Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Religion and Other Cultural Traits

In the past few days a lot of readers have come here via the 41st Carnival of the Godless to read the entry on shawls and bikini tops. Some have commented, and my reply to one of them grew into an entry in its own right.

Wrote Anon:
the wearing of the shawl is not a Muslim requirement. It is fairly uncommon in Indonesia ... the most populous Muslim country on Earth. Rather, it is an Arabic cultural requirement ... I think it's important to separate religious requirements from cultural ones. ... some people are buying into Arabic cultural imperialism in the false belief they are following a religious requirement.
Said I:
Good point, but then, is it meaningful to separate cultural traits from religious ones? I don't think so. It's all in our minds.
Replied Anon:
Absolutely it's meaningful to separate the two. If not, one can have some trait on the basis of false pretenses. Bombing abortion clinics is a radical-right extremist Southern Bible-belt wacko thing to do, not a Christian thing to do. ... Indonesia has a architectural tradition for its mosques that is quite different from that of the Arabian penninsula. However, the Saudis are spending vast amounts of money in Indonesia to promote Wahabbism, the Saudi form of Islam. The mosques they build with this money look like mosques in downtown Riyadh. ... are Saudi-style mosques superior to native Indonesian style mosques? ... they are being imposed on Indonesia by Saudi money ... The problem arises when cultural traits are being mistaken for religious traits.
Anon, my thoughtful friend, I think you're being overly idealistic regarding both religion and culture.

To me, Christianity (and other religions) doesn't exist outside the practices of its adherents. So anything done in the name of Christ -- running orphanages, educating slum kids, relieving famine-struck areas, bombing abortion clinics -- is part of Christianity to me. Typical Christianity, of course, in the statistical sense, consists only of lukewarm lip service. That's what most Christians do in the name of Christ.

As to Saudi vs Indonesian vs Swedish culture, I can't really say it matters to me. Any culture is OK as long as it doesn't go against the Declaration of Human Rights. Gimme peace and freedom for all, and I don't care what kind of mosque you're building. Culture and local identity is a fleeting, socially constructed thing. The value of a cultural trait, in my opinion, has nothing to do with its age or pedigree. The important thing is whether it works for people right now, right here. The nationalism of an oppressed group isn't any better than the nationalism of their oppressors. What counts is whether you treat your fellow human beings with empathy and solidarity, regardless of nationality.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I can only agree when you write, "What counts is whether you treat your fellow human beings with empathy and solidarity, regardless of nationality." That makes us both idealists!

30 May, 2006 20:08  
Blogger Martin said...

Yep, I'm proud to say I subscribe to quite a number of ideals, no matter how cynical I am in other respects!

But it did take some friendly nagging from my first wife before I became a blood donor. I delivered my 28th baggie today.

30 May, 2006 20:24  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm... under your interpretation, I sure as heck hope no loonies start to do sick stuff in the name of atheism - I don't want to tainted by that. :-)


05 June, 2006 12:14  

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