Seeing Culture as a Duck or a Fish

I’m a lucky guy; I have the luxury of living on a lake. The lake is still wild despite 1/3 of his shore being privately owned. But the rules of lake living are strict, leaving wildlife feeling quite comfortable on our waters. Otters, beavers, racoons, deer, coyotes, sea gulls, Great Blue Herons, and many more. The lake is my friend and I feel a bit like Thoreau and my lake is my Walden Pond.

We have many ducks who stop by on their way north or south. We have two resident eagle couples, one pair on our property. Two of our three acres are classified as a wild wet land. We can walk into that part of our land, but we can’t manipulate it. Its there the eagles feel most at home. It is an ideal place for them, because each spring the state pumps in 12,000 rainbow trout, a tasty treat that they harvest year-round. When the trout dwindles, the eagles will eat the ducks. It seems like the past two years, the trout have been selected to the shy ones. Never biting a hook or jumping out of the water. The duck and fish can make a great metaphor of how we view culture.

I am not writing today to bash culture. Culture is inevitable. It is usually benign. Amoral. Certainly, at times though, culture can work for good or evil. One of the key traits that separate humans from primates is that primates have a simple family social order, while humans have broad social orders that are very complex, involving countless other humans, most of whom are not family.

Sociology 101:

I want to review the basic concepts of sociology, which I’m sure everyone knows. I’ve written about this, many times, alluded to it many times more, and did at least a couple podcast about it. Social groups are the building blocks to culture. We are all part of multiple social groups. One might be our family, another the geographic location we live in, Our place of employment can be a small social group. Then there are the larger, more universal groups such as “civilization,” like we are part of western civilization with a long historical trail that can be examined. A subgroup to that is, in our case, the American culture. If each social group is like a ring, large rings being things like American or western, and the small rings being clubs, places of employment, or families, now imagine them all tossed on a floor or canvas, over-lapping in places.

As I’ve said before, there are two essentials to any social group, a defined boundary declaring who is in and who is out, and the rules of engagement within the group. The rules determine who is good, smart, and cool. These rules can be subtle but more often they are intense or even brutal. There has been many middle schoolers and teens who have committed suicide when their social group, usually their peers at school, have ridiculed them for not conforming to the social rules. I know when I was a teen and I did not wear jeans, I would be made fun of and considered a complete dork. Maybe that’s why I still prefer them. In my school, a gay person who had come out, or even a black person, for them, their life would be in serious danger, and I’m not kidding.

Of all the social groups, the one with the thickest boundary and the harshes consequences for disobeying the rules (aka mores) is religion. The reason is, to the religious person the rules are “written” by God, the creator of the universe. As before, while I think this applies to all relgions, I will focus on Christianty because I know it best.

Speaking honestly, I do not like religion, yet I am a Christian. But I don’t even like using that term “Christian” because immediately the connotation to both Christian and non-Christian, is that I subscribe to the plethora of rules of the Christian culture. I do not. I was tempted to list the rules, spoken and not, of the American Christian sub-culture. That would take many pages. But it would be easier if I stated the legitimate rules. A verse in Micah states it well:

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously.

Micah 6:8 (The Message)

In my opinion, which I suspect all Christians reading this will strongly disagree with, eveything else is extraneous. Now if you are sharpening your pencils to write me a letter to tell me how dumb, bad, or uncool I am for saying that, please don’t. I respect your views and am not even certain of my own. I write this only to give you food for thought.

I do particapte in the Christian culture for a few, existentialistic reasons. I really like many of the people, pastor, church menbers, who are part of that local culture. Again, my point isn’t that culture, including Christian culture is bad. However, some of the greatest personal struggles I have is from well-meaning people within that culture who think I’m stupid, bad, or uncool for not conforming to the mores that is part of that group and do not hesitate telling me. But this isn’t about me, it is about the bigger picture.

Here is my point. The problem with culture in the case of the Christian religion, is not understanding that most of it is culture, nothing else. To the fish, water is not a medium, but everything. To a duck, it is a medium, as is air, as is land. The duck understands the limitations of water, the fish does not.

To give one example of Christian culture, not found in the teachings of the Bible–an example that most of you would agree with–in the 1800s the southern churches condoned and accepted black slavery as being from God.

Christianity is dying in America. I think if the only thing that people saw in history and within the lives of the believers in Jesus Christ, was the simple, historical Jesus of Galilee, the Christian church (not a building) would be bursting a the seams. It is the layers, and layers, and layers of Christian culture, rules written and unwritten, that makes Christianity unsavory to most.

What I think the Christian culture needs from time to time is a Peter on the roof experience (see Acts 10:9-16). Where all their lousy mores and ideas (and ideals) that build up their culture is smashed, dropping all the political bull shit, all the post-modern meaningless word salads, and leaving the simple ideas of the historical Jesus of Galilee.

Mike

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