Location: Irvine, California, United States

E-mail Me

My Blog Profile

Technorati search

    WWW the outer...

My Amazon Wish List

    Search Now:


Help fuel my writing dream...

My Bloglines Subs & Stuff

    Listed by category are subscriptions to blogs I monitor and read. Check them out!

    Note: Sites listed by this blog does not imply endorsement of anything except when they promote this site.

Other Cool Sites I Visit

Recommended for your Library

    Ethics: The Heart of Leadership

    Edited by Joanne Ciulla. An important collection of essays by philosophers, leadership and management thinkers considering the role of ethics in leadership

    Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness

    By Robert K. Greenleaf, Larry C. Spears, Stephen R. Covey. Servant and leader--can these two roles be fused in one real person in all levels of status and calling?

    Warranted Christian Belief

    By Alvin Plantinga. Third in a trilogy of works on the issue of warrant - the basis of the rationality of Christian beliefs written by arguably the most important philosopher of religion alive today

    Renovation of the Heart

    By Dallas Willard. A philosopher and quintessential Christian teacher relates and reflects on what it means to put on the character of Christ.

    Foreign Bodies

    By Hwee Hwee Tan. An impressive first novel by young new author from Singapore acclaimed as an up and coming Pulitzer Prize winner

    Mammon Inc.

    By Hwee-Hwee Tan. Second novel by this very important young new author from Singapore applauded the world over, including The Times in London and the New York Times

    Three Philosophies of Life

    By Peter Kreeft. Three life philosophies presented through the works of three of Scriptures most beautiful poetry books, Job, Ecclesiastes and Songs of Solomon

    Horrendous Evil and the Goodness of God

    By Marilyn McCord-Adams. A seminal response to the age-old problem of evil which attempts to take seriously the theological ramifications of the character of God


    By Malcolm Gladwell. Blink is about the first two seconds of looking--the decisive glance that knows in an instant.

    Smart Mobs

    By Howard Rheingold. A social commentary about how "sophisticated mobile Internet access is allowing people who don't know each other to act in concert".


    By Albert-Laszlo Barabasi. An engaging treatise about the fundamentals of interconnectedness and complexity that underlies neurology, epidemiology, Internet traffic, and many other fields.

    The Peaceable Kingdom

    By Stanley Hauerwas. A clear explication of a Christian ethic based upon the meaning of the gospel, highlighting virtues and character, and narrative as a mode of ethical reflection.

    The Goldsworthy Trilogy: Gospel & Kingdom, Gospel & Wisdom, Gospel & Revelation

    By Graeme Goldsworthy. A collection of masterful works expositing on the centrality of the Scriptures: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Grace and Law: St. Paul, Kant, and the Hebrew Prophets

    By Heinz Cassirer. A Kantian scholar looks at the Old Testament Law, and Paul's understanding of it, concluding that Kant's delimma is answered by the gospel of grace.

The Un-Right Christians

Progressive Christian Blogger Network

Church Directory of Evangelical Blogs

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The West, Culture, Superiority and Supremacy

In the past couple of days, I was engaged in what I was hoping to be a conversation between several people on whether or not certain aspects of Western culture makes it a morally superior culture or civilization to any other. According to Diplomad, his purportedly first-hand experiences of some representatives of people from one Asian culture, which is predominantly of one religious persuasion, and some representatives of some UN aid workers, coupled with his first hand observations of some American and Australian aid volunteers and workers helped him to reach the following conclusion:

Western culture, as represented by the United States, is morally superior because the West respond more readily and rally around more compassionately to suffering and those who suffer. He compares what he saw was gross dispassion among that culture compared to the genorisity of his countrymen. Finally he concludes that all these perhaps point to a conclusion that Western society (culture, or civilization) is morally superior.

Donald of One Hand Clapping picked up from there and suggested that there is no maybe about this. Some commenters responded by suggesting that the US in particular and the West in general had nothing to boast about morally since this is a society where there are injustices and moral decadence, both past and present.

However, that was when the fun began. Commenters started chorusing that these "leftist" views are not only misplaced, but those who hold these views are jerks or worse. Charges started being thrown around back and forth between those who think the American culture, being arguably, the strongest in the world, and, the most powerful, the most influential, the wealthiest, the freest, the highest educated and the most successful nation in the world, is therefore also the most morally superior as well.

Granted some commenters are just content to say that the US is the most superior per se, not necessarily just moral superiority. However, since the initial post started with moral superiority, I will stick to this point in this discussion.

I previously responded to the article with a call for understanding, pointing out some differences between that country and America. Messy Christian also voiced her objections on her blog. In my post, I tried to point out that this guy - the poster at Diplomad - should be more cautious about his generalizations since his own observations are only of a small minority of a very limited group of an entire culture.

Unfortunately, no one seemed to understand my point at all. In fact, a commenter over at One Hand Clapping, who claimed to have come from Asia, decried his own home culture for its rife corruption, while applauding his adopted new culture.

While there are many things that troubled me about the whole line of discussion, I wish to blog about what troubled me with Donald Sensing's own comments in the comment thread. This is what he said:
This thread is the stupidest one I have read in nearly three years of blogging. "Anonymous" (too cowardly to leave his name, of course) leads the way.

