Science in Christian Perspective
Living in Babylon with Darwin, Marx,
Freud, and Deloria
GEORGE J. JENNINGS
Department of Anthropology
Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania 15010
From: JASA 35 September 1983): 137-144.
Preparing To Meet Our Neighbors In Babylon
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were opposing you (James 5:1-6 NIV).
It is common knowledge that marked disparities exist in the contemporary world peoples that are suggested by such categories as the "Third" and "Fourth" worlds, the "North" and "South" worlds, the "Developed" and "Undeveloped" worlds, or more bluntly, the "Have" and "Have-not" worlds. 20% of the world (North America, Western Europe and Japan) produces and consumes 65% of the world's goods and services.
Francis Schaeffer was asked once by college students if he considered it necessary to learn about the thinking and writing of non-Christians. His response emphasized that (1) though marked by human depravity that affects thinking, unregenerate scholars still bear to some degree the "image of God" with capability for discovery and insights; (2) though subject to limitations from a sinful nature, many non-evangelical scholars have discovered many facts and offered interpretations of aid to evangelical thought; and (3) though some Christians have sought to probe causes of human depravity operating through social and cultural circumstances of mankind, often evangelical Christians have been " part of the problem rather than part of the solution" to the various ills among mankind.
Reflecting upon the view that non-Christians have something to say to us who are evangelical, I began to both think and speak about this during a leadership role in the Middle East Christian Outreach's annual orientation seminar in Cyprus. Later while in Damascus, I was once more confronted with glaring examples of economic disparities between the "haves" and the "have-nots" of the Middle East. My mind began to take me back over the years when my wife and I have suffered traumas stemming from encounters with shocking impoverishment in the Third and Fourth Worlds. Perhaps several Christmas Day (the Christian world's "rite of intensification" for affirming giving and sharing presumably to emulate God's gift of His Son) experiences might epitomize something of our traumas:
(1) A Christmas Day in a Vietnam refugee camp in Thailand near the border of Cambodia where among indescribable conditions the Vietnam girls were being raped with impunity by the Thai guards who hate the Vietnamese.
(2) A Christmas Day among the impoverished Kor'ku tribal people of central India where the annual income per capita in 1980 was $140, and where one sleeps in rooms plastered by cow dung under mosquito netting to keep out rats from the bed.
(3) Christmas Days in Tehran and Beirut in the throes of hostilities and violence that appear almost daily in the news media.
From what has caused profound anguish to me, I have returned to the sensate America via Hawaii. The unabashed luxury and excesses immediately encountered has been "affluence shock" indeed, even to the degree that I have asserted to my wife that I do not think that I can ever, with conscience before my Lord and Savior, spend a holiday in what many American Christians deem to be just short of paradise! Further confirmation of our excesses came some time ago when I entertained a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) at Geneva's Alexander Hall for an evening meal. The slight-built youth in his mid-twenties (attending another school here in the States) expressed amazement at both the amount and variety of food served to Geneva students and the waste to be observed on that one occasion.
With such experiences in mind during my recent stay in the Middle East, I found myself reading the closing chapters of Revelation, including the dramatic and catastrophic destruction of Babylon as God's judgment. This infamous city, among other things, seems to be described as the ultimate prostitute who is pursued and sustained by the world's political and economic systems. Prostitution, in my opinion, can be considered as the awful exploitation of what is basic to human life; namely, procreation and maintenance. What the Apostle Paul affirms to be a basic principle for Christian interaction and relationship that bears upon the prostitution concept is his words to the Thessalonians:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that you abstain from immorality; that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and bonor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God; that no man transgress, and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things ... (I Thessalonians 4:3-6 RSV).
