"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Monday, April 5, 2010

Changing Cultural Practices

How often do I hear or read on blogs, "That's not true [fill in religion of your choice]. That's only culture/tradition."

I know Christians are sometimes slammed for daring to go into other nations in order to share the good news about Jesus. Critics often charge them with trying to change the culture, and while I admit we should never arrogantly feel our culture is superior to all others, I do believe most cultures could undergo some changes which would make them better. (Yes, I know my "better" may be different than your "better" therefore it's subjective. Still...)

I was reading the Spotlight article of the latest In Touch magazine and Linda Canup shared about the group Leeland doing their summer tour in Southeast Asia. They wanted to support the people in their fight against poverty -- not by just throwing a bunch of money at the problem, but helping communities become self-sufficient. Here is one illustration of someone changed not by Americans imposing their "western values" on a non-western country, but by maybe Someone else.

This is about the family of a rickshaw driver whom they met.

"In Hindu culture," he explains, "the wife cooks, but she eats last." However, after attending a biblical class on equality, the rickshaw driver went home, and when his wife started to walk away after cooking the meal, he called her back. They both sat down and ate together, equal amounts, as a family. The husband said, "I ate less than what I usually eat, but I've never been more full in my entire life."

So if God changes someone's heart to the extent that husbands are kinder and more equitable to their wives...that, in my opinion, is a good thing. Some cultural practices are worth changing. Especially by God.

Can you think of some cultural practices that need to go? Can you think of cultural practices that were changed for good or bad due to religious influence?


misschatterbox said...

Hi Susanne,
Thanks for the lovely comment! Thought I'd stop by and "meet" you too! :)

I think in spreading the gospel the issue of culture comes up in two conetxts:
Firstly: "Culture" is used to justify sinful practices and an unwillingness to change. Some people are fearful of condemning popular cultural practices. But where cultural practice is sinful Jesus showed us clearly that 'culture' is the looser. Many things he did went against the cultural practices of his day.

Secondly: While in some cases accepting the gospel means casting aside certain practices, this does not mean that Christianity comes with a set "culture" or that western culture must replace indigenous culture. Sadly some western missionaries in foreign countries put forward their own western understanding of Christianity, without allowing communities to develop their own "flavour" of the faith. In embracing Christianity people can be misguided in thinking they have to leave behind ALL their cultural practices, and follow the western-style Christianity and lifestyle. And yet the rich and diverse way we follow God and walk His path is beautiful!

Susanne said...

misschatterbox, what a wonderful comment! I totally agree and wish I could have put my thoughts into such beautiful words. :) Thank you for what you said.

I read a book by an Arab Christian who explained the baggage we have in western Christianity. Things we may never realize were hindrances to the good news because they are so much a part of us. He really opened my eyes to a lot of things that you summed up so well.

I love many many many things about different cultures. Why would I want to go back to Damascus and see it all Americanized? I'd hate that! I love the variety of people and their traditions although I admit some things I dislike. But I'm positive others can say the same about my country so we are even. ;) I don't want everyone to become "American Christians." I simply want people to know Jesus and the wonderful ways He can bless their lives and make their societies even better places to live!

Thanks again for your comment! Loved it! :)

misschatterbox said...

I remember reading a book on the culture of the day that Jesus was raised in - and it also stressed that Christianity which is viewed as a "western religion" is in fact an eastern religion! It arose from semitic people, in modern-day israel/palestine. The early church arose from areas in the Middle East!
It's great to hear how you view doing God's work! Sadly colonial-style missionaries who thought spreading the Gospel meant also spreading western "civilisation" did a lot of damage and left many nations suspicious of western missionaries - I pray you can be an example to show that this isn't always the case! :)

Wafa said...

i said it before . I am completely against spreading the words of Jesus or the guidance of Islam. or any other religions .
Not because i am against religions.
I respect them all and their followers.

It's because i am all for respect and just because someone thinks that their religion is good or have great messages, it's still not accpetable in my opinion.

Yes, we all agree that my version of good is not probably gonna be your version of good. So who says that -and i will always argue that-by thinking that this is good or right and peacful and beautiful in my religion, others will believe the same.

And seriously Susanne, most of the educated people who can read and write and are open to different sources of knowledge can differntiate about the good and the bad of any religion.

The problem is with the common people, the uneducated one.
The example you give about the man who eats alone is a very good example.Most of the people whom we call missionaries or Muslim who call for Islam, don't do it directly, they simply focus on the things that these societies lack and then show them in a lovely ways how these things are handled in their religion. e.g, women's rights, minority rights, ..etc. and What a lovely way to do so.This is how we show them that our religion is better than yours.

Every religion has it's errors.I love Islam and i can find you lots of holes in it. But if i wanted to change my religion it's because i believe that another religion is better or giving me what's mine doesn't have and that's only happen when i search and search and search and finally find it. Not when someone tell me that the things your religion lacks we have it greatly . Because even if we are only spreading the words or showing the way, people will eventually revert to what we show them.

