Christianity and Culture

Any religion best relates to a culture by relating well with other components of the culture. A healthy religion is one that contributes to the constructive development of the whole culture by elimination of destructive elements and development of edifying ones. Since man is a rational, emotional, truth loving, political, sociological, and religious being, each of his needs must be healthily met. And so it is not practically possible for any religion not to contribute in any way to the culture. But the question is "Can Christianity maintain a healthy relationship with culture by being a significant factor in its development?"

Relationship with nature has been a significant feature of many religions. Totally segregating from any relationship with nature is impossible since survival requires relationships with nature. Even in religions like Hinduism, Catholicism, Buddhism, and Jainism ascetism has been the pursuit of a few, while the majority liberal, considered the common laymen, are left to pursue in accordance to the religious values vital relationships with nature. As a matter of fact, the blessings of the ascetics are often sought for natural prosperity. Any purely ascetic religion paralyses material cultural progression. And such asceticism doesn't appeal to the common folk. And so cultural developments, despite presence of ascetic elements in religion, are very obvious in India, China, Sri Lanka, and Japan.

Troeltsch expressed his conviction that Christianity was the only religion that can be endured or lived with by European culture. He viewed religion as a necessity of every culture but thought that trying to transplant any religion into alien soil was doomed to failure. A religion grows only in a certain soil and a certain climate. Separate it from that environment, and the results may be fatal. Troeltsch, evidently, was assuming too much. Christianity was born and grew up in Palestine but is the major religion, not of Palestine but of Europe, America, and important parts of Asia, Africa, and Australia. This despite the fact that it was already a dominant 'Way' in Jerusalem during the first century A.D. Buddhism was born and grew up in India but is the dominant religion of Korea, Japan, Sri Lanka, and other Asian countries except India itself. Facts prove that Troeltsch was wrong.

But perhaps Troeltsch is not totally wrong! This because any religion transplanted anywhere cannot survive unless it has adjusted itself there (contextualised) through interaction with the already present cultural heritage, failing which its survival there becomes difficult as either it doesn't appeal to the people or it seems to be meaningless to them.

Culture and Religion

An adequate definition of either religion or culture is not easy to come by. Normally, by religion we understand a system or system of systems that on the basis of certain authorities (like scriptures or traditions) provide its adherents with guidelines of belief and practice. Psychologists view religion as one's response to the supernatural power or powers in keeping with given or discovered beliefs resulting in religious behavior. As such religion is both an individual and conglomerate experience.

The word "culture," today, often refers to customs and civilization of a particular time or people. A particular culture is made up of world views (religious and secular), values, society (family, social systems, educational systems, law and order), and customs. It is well accepted that cultures are not static but dynamic. As the elements of culture undergo change, so does culture undergo change.

It can be seen that religion influences the various elements of culture in a variety of ways and degrees. Its influence can be observed in the economic organization, social organization, political organization, ideology, art, language, and technology of a culturally united people. In the modern generation, we find an accelerated impact of the developments within indigenous cultures on the global scenario. Cultural absorptions and interchanges range from food, clothing, and housing varieties to ideological and technological assimilations. This has been greatly made possible through the inter-communication system provided by transports, media, trade, and migrations. In India, the impact of cultures can be easily seen in the differences one sees between villages and cities, clearly expressed in the various art forms, of language, pictures (paintings, films, etc), dance, and music. More obvious are the impacts of "foreign" cultural elements on Indian religions or at least members belonging to particular Indian religions (educationally, politically, economically being impacted). The "foreign" cultural elements also includes "foreign" religious elements as seen in the impact of Christianity on Gandhian Thought, on Raja Ram Mohan Roy's reformatory efforts, etc. Yet it is the scientific elements and the material culture of the West and also East that have the greatest impact on modern India. But the religious influence of Christianity on politics, law, education, art, language, etc of India cannot be ignored.

Organical Relationship
Thus, the relationship between religion and culture can be considered as to a considerable degree organical. Religion is a part of culture. Culture is the comprehensive under which religion falls. Religion as a part can influence cultural dynamics and culture as a whole can influence religious dynamics. In the process, the nature of each influence each other in an organic way. Religious beliefs, organization, traditions, and values can be partially or entirely transmitted into another culture through either expulsion of the other culture's religion (partially or entirely) or filling up of a gap left through a lack of religion. The religious void of any culture cannot be perpetual. Since culture is was man is (his developments or degressions) and man is equally a religious being as much as he is a philosophical, political, and social being, any culture for long cannot tolerate a lack of the religious elements. The transmission of religious elements (beliefs, values, etc) and their attachments (e.g. dress, food, shelter ways, like the saffron robe from India-Buddhism, and Western culture from the West) can impact the particular recipient culture in many ways. Religious responses (individual primarily) to any religion can move the consciousness into the reordering of life. Consciousness rules the whole man. Thus, an individual becomes transformed in many ways in keeping with the new beliefs and values that are being embedded deeply in his consciousness. A single man's culture is meaningless, since culture is collective. Though individually retained, maintained, and developed it is referred to as the culture of a people of which the individual is a part. Therefore, a convert to any religion, if he is transformed in a way in which all elements of his earlier culture in him are destroyed, also converts to the new culture he has absorbed. Where many individuals have converted in the same manner, a new unit often arises in the society.

But, total cultural transformation of an individual and group is a myth. It never happens and cannot happen in an instant in any case. This so because no human can absorb and relate to a whole complexity of ideas and practices in one sitting. In addition, cultural elements like customs, habits, language, and music cannot be totally renounced. All the elements cultivated in a person cannot be cut off at once.

And so a religion which is transmitted to or absorbed by other cultures becomes contextualized and contemporized as it saturates in that particular culture. In this contextualization process certain elements in the culture which were hostile to the new religion may either be eliminated or modified. This contextualization is an ongoing process; since as the organism called culture develops through the development of its elements and parts, each part affects each other in which process religion is also affected.

Thus, religion relates to culture organically.

Oct 2014
In modern times, we can no longer say that religion is part of culture. For instance, Christianity is a global religion and Christians hail from various cultures. Thus, a Christian in Mexico follows Mexican culture while a Christian in China follows Chinese culture. Some differences between non-Christian Mexicans and a Christian Mexican may be spotted in their cultural life; however, usually it is possible to keep both religion and culture distinct. That is to say, if a particular custom poses religious-belief issues, intrinsically speaking, so that adherents of a particular religion cannot observe it, then that custom is no longer cultural but religious in essence (since it involves belief-issues). Consequently, religious elements of people following a particular culture will change when they conflict with beliefs newly embraced; but, cultural elements don't necessarily change.

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