Recently a commenter asked this question, “Why have we inherited such a militant approach to the difference in language, culture and identity do you think?”
He then said that he could answer this in a thousand words, but didn’t want to bore me. This question, however, intrigued me. It was a different approach to a subject I’ve long considered. Since this is my site, and since I’m supposed to write thousands of words, I thought I might spend a few minutes exploring this issue.
To reword the question, why do we have such intolerance towards different cultures, languages and identities? I find this ironic in light of the postmodernism which has swept our country. We must “tolerate” all things. “My wrong is your right so don’t get all uppity about things and think you can tell everyone how to live.” But it is true, and perhaps this is another facet of postmodernism: we say one thing and do another. We say tolerance but cannot tolerate Christianity. We say “everyone is right” but deride Christians as being wrong. But that’s not really what this commenter is talking about.
I’ve developed a few thoughts on it.
1) This militant approach to differences might be attributed to the Arminianism that has overtaken Christianity. Let me take a moment and sort this out. Before Arminianism, Christians believed that a) all people are depraved (sinful) by nature and through the Fall their whole being (mind and body) has been corrupted by sin. Therefore b) only God can save any person. Even our best works are but filthy rags before God. He must reach down and change our heart before we will be inclined to Him. But then Arminianism came in (way back in oh, around 300 A.D., I think) and argued that no, there are some parts of us that aren’t corrupted. Our mind/intellect is still “perfect” and so we can move towards God and “accept” Him on our own without any of His help. We can be good enough for God, if we try hard enough. So what did this change? Instead of focusing on the Gospel, on the Work of Christ, on God’s grace, Christianity become focused on us and what we do. It shifted from the true grace-based salvation to a false works-based salvation. And what did that mean? This brings me to the Philippines War. In the 1890’s the American government waged a war on the Philippines. They pretended it was about saving the Philippines from the Spanish, but it was much more than that. There was a militant religious motivation. It was America’s “manifest destiny.” The justification?”God has blessed us with so much more than those people. It is our duty to go over there and share with them what we have.” Translated out of the propaganda it was basically: “We’re so much better than those people, we’re smarter, richer, morally better, etc…so we’re going to go over there and shove our religion, our traditions, our culture, etc…down their throat.” Now, if they were based on a true understanding of Scripture they would have realized that religion can’t be shoved down peoples’ throats. It isn’t like that at all. We can preach and share the gospel, but must let God do the work. Because of this Arminianism, conversion to Christianity became a) an outward and works-based activity, and b) state-supported and spread. For who can shove things down throats better than the government?
Our doctrinal understanding certainly hasn’t gotten any better in the last 100 years.
Or another theory is this.
2) As I said at the beginning, there seems to be a disconnect between what we say, “tolerate everyone” and what we do, “don’t let those evil Muslims/right-wing extremists/conservative Christians take over this country!” And according to Gene Edward Veith, this is an integral part of postmodernism. From “Postmodern Times” he says, “…holding mutually contradictory ideas has become characteristic of the contemporary mind-set….Many people fail to think through their positions and make little effort to be consistent.” But it gets even more interesting from there. Postmodernism rejects any sort of universal commonality between all people. There are a few subpoints to this thought. 1) If there are no absolutes, no God, no Creator, there is no reason why “we” as humans are any better than pigs, elephants, dogs, or even mosquitos. Veith says, about environmental extremists, “To think one’s own species is somehow superior to other species to branded ‘speciesism,’ the moral equivalent to racism.” 2) Postmodernists argue that the word “we” is doing violence to all the “he’s and “she’s” because it is destroying their uniqueness. By saying “we” I’m forcing on you some sort of commonality which you may or may not want to accept and hold to. Veith, “We must not assume that human beings have anything in common. To do so is innately oppressive, forcing others into our own molds.” To clarify, Veith is rephrasing the Postmodernist idea, he is not arguing for it or supporting it. So practically, this means that there’s no reason why I should treat an Iraqi as I would want to be treated because I cannot think of him/her as my equal. Again, Veith, “If there are no universal principles, why act morally toward him, or, as we used to say, why treat him humanely?”
And in an epic turn of irony, because universals are denied to save the individual, the individual is swallowed up in meaninglessness and cruelty. I just expressed that idea poetically, let me now say it logically. After taking logic, my brain started thinking in logical statements. a) We must deny all universal absolutes, all commonalities among all humans because this destroys the individuality of each person. b) If there are no universals, we lose the concept of human rights, of liberty, of equality, of justice. c) Without rights, without liberty, equality and justice, the individual cannot survive. Therefore: Denying the absolute to save the individual leads to the destruction of the individual.
But then, paradoxically, postmodernism has split the world into mutually antagonistic groups. It is obvious that our world is not united…even within countries there are groups battling other groups. Why? If there are no universals, there is no identity. If all humans are not a “group” made in the image of God, living under the command of God, then other groups must be made. These groups are generally based on superficial commonalities. We reject our commonness as humans, but because we are humans we must find our identity based on some sort of group. These groups are formed religiously, culturally, politically, etc…and the individual is lost in the scope of these groups. “The child killed becomes irrelevant because she belonged to the group we call Muslims and I don’t belong to that group so they are my enemies.”
I can be persuaded by both of these arguments. I think that our current situation is probably a combination of both. Among the religious right, I think that answer 1 is probably more likely but as a whole in our nation, postmodernism seems to be more of an issue than the Arminian/Manifest Destiny response. What to take away from this?
All people were created by God in the image of God. We are all equal under God. This means that no person and no group of people have the right to dominate any other people. Only by embracing these universal absolutes can individual liberty be saved.