I maintain that this fundamental prostitution idea addressed to Christians in the husband-wife dyadic relationship is what the inspired Apostle John views as mankind's rapacious exploitation of basic human needs; or, rather, the rape of the majority of mankind by an affluent minority. Even worse, the wealthy and wasteful minority has been the Christendom of Western Civilization (the one significant exception is non-Christian Japan). And this rapacious treatment is not at an end, for neo-colonialism, or economic imperialism, among the Third and Fourth Worlds is increasing the disparity between the "haves" and the "have-nots!"
It becomes obvious, then, that I envision the Apostle John's Babylon as mostly formed and sustained by the Western "Christian" political and economic systems that continue to monopolize the goods and services of our contemporary world. As a matter of fact, the discussions about "nationalism" and "modernization" held in the luxurious hotelssymbols par excellence of the prostitution-in the Third and Fourth Worlds to aid in "development" of "underdeveloped" peoples have frequently been the means for greater acts of rape. As a youth I was indoctrinated by evangelical Christians in the view that the Apostle John's Babylon is the Roman Catholic Church. Such an interpretation is to me now quite untenable.
As industrialization and colonialism accompanied exploration by Christendom in the Western world, especially in the 19tb century, scholars questioned the growing exploitation that supported the rising affluence in the West. The traditional analyses included those by the Church whose leaders failed to employ alert and cross-cultural perspectives to assess gross inequalities supported by The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Weber). In fact most Christian theologians, with startling myopia, stimulated thinking that reacted to expanding prostitution of the world's peoples by either confirming the rape or by withdrawing from the battlefield to establish a sharp dichotomy between emerging science and conventional Christian orthodoxy.
There is pathos in the widely accepted view held by the Church of the 19th century that Western civilization represented the apogee of social and cultural evolution (although the term itself frequently was anathema to some Christians). This sophisticated ethnocentrism among Western Christian thinkers of that day may, in a certain sense, be suggested by the use and definitions held for "savage" and "pagan." One need not delve into European history of the last few centuries to discover the savagery in Christendom that climaxed in World Wars I and TV It is obvious to the most casual observer that the "savages" and "pagans" of non-Christian lands can learn new and more ingenious techniques of war and torture from the cultural zenith in Western Christendom!
With the pervasive absence of concern and compassion (some exceptions of course) for the rapacious exploitation by " civilized" Christendom of those "out there," disillusioned scholars withdrew increasingly from theological interpretations. There emerged in the European scholarly circles those who sought solutions related to empirical evidences forthcoming in youthful science seeking for the "truth;" the quest not yet the "end," but the " means," science sought solutions to human problems for it was not then committed to serving technology per se (Ellul).
Hence, among those not identified with, in many cases clearly opposed to, the Church's approach to mounting inequities in the world, I have selected quite arbitrarily four thinkers who seem to me to represent four basic positions and fields of learning that the haughty Church neglected. Of course, any person acquainted with the development of Western thought could easily challenge my selections and substitute four others with sound argument. Nevertheless, I insist that my four "neighbors" in our Babylon brought to influential attention, even though denied then and now by evangelical Christians, basic underlying assumptions that have guided the mental set of Western peoples, including devout Christians. The basic assumptions include (1) competition, (2) conflict, (3) anxiety, and (4) ethnocentrism.Our Neighbor, the Biologist, Charles Darwin
Darwin, as everyone knows, is cited as the one who gave evolution widespread acceptance as an explanation for the "how" of the diversity and complexity of life forms as these became increasingly known in the 19tb century. Somewhat lamely he seemed (under considerable "Christian" pressure no doubt) to suggest a weak deistic explanation as to the " why" of all this: the Creator established laws that took a rather vague course to eventuate in the highest and most generalized form, mankind.
Again as every schoolboy knows, Darwin adopted competition among the species of life as one of his key concepts for the process by which multiple forms evolved. Because he confessed that he had been greatly influenced by Thomas Malthus (who saw populations outstripping food supply with disasterous consequences), Darwin adopted a pessimistic scenario for mankind to explain the whole course of life upon the earth. One need not elaborate the well-known and oversimplified phrase that has become every sophomore's explanation of Darwinianism: "survival of the fittest" (Herbert Spencer's term, adopted by Darwin).