I still love your approach about not westernize cultures :)

P.s: i am sorry if my comment was harsh in anyway or disrespectful. You can delete it if you wish.

Susanne said...

Pamela, thank you for your follow-up comment. Did I read that you are only 21? You are such a wise young woman! I've only read a few things you've written, but have been blown away by your maturity! I want to go back and read your blog posts soon. Since you only have a few old ones, it shouldn't be that difficult. :)

Wafa', no, I would never delete your comments or anyone else's unless they were truly hurtful to others or profane. Neither of which I ever expect from you, my sweet friend. I'm very glad you shared your point of view.

I hope you don't think bad of me for sharing about Jesus. If I follow the Bible I feel I should do so and really I want others to have the peace and joy that I have in him. That said, I am not at all for forcing people to convert....really, can we? I think your relationship with God is personal and I cannot force anyone to change his/her mind about that. I can only tell about Jesus and it's up to God to guide people to Himself anyway so ... :)

Thank you both for your lovely comments!

misschatterbox said...

Wafa - I understand your perspective and you made some valid points.

Also evangelizing (or dawa in islam) is not just about telling people about religion. WE are witnesses simply the way we live our life.
While I'm sure there are people who would try and sell Christianity as cure for social problems or as being "better" than other religions,I sure wouldn't and most Christians I know wouldn't either. You can't sell religions as "fixing" people life. If people follow a religion because they think of it merely as an insurance plan with the ebstcoverage, or the best religion out of many, or to solve their many questions and problems, then it is not right. Christianity will change people's life - but that is secondary.
Also the idea of convincing less eduacted people about religion is valid- but there are two points to look at. Firstly we can't dismiss the choices of uneducated people as being invalid because they are all susceptible to educated people preying on them. Secondly, I believe Truth is innate and recognisable to all. I also believe there are uneducated people who are more aware of God and his truth than the most educated professors.
I;m not saying these don't happen- i'm just saying the superior westen missionary telling the native that Christianity is a superior religion and encouraging uneducated, insincere, mass conversion is not the only way. While both Muslims and Christians are guilty of this type of thing it is not the only alternative. The difference between people who are fooled into following religion versus those who understand the religion, have been convicted that it is true. For people is the second category it is life-changing. For people in the first category it is simply changing one ideology for another.
Bringing people to your respective religion doesn't have to be about convincing, coercing and debating- just living your religion, explaingin what you believe and why you do the things you do and think the things you think can be a powerful factor!
I'm probably not explaining this well, im sorry! I hope you could understand my points a little!
peace, Pamela

Wafa said...

First of all, let me say this. I think you are one of the sweetest people i met online EVER. Now that's have been explained , let me assure you the depth i love and respect your posts.
You are not a missionary. 99% of your writing is about the love of Jesus and his teachings.And anyone who wouldn't with your message is a delusional. I think you know the high position Jesus have in Islam.And even if he is not. Anyone who read the bible or the history of Christianity know the beautiful and peaceful message of Jesus. I love him and respect him. And love you and respect you for your honesty, integrity and sweetness.
Again, you are not a missionary and my comment was about them.
I hope i explained my self clearly, dear :)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wafa said...


dear i have answered your comment earlier but it seems that it was not posted. Anyway, here is it again.

Dear, you have explained it very clearly.

Yes, lots of people are attracting other to their religion by simply living their lives. In the Islamic history, there are a great debate about that. They keep pointing that Islam spread , mainly to south easter Asia because of the moral and honestly of the Muslim traders. And i have no problem , because we all have the right to live according to the principle of our religion. And if people convert because of this , then this is their rights.

But, what i was talking about were the missionaries or the dawa to Islam. which is as you say showing the superiority of my religion and how it's the right one. That's what i am completely against. OR using the need of people to have them convert.

As for the uneducated people, let me explain first that i am no one but a simple person. I don't mean they are less or anything else. But i mean those with knowledge and sources can look for the truth when someone told them about while the rest might not. That's the difference between educated and uneducated to me.

But again , my argument is about the missonaries who are trying to convince people of their religion or that it's the best one whether they are Muslims or Christians.

oh god, i have been babbling a lot but i hope i am clear.lol.

Thank you dear for your time and thanks Susanne again .

misschatterbox said...

wafa' hahahha no it's ok you weren't babbling at all! I totally understand your view point!
I think it's good that you have a set view and apply it to all religions, and you have reasons to back it up. We may not agree entirely but I enjoyed reading your comments!

Susanne said...

Pamela and Wafa', thank you for what you both shared. I learned a lot from just reading your comments so I appreciate your sharing here.

Wafa', sorry you had trouble posting, but I'm glad you didn't give up and posted again. I do understand what you are talking about. I never think people's needs should be exploited. I believe we should live our lives with kindness and love with no agendas.

Thank you, Ladies!

Suroor said...

I'm against proselytizing per se. If someone observes me and thinks I may be the way I am because of my religious upbringing and coverts - welcome, but I'm not going to tell someone what they are lacking.

