After Church: On Cultures

Saint_Augustine_Portrait

I just thought I’d put this here.

When men cannot communicate their thoughts to each other, simply because of difference of language, all the similarity of their common human nature is of no avail to unite them in fellowship.

– Augustine of Hippo, City of God

I was watching this video by Luke Morse, the video game repair guy on the web (check out his videos, by the way – quite fascinating to see how he repairs these old systems and obscure devices to working condition again). He lives in Japan, but he’s originally from Detroit, Michigan; the point of the rather long video is that Japanese culture and American culture are very different. In America, we celebrate individualism and singular initiative; we don’t like it when people don’t stand out in a group, even though we have our own behaviors that we monitor through social scorn (for example, racism) and law (also, for example, racism). We idolize overly public and social people because…well, those people seem like successes who can talk to any random person on the street. Diversity’s a virtue, not a blight.

In Japan, they celebrate community, socializing, and helping the people in the place you live. Although they emphasize social camaraderie, simply talking to some person randomly isn’t going to help you out (they may, in his words, run away and think you’re crazy). Being a socially active person shows you care for the rest of the culture, and you’re nearly required to have a social life, unlike in our fair United States where social isolation happens all the time, whether by your choice of work or just “being shy”. Japanese culture requires that you fit into their society; being the “individual” brings its own subtle social scorn. This goes especially if you’re a foreigner (you can’t ever become a citizen of Japan unless you’re natural born, for example), where you are, in some sense, a second class citizen by law and by people’s attitudes. That isn’t true of everyone, but it’s certainly true of the majority.

I examined these vast differences, and I noticed that, frequently, we make judgment calls on either of these. From our Western perspective, Japanese culture looks quite elitist, pompous, arrogant, and not just a bit pharasaical. On the other hand, if your borders were closed for thousands of years, you might react the same way to the gaijin who want to change the way things work in your country. That tends to happen frequently, as many exchange students, English teachers, and foreigners living there do not tend to get attached and help the community in, say, a typhoon or earthquake. This sets up negative stereotypes on both sides, more a bout of misunderstanding than a “right/wrong” situation.

In fact, both of them take the wrong side. On the one hand, Americans focus on individualism to the extent where we thing ourselves the most important of all, when God truly deserves that status. If it isn’t us, then we set up an idol of our own making to replace it. When I am king, all others become secondary, and you can imagine this results in our current moral climate to the point where we ignore ancient kinship law and the needs of religious communities to make a political point. Politics becomes a tool of oppression rather than compromise for the good of all, and that certainly never worked out before. False notions of egalitarianism and “freedom” were already tried by those in the past, and it should surprise none that those communities turned into heinous dictatorships.

Then the Japanese take the side of the xenophobe, unwilling to see the clear and tangible differences between peoples. That’s probably a common thread in all isolationist cultures without immigration, but it’s difficult to imagine their current society existing without technological developments crafted elsewhere. They place their own race and culture on a pedestal without even a hint of comparison with any other – to their own detriment. Their society stunted in growth for years as they continued their massive isolation, unwilling to compromise or see the other. Look at what destruction they caused in World War II – that was motivated by that same elitism.

A problem is a problem is a problem – all cultures create their own issues and problems, especially secular ones, because they do not fall under the rule of Christ (theocracies are a whole different issue). That is their problem; that is their fault, whether or not they understand or realize it, or whether they want to recognize it. Jesus Christ isn’t one king among many, but the King of Kings. Any Christian worth his/her salt takes this seriously; we cannot bow nor confess another rules, another God for declaring Jesus as Lord remains essential to our beliefs and our salvation, like in Romans 10:9:

…that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…

Why do you think the early martyrs died? They could not, nay, they WOULD not confess any other name as Lord – even unto death, for they knew Jesus’ own promises. They did not second guess or go once more into the breach limp-wristed; they jumped headlong into the abyss, aware of Christ’s promises and believing unto death.

 And He said to them, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.”

Luke 18:29-30

If we do not recognize His lordship, what hope do we have other than that which the materialist, Enlightenment universe can provide? No action we take, no thing we do, and no breath we takes remains neutral; from that moment of declaring His lordship, He is ours and we are His, and there’s no escaping this truth. We don’t work in idle pleasentries or white lies or entertaining warm and fuzzy thoughts; we tell people the truth, whether they like it or not. We work on what God gives us and we move onto the rest from there. If we took it seriously, would we “question” Scripture as much as we do, or find ourselves with so many reservations with so many parts of God’s Word? Romans 15 drives the point home:

Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written,

“Therefore I will give praise to You among the Gentiles,
And I will sing to Your name.”

10 Again he says,

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord all you Gentiles,
And let all the peoples praise Him.”

12 Again Isaiah says,

“There shall come the root of Jesse,
And He who arises to rule over the Gentiles,
In Him shall the Gentiles hope.”

13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

To transform culture, we must first transform ourselves into Christ’s likeness and believe His own promises and words – then we can take that step and move beyond petty ideological squabbles. You think the Church disagrees because of what is in Scripture? No, it disagrees because the human heart does not want to agree; it wants to fight and ponder and question everything before taking decisive action. Only when we believe without doubt, with certitude, could would possibly hope to give the world the hope it needs, nay, desires without knowing it.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.