Darwinianism undercut the controversy regarding the various human races' derivation from a common ancestor (monogenism) or from multiple ancestry (polygenism), since natural selection as a model comprehended both possibilities. This controversy was linked with racialist theories of human differences and with what became known as Social Darwinianism (better, Social Spencerianism). Such theories, however, misuse Darwin's ideas and hold that different classes in society have achieved their high or low status by natural selection; the rich and powerful attain theirs by virtue of advantageous variations and the poor and weak ("the miserable" of Malthus) by virtue of deleterious variations. Evidence for these propositions lay not in discovering the relevant variations but in the fact that the rich were rich and the poor poor-an exercise in circular reasoning still widely used to account for poverty today. Evangelical Christians tacitly or otherwise employ such thinking to support their non-biblical commitment to competition usually expressed in quantitative superlatives.
With this postulate of competition among evangelical Christians living in today's Babylon of humanistic materialism, White's thesis in The Sacred Cow is a logical consequence insofar as it goes. The tragedy is that the amazing response to unethical appeals for funds, supported by pious clich6s, is an indirect exploitation of Third and Fourth World peoples who make the Sacred Cow in America possible. Even our Christian schools, whether seminaries or colleges, are committed to the assumption that education prepares for more successful competition in any and all areas of life. The " service" concept degenerates into something quite different than the explicit assertion of Jesus: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23).
As any person engaged in athletics in education will affirm, competition does prepare one indeed for life, the life that Darwin viewed in natural selection and survival of the species. But I find it extremely difficult to reconcile this competitive assumption with this Pauline conclusion:
Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests,
but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who ... being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Philippians 4:3-5, 8 RSV).
Our Neighbor, the Sociologist, Karl Marx
Significantly, the competitive postulate in Darwin's natural selection ideas lay back of parallel views proposed by Marx in his militant opposition to religion as he observed it in Christendom. Any informed person knows that Marx rejected religion as a means of alleviating or correcting social ills; rather, he argued that religion is an "opiate" that numbed mankind's intellect making it improbable that a supernatural dimension bears upon therapies for human injustices. just as we suggested with much oversimplification that our neighbor, Darwin, focused his thinking around competition among species, we may also (with some reservations of course) single out "conflict" as the core of Marxism.
Marxism states that social systems develop in accordance with laws. Unlike animals, human beings can produce what they need to survive (their means of subsistence). Through the division of labor the amount that can be produced is greatly increased, and a struggle develops over power to command and channel the surplus. Generally, the group that can monopolize access to strategic resources (the means of production) becomes the ruling class. Other classes are shaped by their relationship to the means of production. These relations of production are generalized throughout the society and give it its characteristics. This is the "materialist conception of history," which makes the nature of the productive system central to an understanding of the political and cultural aspects of the social system. Here are insights par excellence into the Apostle John's Babylon!
Marx outlined a progression of socioeconomic stages that he believed summarized the history of civilization: ancient, feudalistic, and capitalistic. He contended that the dominant cultural images of a society-especially religious institutions-reflect and support the economic system. In such thinking, it is no accident that a consumption psychology is found in all classes in a capitalist society. Self-image and self-esteem are similarly linked to materialism; one may visit in suburban homes of American evangelical Christians and observe their life-styles to document this view.Perhaps one major weakness in our neighbor's suggestions
George J. Jennings is the USA Executive Secretary of the Middle East Christian otitreach, an International, Evangelical Missions Enterporise, headquartered at Larnaca, Cyprus. After undergraduate and graduate work in psychocultural anthropology at the University of Minnesota and Northwestern Evangelical Seminary, he was ordained by, and served on the pastoral staff of, First Baptist Church of Minneapolis. He began his teaching career at the University Of Minnesota (Minneapolis) and continued at Bethel, Northwestern, Wheaton, and Geneva Colleges. His special research interests have been in psychological anthropology and cultural dynamics, both in the Middle East and among American Indians. His book, A Missions Consultant Views Middle Eastern Culture and Personality (1983) is to be followed this autumn by All Things, All Men, All Means-To Save Some, and Hadith: A Composite Middle Eastern Village Under a Missions Consultant's Gaze.
