highest importance. One worships moral behavior, another worships professional achievement.

 

Anyway, this post is too long already and filled with less-than-proven points. I just meant to tell a story about moving! I’ll try next time. Hopefully this will provide some food for thought. What defines the cultural group you’re in? What is the over-emphasized value in your country, your city, your workplace, your college? What does a Christian do with this value?

2 Comments on “Under The Hood Of Culture”

  1. Chris November 22, 2008 at 1:45 am #

    I’m an Alaskan. Alaskans often fit the stereotype of rugged individualist. I would say personal independence is our over-emphasized value. The problem with independence is that it encourages us to rely on ourselves instead of God. All cultures struggle with it, but it seems more prominent here.

    Thanks for the post.

    Chris

  2. H.A. Page November 22, 2008 at 7:02 am #

    I think religion and culture go together, meaning that we come at truth from within our community and from our place.
    You write, “Maybe no faith, but plenty of idolatry. One culture makes honor the ultimate value, another makes family relationships of highest importance. One worships moral behavior, another worships professional achievement.”
    Because truth hearkens to a deep inner desire to be one with the creator and to find spiritual harmony, finding truth within the various cultures is a challenge to those who are wishing to come with new ideas.
    These bring deep debates, which can be constructive or divisive.

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