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Sunday, October 24, 2004

Is Western Culture Christian?

A couple weeks ago, I participated briefly in a conversation with some others over at another blog about the "superiority" of Western culture. Comments and assertions were put forward to illustrate the superiority of Western culture over all others. I offered my doubt about the thesis as well as the relevance of its intended implication, if indeed it is true. I am not going to link to that site as it might offend the blog owner. I am blogging about this because somehow the conversation there bothered me.

I am not sure what the poster was comparing it to, and what she meant by Western culture. If I have to guess, I think she meant, Western culture as represented by America. One commenter supported her thesis with a further assertion that Western culture's superiority (or rather American culture's superiority) comes from its Judeo-Christian roots. So, it could be that the poster and her cohorts were glad that they live in a superior culture while the rest of the world are rotting in theirs. Possibly, they are glad that Christianity has a lot to do with the enlightenment of the West, and so the world should be thankful to the historic faith, and in fact, if they had any intellect at all, they should all convert. I don't know. I shouldn't go any further with this guessing game, as I am beginning to sound cynical, and sarcastic.

I will not comment on the logic of comparing one culture with another and declaring one as superior than another. It is probably impossible to be objective in such comparisons. It might be easy to talk about one culture being more desirable or pleasurable, than another, but the catchall term of superior might be difficult to gain consensus cross-culturally. I don't know. I am not an anthropologist or even a cross-cultural anything. I just have a sneaky suspicion that this ain't so. In any case, I would like to comment on the underlining assumption expressed in the aforementioned conversation that there is a correlation between the historic Christian faith and America's alleged superior culture.

The general idea seems to be that this country was founded upon Christian principles, and this is the reason why it has been so blessed. Another related idea seems to be that if only the rest of the country had stuck to those principles, we won't have so much problems today. In fact, what went wrong was that all those humanists and atheists have usurped our culture and if not for them, we would surely continue to see God's favor upon this country. If we do not turn away from all this ungodliness, we will soon suffer the consequences. 9/11 is just a foretaste, a kind of warning, about the impending judgment. This country must repent and must follow the lead of a broadly speaking Judeo-Christian political leader who will lead us from our moral quagmire and into the sunset of moral happiness.

You can see how the logic deteriorates. Or maybe you can't...

Still, it is quite tempting to equate Western culture with Christian culture. Everyone seems to do so. Growing up I tried unsuccessfully to convince Mom that when I converted to faith in Christ I wasn't just following a Western trend. I have also often heard it said that America is founded on Biblical principles, that the foundations of the country are built on Christian roots. Sure Christian principles have influenced a great deal of Western thinking, philosophy and culture, and American culture itself is built on much Christian influence. And we all know that some of the earliest pilgrims came over here because of religious persecution in Europe, and they brought their faith with them.

However, is it really true that Western culture is necessarily Christian? More importantly, is American culture built on Christian foundations? Did the Founding fathers really intended to build a Christian nation? Even if they did, was it necessarily true that America's greatness can be traced to its Christian roots? That somehow this country has been enjoying the blessing of God because of her faithfulness? Is America the resurrected biblical nation of Israel?

The real question we need to ask ourselves is: What ought I to do in this culture - what is our priority as a follower of God - to "re-establish" a Christian nation, to bring Christian values back to our government and society, or is it more important to bring the nations back to Christ and to bring people back to Christ?