in his conflict model for understanding society is that they do
little to explain the viability and increased prosperity of the
industrially advanced nations after two World Wars. NeoMarxist thinking emphasizes the importance of vertical structuring of relationships between rich and poor nations. Third
and Fourth World nations are increasingly viewed as misdeveloped (rather than undeveloped) appendages of the economies of developed nations. In essence, this seems to mean that
there is an acceptable rationale for economic imperialism for rapacious prostitution underlying the Babylon doomed for
destruction in the Apostle John's scenario-that sustains what
evangelical Christians in Western culture assume to be the
will of God."
Our Neighbor, the Psychologist, Sigmund Freud
While Darwin reacted to the Church's inepitude in explaining struggles for life among species, including mankind, with the assumption of competition, and Marx advocated his conflict model for understanding social ills, Freud epitomizes the consequences of both competition and conflict upon the individual personality. The paradox, of course, in his clinical and research findings is centered in and about the pervasive anxiety found among the affluent peoples of his day. In a certain sense, Freud's conclusions confirm the biblical assertion that "man does not live by bread alone," especially when that bread is eaten in abundance at the expense of impoverished and exploited others.
Finally we ought to note that Neighbor Marx offered a moral code that serves as a judgmental stance for much of Christianity as it affirmed economic prostitution in Western industrialization. Other than devotion to the communist cause, Marx sought for conscientious labor, concern for public health, high sense of public duty, humane relations toward others, mutual respect, honesty, truthfulness, moral purity, modesty, family loyalty and concern, an uncompromising attitude toward injustice (including dishonesty and opportunism), friendship and brotherhood, intolerance of national and racial hatred, an uncompromising attitude to enemies of peace and freedom, and fraternal solidarity among all peoples everywhere.
It goes without saying that Marx must have been influenced more than he perhaps would cared to have admitted by biblical ethics despite his disavowal of religion. Nevertheless in a quest for "classlessness" to emerge in social evolution, his basic notion of conflict seems to reflect what he saw institutionalized religion supporting in his affluent civilization; an affluence resting upon the exploitation of the .1 masses" wherever they may be. Under the colonial umbrella, the rape associated with the conflict found evangelical Christians unaware that they subscribe to the conflict model, in practice if not in statement. And modern missions by Christians developed programs and institutions seemingly naive as to their indirect advocacy of the conflict assumption.
Among others, the Apostle James addresses himself to the problem of conflict as did Marx in our Babylon. According to James:
What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions (James 4: 1-3 RSV).
So disillusioned did this atheist become in later life that be held that religion is an illusion and as such could not enable the disturbed person to cope with reality with effective therapy. In The Future Of an Illusion, Freud became convinced that religion is a universal obsessional neurosis derived in the fantasies of childhood and reinforced by religious dogma. Why should one who had a devout Jewish father and was reared in a profound Roman Catholic culture come to this conclusion? Admittedly there is no simple or single answer, but a contributing influence must have been a combination of the competitive-conflict syndrome with racial prejudice and a hypocritical Victorian morality that he criticized in Civilization and Its Discontents. And what was his civilization? It was that dominated by institutionalized Christianity that served greatly as a gloss over what Pitirim Sorokin has labeled as "sensate" society and culture.
Freud's theory of personality postulated the division of the human psyche into three interacting areas: the id, the ego, and the superego-the balance among which largely determines the health of the individual or lack of it. To him, the conscious, preconscious (forgotten materials), and unconscious (repressed materials) were areas of the personality complexly related to the basic triad of id, ego, and superego. The pervasive energy at play in this complex structure is summed in Freud's concept of libido that is either released or inhibited at certain stages of personality development. Since the generalized energy, the libido, operates in each of the triad, the "healthy" personality is one wherein a balance between the polarities of the id (instincts) and the superego (culturally-conditioned "conscience") is executed by the intermediation of the ego.