None of you shows the slightest evidence of grasping the fundamental concept: what is civilization in the first place, and what is it for?

Instead of thinking, you ignorantly, emotively decided that to say W. Civ is superior is the same as claiming that Westerners are superior. If you can't even make that distinction then you are so clueless I don‛t know where to begin enlightening you, if indeed it can even be done.

OK, I thought. He must have been upset by some commenters, but surely not all, even though he used the words "None of you." I tried to leave another comment, in the hope of engaging him in dialogue. I even sent a trackback to my other post, hoping he will dialog. So did Messy Christian, both in the comment thread and in her own blog as well as over here. However, Donald has gone silent. I am a little troubled.

He claimed that we had misunderstood him (and persumably the original author at Diplomad). He is saying that we have conflated the claim that Western Civilization is superior to be the same as claiming that Westerners are superior.

First, this is exactly what I see some of the commenters are doing, one or two of whom even claim that this is a fact. Cool. Perhaps, this is what Donald was pointing out, not that he was himself making that claim. He seems to be saying by his own comments that he is not suggesting that Westerners are morally superior, but that Western Civilization is.


From my reading of Diplomad, he is referring more to America and Americans (plus its allies, viz-a-viz Aussies) vs. the rest of the world (the Arabs, the UN, ie those pesky scum Europeans/French, the Asians). What Donald is agreeing with does not appear to be the claim that Western Civilization is more superior to other civilizations, but the statement that Westerners, especially, Americans, are morally superior to others in the rest of the world.

So, if that is the case, I will contend that is a statement, that as Messy Christian had suggested, borders on racism. If not, and if Donald and his crowd were referring to Civilizations instead, then I will echo Tom Reindl's caution about the cyclical nature of civilizations. I am sure the Romans thought theirs were the pinnacle of civilized life. And the Greeks before that. Later the French thought they were invincible. We in this age cannot imagine any other civilization greater than ours, and cannot imagine any other lifestyle more comfortable than our own. I wonder if that would be the case in fifty, hundred or even twenty five years time? Perhaps some other civilization might take over, who knows? I am sure when the British went around the world carving out territories for His Majesty's Pleasure, none of them felt that the glory of the British Empire would be reduced to playing second fiddle to the leader of the renegade pack that threw their priced brew down the big spit.

Earlier on in the same commnent thread I used an illustration that I had used before in another blog where the author was showing what she calls evidences of the Superiority of Western Culture. I will repeat that illustration here. I tried it the first time at that person's blog, her response dumbfounded me. I tried it again at One Hand Clapping and a commenter misinterpreted me (or maybe I wasn't too clear in the first place).

This is the analogy. I think when one part of the world's community points its fingers at another and say: "We are morally superior than them" whether the standard is the purportedly measured by human kindness, generosity, sanctity of life or cultural or moral pollution (remember that one??) it is just like the image of the sinking Titanic where one part of the sinking ship was thinking "Oh how lucky (morally superior, rational, enlightened, scientific, what-have-you) we are. Look at us, we are cultured, we can enjoy our music and caviar but look at those poor blighters down there, those poor souls, look at their quarters, how cramped, look at their conditions, how "unhuman"! Tch! Tch!"

While perhaps those on the lower decks snub their noses at those at the top decks, "Oh, how extravagant! What waste! Look at us, we live simpler, we are more real, etc" All, the time the ship is going down.

What I am trying to show in both of those two sites earlier was that it was useless saying our civilization is better than theirs because it is the same world we both live in. Another is that as the Bible tells us, let us not boast except in the Lord. I was trying to say, let's not look at the outward appearance, let's look at this world and let's get real.

In fact, let's get this straight: The West is not Christian. Not even historically. We like to think that. In fact, many like to think that America is birthed on biblical principles, that the founding fathers based their political and lgeal principles on biblical ones. Even if they intentionally did, still this does not make Western Civilization or American society Christian. We may have many in this country who profess belief in God, but this is not a Christian society.

Whether the claim was made about Westerners or about Western Civilization, the point that I have always emphasized and which I want to make again is this (and I will quote from the thread at OHC:
"Actually, my point is this: we are all in a bad shape. There simply is no point boasting that the West is superior. Yes, the West has more desirable features than some other civilizations in some ways (politically, economically, etc). But some other civilizations may have features that [the West doesn't] have as well. I think that some civilizations for instance have more holistic views about the environment, the arts, the body, etc. but I will not try to make any arguments for it. I will simply reiterate my point that it is useless, unhelpful, and detrimental in more ways than one to say we are superior. When it comes to moral superiority, I think I can even show that we are not. The West is NOT morally superior. But that is NOT the point.

Even if we are to argue from a religious conceptualization, Christianity is not about which religion or civilization is more superior, morally or otherwise. I think Christianity shows that all human civilizations everywhere and in every age are morally bankrupt. There may be some features of one civilization that appear to be morally superior than another, but then, there are also features in that same civilization that is morally defective when compared to another. That was what the first Protestant missionaries found when they first arrived in China and confronted the Confucian society. Anyway, I said I will not argue, so I will stop. The most important point I want to emphasize is that from a Christian point of view we are all sinners and in desperate need of God's grace."