(cont. of E. Yamauchi’s article, “Christianity and Cultural Differences”)
(Last one was S.1.5)
Margaret Mead defines culture as:
An abstraction from the body of learned behaviour, which a group of people who share the same tradition, transmit entirely to their children, and, in part, to adult immigrants who become members of their society. It covers not only the arts and sciences, religions and philosophies . . . but also the system of technology, the political practices, the small intimate habits of daily life, such as the way of preparing or eating food, or of hushing a child to sleep . . . (Cultural Patterns and Technical Change, 1955, page 12).
Hershkovits has succinctly defined culture as:
The man-made part of environment.
We seldom consciously think about our own culture. Our own ways of thinking, feeling, and acting seem so natural that we assume they must be correct. Only when we have been exposed to some form of a non-Western culture do we come to realize just how different the ways of others can be. In point of fa t, loss of familiar “cues” may even produce the uneasy feeling we now know as “culture shock.”
How do cultures vary? Anthropologists have been struck by the fact that although there are certain basic needs common to all mankind, the responses in meeting these needs are almost infinitely diverse. Within the community, murder, incest, lying, and stealing are universally condemned. But how people regard property, family relations, time and work, how they eat, drink, and clothe themselves — such attitudes and activities vary from society to society. For example, Eskimos eat rotten walrus meat. The Chinese eat fermented duck eggs, but cannot comprehend how Westerners can consume fermented milk (cottage cheese, etc.).
Almost all people clothe themselves, however scantily; complete nudity is quite the exception. But the ways in which people adorn themselves is quite diverse. What is sexually provocative in one society may not be so in another. The Yapese in Micronesia consider the uncovered breasts of women proper, but the baring of legs is a sign of immodesty. When Christian missionaries insisted that women of the Ngbaka Church, in Northern Congo, wear blouses, an elder of the Church protested that in their area only prostitutes dressed in such fashion, for only they could afford to array themselves in such adornment.
How people relate to others is another matter that differs considerably from one culture to another. North Americans (supposedly) pride themselves on their frankness. Latin Americans might be quite reserved about telling someone else what they’re thinking. An Oriental is more prone to telling someone what they thinks the other wishes to hear; which missionaries of postwar Japan were thus misled by the seemingly positive responses their audiences gave to invitations to accept Christ as their Saviour.
In many societies it is important that gifts be given and received with both hands. A missionary in India insulted his congregation by passing the communion plate with his left hand (many cultures, esp. those of the Middle East) consider the extension of one’s ‘left’ hand as an offense, because they use ONLY their left hand for cleaning themselves when they are utilizing the facilities. In Korea, under the influences of Buddhism, a person who receives a gift does not express thanks, on the principle that the giver, whom obtains merit for the act of giving, should be the one who should be thankful. Many societies seem callous to the needs of those outside their group. Yet these same people will sacrifice and impoverish themselves to provide for loved ones. Americans impersonal giving to strangers may arouse suspicion rather than gratitude.
Among the Indians of North and South America, attitudes are often quite different from those of legs white men. A Hopi Indian child is taught that they should never strive to get ahead of others. If an Indian becomes exceptionally wealthy, they’re expected to share this boon with their kinsmen. Indians of Mexico are primarily interested in the present. If they have a surplus of wealth, they prefer to spend it all in a fiesta rather than save it.
Many societies resist change except in peripheral items that make life easier without drastically changing the old patterns. Americans, on the other hand, welcome change and novelty. We are oriented toward the future.
In “The Silent Language,” Edward T. Hall writes, “Time with us (Americans) is handled much like a material; we earn it, spend it, save it, waste it.” We also value promptness. A North American kept waiting 45-minutes for an appointment in a Latin American office would be furiously impatient. In our society, a last minute invitation may be considered as an insult. However, in the Middle East and elsewhere, it is pointless to send out an invitation far in advance.
Western missionaries are accustomed to a systematic universe that rules out “logical” contradictions. Too often they easily assume that their converts will draw the same “logical” conclusions from the Scriptures, unaware that many peoples live with the conception of an unsystematic universe.
Biblical Cultures? To better appreciate the import of Biblical Revelation, we need to know about the cultures of those who received it — the Hebrews of the OT period in the midst of Pagan Near Eastern neighbors and the Jews of the NT period, in the Greco-Roman world.
To understand Scripture in its original connotation, Eugene Nida writes:
“The selection of the Jews can be understood…on the basis that God chose to reveal Himself through a people who, there at the crossroads of so many cultural influences at that point in world history, possessed a culture with greater similarities to others than has existed at any other time in the history of mankind.”
(Message & Missions, 1954, p. 49)
(cont. in S.1.5, “aaa”)
Categories: Mark Blain