At considerable risk of misunderstanding and castigation by colleagues who identify as I do with evangelical Christianity, I believe that Freud provides in his personality structure something of what Jesus had in mind in the exchange with one of his skeptics. in such an exchange in Dr. Luke's inspired account, we read that eternal life may be achieved by the two commandments; the first is that man is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind. .. " (Luke 10:27 RSV). Of course such instruction must be interpreted within the phenomenological articulation compatible with New Testament culture, not in terms of modern psychological specifications or even theory. Nonetheless, it seems highly suggestive that Luke had some idea about personality structure in which "mind," .1 soul," "heart," and "strength" corresponds roughly to Freud's "superego ... .. ego ... .. id," and "libido," respectively. In a "healthy" person these structures are balanced, whereas in a "pathological" person they are not.
While Freud did not specify in extended treatment the matter of competition and conflict, the neo-Freudians emphasized that Western Christianity is foundational for excessive value of these characteristics, as Weber anticipated in citing Calvinism for "The Protestant Ethic" supported by individualism. Hence, Erich Fromm writes about The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness and Karen Horney about The Neurotic Personality of Our Time. No doubt with overstatement and oversimplification, Horney seems unduly influenced by clinical practice that gives unbalanced data for her extreme conclusion; yet extreme competition and conflict that engulfs Western people-including evangelical Christians swayed by materialistic symbols for "self-actualization" (Maslow)-is an "unfailing center of neurotic conflicts."
Further, scholars generally agree that contemporary industrial society, resting on exploitation of "misdeveloped"
peoples to accrue fabulous wealth, has elaborated the types of
conflict possible. Both on individual and group bases, Western peoples in the "Protestant Ethic" are continually in
competition for whatever may be desired. Institutionalized
Christianity in Western culture has been a bulwark for such
competition and conflict: consider contests between churches
and/or their church schools for attendance, enrollment,
finances, etc. it is pathetically amusing to see children
subjected to competition in "finding a Scriptural reference
first" somewhat reminiscent of what Jules Henry labeled for
American education as "the absurdity of learning" in his
Culture Against Man.
And what aspiring young instructor in
an evangelical school would be foolhardy or intrepid enough
to challenge a grading system that is the example par
excellence of competition among Christian students!
Our Neighbor, the "Animist," Vine Deloria, Jr.
Obviously in including Darwin, Marx, and Freud among our neighbors in Babylon, we have included those who shared completely the basic values and orientation, or worldview, of Western Christendom and culture. They were not among the "dispossessed" peoples or "have-nots" subject to prostitution of resources and services by our Babylon, although their views represented both influence and challenge by what they noted in their world. They may have been controversial in Christian thought but they are indeed neighbors by any standard that perceives institutionalized Christianity in Western affluent culture without ethnocentric lenses.
Now, however, we find it imperative to admit to our neighborhood in Babylon one that has been traditionally classified as "savage" or "pagan," although we have tried strenuously to exclude him from our Babylon by sophisticated, discriminatory rationales, often supported by pious cliches or scriptural texts removed from context. Born of Sioux Indian parentage in the Standing Rock Reservation of the Dakotas, Deloria reflects the continuing strength of Indian religion by the centrality of the religious theme best expressed in his God Is Red (and he is not talking about Communism!). Deloria may be cited as one of the most incisive and articulate spokesman for those raped by our Babylonian politicians and economists. What he says is echoed across the Third and Fourth worlds with increasing din and clamor.
