24 March 2008

Culture War? Schmulture War!

Thanks for the inspiration, WinterBand.

It's not terribly difficult to find any number of sites claiming to fight the good fight in something nebulously termed the "Culture War." The various "about us" pages to which I've linked are instructive. The "Culture War," broadly, is any perceived threat on so-called "Christian" or "American" values, usually in the public or political sector, in terms of the family (e.g. homosexuality, abortion) or rights & freedoms (e.g. immigration, church & state).

Proponents of the "Culture War" assume that society is made of two groups— those preserving America and those destroying it.

On another hand, S. Michael Craven suggests— perhaps simply, if accurately— that our current cultural situation is largely "Post-Christian." Craven's thesis is that America is not now in functionality, and not ever in theory, a "Christian" nation, due to current cultural trends and the founding notion of the separation of church and state.

Craven's approach maintains a certain "us & them" mentality, even while he eschews the assumption that Christianity is the central and primary influence on society. Rather than the "Culture War" model of Christ against culture, he proposes a model which may well be called Christ above & beyond culture in which the church exists as foreigners within society.

But is it true that Christianity throughout the ages has been 1) internally culturally homogeneous and 2) sufficiently culturally unique in comparison to its non-Christian neighbors?

Eastern Orthodox Christianity is largely culturally localized, be it Greek, Russian, Coptic, etc., not to mention the multitude of current Protestant denominations. The church has a history of internal cultural plurality.

Furthermore, Christians spoke Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and Roman, as needed. They reappropriated rituals and celebrations for their own. They adopted social relations found in neighboring pagan societies. The conversion of cultures to Christianity was not always a conversion to a new culture— though this was the Roman model at times—, it was a synergism of a new worldview with the culture in which they were raised.

In fact, we can point to those engaged in the "Culture War" as a contemporary example. They've adopted Enlightenment ideas about government alongside Reformation and pioneer ideas about religion. They speak English (usually) and they create websites. They choose to support one political candidate or another and they wear particular styles of clothing. They engage in business and cook family recipes. Their ideas and activities are culturally localized, and may not even be that different from their neighbors.

The point is, Western Christianity— I am leaving out colonial engagements as another discussion apart from the current one— has rarely been radically different culturally from its immediate neighbors, and has never been entirely homogeneous internally.

What is the relationship of Christ to culture? Against? Above and beyond? No. Christ and culture exist simultaneous and in close relation, constantly causing us to reinterpret one or the other. The question of how our religious beliefs and our culture interact must constantly be asked, and the answers we give constantly questioned. The relationship of Christ to culture is, I believe, more covenantal than competitive, contemptuous, or condescending.


Scottish said...

Agreed, 100%. I'm so tired of the incessant bleating by the Christian/right-wing media about the "culture war." Rather than verbally (and, in the case of extremists, physically) attacking those with differing ideals, why can't we just do our best to be like Christ, in the world, and influence the culture in that way?

Mike said...

"what he said"