I didn't tell you but my Catholic maid converted to Islam last month. Why? Because we impressed her too much!! And here I was doing what? Making her read the Bible and talk to her all the time about Jesus. I did explain to her that what she sees us doing at home is NOT Islam. I'm eclectic in my approach to prayer and we celebrate all religious festivals including diwali. I have no idea what inspired her.

Now if you look at it, she wasn't a good Christian either. for one, she ate dogs :P

She was pregnant before her marriage; dated; drank like a fish; lied, cheated, and stole. And because 'I' see all these as social vices doesn't mean I am only Muslim. Any religious or even secular-civic person will see these as vices. But she assumed I tried to show her the Right Path which is Islam. I only wanted her to be a good Catholic (the only thing that bothered me was her worship of Virgin Mary!) :)

So, did I show her something that was bad and lacking in her culture or religion? Does culture equal religion? Did what she do happen only her culture, which by definition would be Christian culture since she was Christian? Or only Filipino culture? Do American Christian not sleep before marriage, drink, do drugs, lie or cheat or even steal?

I don't know.

I just know that it is best to keep religious culture separate from social culture. If a Hindu woman eats after her husband it is not because her religion teaches her to do that which Christianity corrected; it is because her social culture has conditioned her like that which Western culture tried to correct. I'm not saying it wasn't a better option or didn't make the rickshaw driver and his wife (I'm sure!) happier. It must have, but if the man and his wife were prone to slip into social reconditioning then perhaps not even Christianity can fully save them.

I have seen great Muslims and horrible ones too and though they all follow the same religion, their social culture defines what they become.

Susanne said...

Suroor, I think the point of the illustration was showing how God can change people's thinking. Whereas culture said women had to eat last, this man was perhaps "convicted" (?) by God to value his wife and give her the same respect he gives himself. I am all for that and believe it's what Jesus taught us to do. A Bible study on equality would teach this and I am not at all opposed to GOD convincing people that one of their cultural practices are not pleasing to Him.

Yes, there are plenty of American "Christians" who sleep around, get drunk and so forth. This is why I shy away from this term - Christian - more and more. There are people who are "Christian" because their family used to go to church ages ago, because their family has some ties to the local "Christian" community, they believe in Jesus and think he existed and, hey, even died for their sins!

But this is where I am more convinced it's not only a "believe that Jesus existed and died for us" that saves us. As the Bible says, "The demons believe in God and tremble." It's not like they don't know God exists.

So many American "Christians" use God like an insurance policy. He's on a shelf waiting for them if they have a catastrophe or if money gets tight. He's not an integral part of their lives. They never ask Him for guidance or fellowship with Him. God's views on things doesn't really matter ...

until...something like 9/11 happens or someone gets a terminal diagnosis at the doctor's office.

I'm not saying true followers of Jesus don't sin. We are all sinners and prone to doing evil things. But as we walk daily with Jesus, fellowship with him, acknowledge his ways and what he would have us do, we are less prone to sleep with our neighbor or steal from the bank because those are things Jesus would NEVER guide us to do.

It sounds as if your maid were a "cultural Christian" and not a follower of Christ which to me is a major difference. I know you know Muslims this way. Some who are totally non-religious - they party, they sleep around, they cuss, they do this or that. But then there are others who truly follow Muhammad and want to honor God.

Well, it's the same with the Christian community. I hope I don't sound judgmental. I just live in a land full of "Christians" with very very very few truly following Christ that I can tell. Hey, I struggle with it myself most days! :)

I do find it mildly amusing that your maid converted to Islam after watching your family. Hehehehe.

Thanks so much for your comment. I enjoyed it a lot. :)

Suroor said...

I think Americans are far more religious and better Christians than Europeans. I don't like that about Europe at all. Americans on the other hand are far better in following Christ.

Yea, she did :) See, the thing is my husband and I were brought up in purely Islamic households. We accepted everyone but didn't partake in religious festivities of others though we did go to meet Santa, LOL. So whatever I am, I am because of Islam. If my maid thinks (and she said this to me) that I'm religious and God-fearing and kind, it is because I was raised like that. And that is why I believe that all religions actually teach goodness because I would be just the same if I was raised as a God-fearing Christian. The key word is God-fearing - or in my books, God-loving.

Like you :-) You are my inspiration.

Susanne said...

You are too sweet! But it's scary that I am your inspiration especially since you know all the bad things about me (how I can react in anger especially *blush*).

I love what you said about God-fearing and God-loving! Sooooo true! It's really special that your maid saw a great example in you! I'm proud of you! (said in a way that I hope doesn't come across as patronizing..hehehehe.)


Usman said...

The anecdote you quoted has nothing to do with Hindu culture. It has to do with Illiteracy only. You can see such practices even in illiterate African tribes.

Susanne said...

Usman, thanks for pointing this out. I agree that a lot of things are tradition moreso than religious tradition/culture. Maybe this is part of illiterate culture...I don't know. I appreciate your sharing this perspective.

Oh, and welcome. :)