Though trained in a theological school, and descended from a distinguished Sioux Indian family of scholars, clergymen, and warriors, Deloria rejects institutional Christianity as a corruption of the true spirit of Christ. Instead, he suggests that Indian religions, with their sense of place as opposed to time, and their belief in a sympathetic involvement in nature rather than a hostile adversary relationship to it, will attract white as well as Indian adherents. Indian religious practices will have to make accommodations to the scientific findings of present, Deloria argues, but the Indian view of nature and the supernatural remains valid. Indian religious leaders, like Deloria, have long been uncomfortable about the institutional face of Christianity while sympathetic to the life and teaching of Christ.
To be more specific, Deloria concludes that the largest difference between Indian religion and institutionalized Christianity is in inter-personal relationships. Indian society had a religion that taught respect for all members of the society. He reminds us that Indians bad a religion that produced a society in which there were no locks on doors, no orphanages, no need for oaths, and no hungry people (the hungry Indians came with the Indian Reservations!). Indian religion taught that sharing one's goods with another human being was the highest form of behavior. The Indians have tenaciously held to this tradition of sharing their goods with other people in spite of all attempts by churches, government agencies, and schools to break them of the custom.
In Deloria's scathing views, institutionalized Christianity of our Babylon came along and tried to substitute "giving" for sharing. There was only one catch: giving meant giving to the church, not to other people. Giving, says Deloria, in the modern institutionalized Christian sense, is simply a method of shearing the sheep, not of tending them.
He scornfully and with much satire cites two events, one from "fundamentalist" Christianity and one from "liberal" Christianity. First, he attends to the "Fundamentalists":
Perhaps the most important Christian event of our day was Explo 72, a giant rally held in June 1972 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas, a city of brotherly love. It was conceived and carried out by Bill Bright of the Campus Crusade for Christ International, one of the many fundamentalist-oriented groups working on college campuses. More than 75,000 gospel-preaching, sure-enough young Christian came to Dallas to conduct a historic rally on behalf of fundamentalist Christianity.
Unlike the feeding of the five thousand, Explo 72 had a budget of 2.7 million dollars and charged participants a twenty-five-dollar entrance fee, which was certainly an improvement over the New Testament way of doing things. But for the entrance fee enough potato chips were served to make a "one-ton potato chip," although apparently the Lord did not do so, preferring to serve individual portions. The event was billed as a religious Woodstock, and it was advertised on 800 billboards, 100,000 bumper stickers, and 5,000 T-shirts.
The climax to Explo 72 came when the 75,000 assembled young Christians broke forth in a frenzy of religious devotion and began chanting football cheers. Gimme a J, -JJJJJJay,- Gimme an E, "EEEEE," Gimme an S, "ESSSSSS," Gimme a U, "UUUUUUU", Gimme an S, "ESSSSS." Whatta ya got? "JESUS!"!" The Sermon on the Mount must have seemed pale in comparison (God In Red, pp . Z33Z34).
But Deloria insists that the confusion between Christianity as institutionalized in American culture-in our Babylon-is not simply a phenomenon of evangelical and right wing Christianity. The liberal counterpart has also made its contribution to making institutionalized Christianity relevant to the modern world.
The Lutheran Youth Congress meeting in San Diego in 1972 originated the Jesus cheer later repeated at the Cotton Bowl. In 1970 the United Church of Christ in Chicago held an unusual ordination ceremony which indicated that it also had seen the light and was trying to make religion relevant to American culture.
The ordained wore a multicolored vest with seventeen symbols representing "his concerns" sewn on it. Included were symbols of joy and sorrow, a black fist, a Star of David, a peace symbol, a herald's trumpet, and wheat seeds. Two leotarded dancers conducted a "moving prayer " against a background of shifting images projected on the walls of the museum in which the service was held. Kent Schneider, the newly ordained minister, "celebrated." He is director of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Celebration and will teach others to celebrate. "Celebration, " he noted, "is an idea whose time has come." We'll drink to that.
