Speaking the Truth in Love

A Dangerous Enchantment with Culture

By Brent Smith

[Brent is the preaching minister of the Trenton Church of Christ in Trenton, TN.]

The dictionary says that culture is “the sum of attitudes, customs, and beliefs that distinguishes one group of people from another. Culture is transmitted, through language, material objects, ritual, institutions, and art, from one generation to the next” (www.dictionary.com). While culture may influence social norms and behavior, is it the authority on morality?

Should one culture be welcoming to another in spite of egregious immoral practices?  In Tanzania, there is a culture that hunts, captures and kills zeruzeru, human albinos. It is believed that successfully killing a zeruzeru will make one wealthy.  If it is the culture, does that justify the practice?  The Baganda, an ethnic group in Uganda, hold dance rituals to help boys become men.  The boys are encouraged to have sex with many different girls.  The practice is a leading cause of the spread of HIV/Aids in that country.  Under Sharia law, a raped woman is punished for being raped unless four male witnesses testify on her behalf.  In Turkey alone, the rate of murdered women increased by 1400% from 2002 to 2009 (The West’s Dangerous Enchantment with Islam by Ulzay Bulut, Nov. 9, 2014).

Is a cultural practice only wrong if it hurts someone else?  Why is it wrong to hurt someone else?  Because your culture says so, or because you say so?  In “Peace Child” Don Richardson talks about his family’s mission work with the Sawi tribe of Western New Guinea, Indonesia. The Sawi were known to be headhunters as late as the 1950’s. Don wrote that the Sawi would invite people from another tribe to come and share a meal.  They would then murder the guests and eat them and their brains to demonstrate complete domination.  When they were told the story about Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus, they applauded Judas.  In their culture, betrayal and treachery were virtues. Were they wrong?  If so, why?

Our own culture treasures an open-mindedness that accepts different cultures without judgment — while at the same time unequivocally denouncing some things like female mutilation, child labor and male leadership in the home. This position is inconsistent.  While espousing cultural freedom and acceptance, many have at the same time set themselves or their culture up as the ultimate moral standard. They say these are immoral practices.  Based on what?  The religion, faith, law, and moral code of Tanzanians, the Baganda, Muslims and the Sawi say that what they are doing is right. Who are we to tell them they are wrong?

Without an absolute moral code, humanity stumbles in the dark.  Those that scoff at the Bible and ridicule Bible believers as judgmental and hateful have set themselves up as the ultimate judges of right and wrong.  They have become the very thing they curse.   God is the creator.  He is the Judge. He tells us what is right or wrong, good or evil.  Any cultural practice that violates his code of conduct is wrong.  That position is not arrogant.  It is humble in that it recognizes man’s submission to God: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3.16).

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