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    Mother's Education, Other Thoughts

    What is Culture, that Thou Art Mindful of It?

    January 14, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]C[/dropcap]hapter Two of All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes seeks to define culture. I love the titles in this book. This one is What is Culture, that Thou Art Mindful of It? which pretty much sums up the two major questions in the chapter. Not only do we want to be able to define culture, but we want to know whether it matters. Does God care? Should we?

    What is Culture that Thou Art Mindful of It

    Myers defines culture thus:

    It is … a dynamic pattern, an ever-changing matrix of objects, artifacts, sounds, institutions, philosophies, fashions, enthusiasms, myths, prejudices, relationships, attitudes, tastes, rituals, habits, colors, and loves, all embodied in individual people, in groups and collectives and associations of people {many of whom do not know they are associated}, in books, in buildings, in the use of time and space, in wars, in jokes, and in food.

    There are other little tidbits earlier on in the chapter which provide a foundation for such a thorough definition. Myers says, for instance, that culture is “the human effort to give structure to life.”

    Myers appeals to the likes of C.S. Lewis concerning the issue of whether or not one should concern oneself with culture:

    “If you attempted,” [Lewis] argued, “to suspend your whole intellectual and aesthetic activity, you would only succeed in substituting a worse cultural life for a better.” This is precisely what many religious people do, which is one of the reasons we have such bad music and ugly architecture in Christian settings. Lewis went on:

    You are not, in fact, going to read nothing, either in the Church or on the [front] line: if you don’t read good books you will read bad ones. If you don’t go on thinking rationally, you will think irrationally. If you reject aesthetic satisfactions you will fall into sensual satisfactions.

    The argument is essentially that culture is. So if we are not deliberate in building a certain type of culture, then there is some other culture built by default, often one that is inferior to what might have been.

    I am at a very busy time in life. This is not to say that I am busy, but simply that there is much to do. I find myself constantly making choices. There is not enough time in the day to do everything, not even close. So what will we do? Some days can be so frustrating as I have a certain child right now who insists on arguing through half of the morning. There are activities that hit the chopping block because time was wasted spent debating with this child. I could look at the simplified schedule for a particularly trying day and say that we have built a simple culture. Or I could be more honest and say that if I am not careful we are actually building an angry, tense, arguing sort of culture by default.

    So you see that culture is always being built.

    This actually reminds me of a news article I recently read concerning the inventor of The Pill. Yes. That Pill. You know the one of which I speak. Well, Carl Djerassi, who co-created The Pill, has now come out against it. Why?

    Djerassi outlined the “horror scenario” that occurred because of the population imbalance, for which his invention was partly to blame. He said that in most of Europe there was now “no connection at all between sexuality and reproduction.” He said: “This divide in Catholic Austria, a country which has on average 1.4 children per family, is now complete.”

    He described families who had decided against reproduction as “wanting to enjoy their schnitzels while leaving the rest of the world to get on with it.”

    The fall in the birth rate, he said, was an “epidemic” far worse, but given less attention, than obesity. Young Austrians, he said, were committing national suicide if they failed to procreate. And if it were not possible to reverse the population decline they would have to understand the necessity of an “intelligent immigration policy.”

    Most folks think that decisions concerning birth control are personal and private. But actually, we are building a certain type of culture by default. The culture is described clearly in the above article: no connection between sexuality and reproduction, demographic suicide {not enough births to even maintain the current population}. But the list goes on. Countries with birth rates as low as this should also expect to see changes in the language. There will be a complete elimination of words for aunt, uncle, cousin, niece, nephew and so on. And along with this goes the concept of family such words stood for.

    One person makes a decision. Another makes a decision like it. And suddenly we see that when thousands or millions of people are making the same decision, a culture is born.

    Something like birth control is easy to see because the effects are measurable {at least some of them are}. But culture has a number of intangible components. We cannot measure the effects of certain things upon the soul. But I think that God knew and that is why He exhorted us, for instance, to think on things that are good, pure, and lovely. Because if we don’t, we tend to think on things that are bad, dirty, and dishonorable.

    We are to guard our hearts, knowing that it is the source of life. And what we think about, what we really love, will be the bricks and mortar of the culture. Our thoughts are the beginning of our sins, which ends only in death. However, we as Christians can have life, and that abundantly. Of course, that means that we should {ideally} be able to build a culture, or perhaps individual cultures within churches and families, which function as a sort of rock or island of haven within the current of the cultural flood. We don’t immerse ourselves in the waters and get soaking wet or, worse yet, carried away. But we can still be right there, offering a hand to the drowning, pulling them up on the shore and showing them another way.


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  • Reply Brandy January 14, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    I suppose I was a little down yesterday as it was a particularly bad day.

    Interesting distinction between culture and atmosphere. I find myself wondering where one leaves off and the other begins?

    My brain is tired this morning…

  • Reply Dana January 14, 2009 at 11:48 am

    While what you describe in your home might be a mini-culture, there is also the aspect of atmosphere.

    Atmosphere is also an intangible, an abstraction, a dynamic pattern, if I can borrow Myers’s phrases.

    I hope the argumentative child doesnt get you too down.

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