Celebration may be the name of the game over on the left wing of the Christian spectrum as football cheers seem to characterize the right wing. The Reverend Harvey Cox of Secular City fame, who is the liberal guru of the Boston area, decided in 1970 to combine all the elements of religion into one massive presentation. Choosing a congruence of holy days, Jewish Passover and Orthodox Easter, Cox gathered his disciples in "The Boston Tea Party," a converted warehouse discotheque near Fenway Park. A projector flashed images on the walls to represent pictorially the agony of Vietnam, while participants wrote graffiti on the walls of the building. A rock band called the Apocrypha played "I Can't Get No Satisfaction," and at daybreak the crowd rushed into the streets, chanting, "sun, sun, sun." Liberal Christianity had finally come of age. Right on, as the liturgy of the day related. (God Is Red, pp. 237-Z39).A Contextualizational Reading of Scripture
As an evangelical Christian and a professional anthropologist with nearly four decades of intercultural research, I concur with Charles Kraft of the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary in his plea for an intercultural evangelical theology. My reasoning is based upon a fundamental postulate: the church of Jesus Christ is multicultural, and what is needed is to appreciate-better, to recognizethat our Babylonian affluence and prostitution are not congruent with a theology that is intercultural, or cross-cultural. A theology for the whole church must be developed and this is possible only through contextualization. By contextualization, Kraft in his magnum opus to date, Christianity and Culture, elaborates on a number of suggestions from the anthropological perspective that will contribute through contextualization to an intercultural theology. This, in turn, will enable us in Babylon to better understand our rape of other peoples as we have sought to explain through the eyes of four of our neighbors.
Kraft's first general recommendation is that we must distinguish between the data that we receive and work with from throughout the world and the interpretation of that data. As an anthropologist, I must be careful to distinguish between the data and the theoretical model with which I approach the data. I must also distinguish between the data and my interpretation of that data. It is also important for theologians to distinguish between the data and their interpretation of the data; after all, if one lives in Babylon, one has to justify one's lifestyle (and it's possible to "prove" nearly anything from Scripture!).
A second idea offered by Kraft is that Babylonian theologians must realize that while the biblical data are sacred and infallible, the Babylonian theoretical models and interpretations are not. Not only are the theologians' models and interpretations human, they are also bound by Babylonian culture. Without realizing it, most theologians have been using Western (usually Greek, for Augustine leaned upon Plato, and Aquinas sought answers from Aristotle, to name but two) philosophical models to interpret the biblical data. We in Babylon need to realize that there are other valid models for interpreting the Scriptures. For example, African and Middle Eastern philosophical models do provide valuable insights into understanding much of the Bible, especially the Old Testament. Because African and Middle Eastern cultures are "closer" to biblical Hebrew culture than our Western and affluent Babylonain lifestyle, the insights provided by their philosophical models must be incorporated into our theological processes. How else can we explain the discrepancy between the Gospel as the "power unto salvation to everyone that believes" and that over three-fourths of mankind, mostly in the raped Third and Fourth Worlds, have not experienced that "power" potential?
Another of Kraft's propositions is that anthropological insight can aid theologians in the area of relevance. Theologians generally, and particularly if they live in the cloistered quarters of Babylon, concern themselves with problems and issues on a philosophical level while people live on a behavioral level (as the definition of who is one's neighbor provided by Jesus in the "Good Samaritan" event). Much too much of our theological concern is done in the language of metaphysical philosophy with frequent tautological explanation. Theologians need to use the language of the behavioral science in terms of their approach to problems, their conclusions, and their articulation.
A further suggestion by Kraf t is that for intercultural understanding and the application of that knowledge there is the need to distinguish between form and meaning, to be gained mostly by anthropological efforts. This is the very heart of a needed approach toward discerning cultural forms and meanings; this is what the anthropologist Clifford Geertz has most appropriately used to define culture as "a system of meanings" shared by a society. We in Babylon need to realize that cultural forms are important because of their meaning to a particular people and not in and of themselves. Cultural forms derive their meanings from their cultural context and can be fully understood only in that context. A cultural form retains its meaning only in its own culture. Hence, the meaning of conventional Christian forms of worship, not to mention our interpretations of Jesus as a "culture hero" basic to the "Protestant Ethic" for our Babylonian prostitution of peoples outside our magnificent city, must be mystifying to those victimized by our affluence!
If we are going to respond to the insights offered by our four neighbors in Babylon, and if we are going to reach the world for Jesus Christ, we must make the gospel relevant to the people of the world. By this we do not mean that we alter the "Good News," for we have only that summarized by the Apostle Paul (I Corinthians 15:1-4). But, as James emphasizes, we need to discover what people's needs are and engage in demonstrations as to how the gospel relates through behavioral and social actions to their needs in their cultural setting, in brief, to emphasize through contextualization, concern and contribution.
through the eyes of those not living in our Babylon, for poverty is the distinguishing lifestyle of at least three-fourths of the world's people-that is, those not living in our luxurious suburbia of a prostitutional Babylon. This means, to cite but a sample or two from that ultimate source of our faith and conduct:
I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich (the Apostle Paul, 11 Corinthians 8:8-9 RSV).
And a scribe came up and said to him, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes~ and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head" (Matthew 8:19-20 RSV).
What does it profit, my brethern, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead (the Apostle James 2:14-17 RSV).
The Church of Jesus Christ is multicultural, and our Babylonian affluence and prostitution are not congruent with a theology that is intercuftural or cross-cultural. A theology for the whole Church must be developed.
My critique of our Babylonian neighborhood is not solitary, for Waldron Scott pleads for "a new reading of the Bible" in Bring Forth justice. His impassioned call is to affluent Babylonian (he doesn't use the term but has the same idea) Christians. He notes, for instance, that the great and needed emphasis on justification by faith in Luther's work was most relevant in his cultural milieu that assumed the Church to be a corporate fellowship intimately linked with the society and culture of his day. Divorced from the present social condition today, this doctrine, conditioned by developments in Western (Babylonian) society and culture since the Renaissance, becomes a rationale for an individualism and self-reliance unknown in the New Testament. From such errors in parochial interpretation and monocultural perspective, we now have in Babylon those who speak of "The Culture of Narcissism" and the "Cult of Self -worship" (Lasch and Vitz).
The consequence attending this combination of affluence and self-centered preoccupation in Babylonian culture is a triad of loneliness, meaningless, and anxiety, according to Scott. It may come as a surprise to us that these problems of self are much less prevalent among the impoverished Middle Eastern peasants or slum-dwellers in teeming Cairo. Their problems are derived from rapacious injustice that fosters poverty, disease, and malnutrition. When one is starving, the meaning for life is to get relief from the hunger pangs (in the case of "the Good Samaritan," there is a significant absence of 11 preaching" or "witnessing" in this act of compassion!). It is so much easier to theologize with sophistication (and sterility) when one's stomach is full!Therefore, asserts Scott, we must learn to read Scripture
The question that I cannot elude by becoming acquainted with my neighbors in Babylon, whether here at an evangelical institution of higher learning in professional status, or as a member of an evangelical church, or as a responsible person in evangelical missionary organizations is this: What do such acquaintances have to do with me? After all, I have a rather modest income and do not have any great clout in our Babylon of rape and affluence. I am constantly reminded that my fellow-Christians make great "sacrifice" as students in a Christian school, or as faculty and administrators at the school, or as parents who support the students at the school, to say nothing of those members of the "body of Christ" at large. Aren't we as Americans in general, and as evangelical Christians in particular, those people who surpass all others in generosity and "sacrifice" stemming from compassion as we learn of the plight of others wherever in the world? My answer tends to center in and about the following statement, and I leave my reader to identify with whomever is appropriate in his or her case:
And he (Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, "Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living" (Mark 12:41-44 RSV).
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