Friday, December 01, 2006

Is Culture Evil ?

I've been reading various blogs and listening to internet sermons and am finding so many in SBC life who are... A) attacking culture as evil B) condemning those who disagree on some lesser truths as "adopting culture" C)trying to be relevant to our culture D) wanting to change our culture E) desiring to get the gospel in terms that will speak to our culture.

With all this being advocated about our culture, I decided I needed to know what our culture really is. After all, how can you call it evil, believe someone is adopting it, going to change it, be relevant to it, if we don't know what the "it" is? Following is an attempt on the part of one to describe the "American Culture. [I'm printing the body of an e-mail I received without the name of the sender and the sender is not the author of this description.] Right or wrong here is what he said...

By the way, Webster's dictionary defines culture as..."The customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group."

If you're American...

You believe deep down in the First Amendment, guaranteed by the government and perhaps by God.
You're familiar with David Letterman, Mary Tyler Moore, Saturday Night Live, Bewitched, the Flintstones, Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, Donald Duck, the Fonz, Archie Bunker, Star Trek, the Honeymooners, the Addams Family, the Three Stooges, and Beetle Bailey.
You know how baseball, basketball, and American football are played. If you're male, you can argue intricate points about their rules. On the other hand (and unless you're under about 20), you don't care that much for soccer.
You count yourself fortunate if you get three weeks of vacation a year.

If you died tonight...

You're fairly likely to believe in God; if not, you've certainly been approached by people asking whether you know that you're going to Heaven.
You think of McDonald's, Burger King, KFC etc. as cheap food.
You probably own a telephone and a TV. Your place is heated in the winter and has its own bathroom. You do your laundry in a machine. You don't kill your own food. You don't have a dirt floor. You eat at a table, sitting on chairs.
You don't consider insects, dogs, cats, monkeys, or guinea pigs to be food.
A bathroom may not have a bathtub in it, but it certainly has a toilet.
It seems natural to you that the telephone system, railroads, auto manufacturers, airlines, and power companies are privately run; indeed, you can hardly picture things working differently.
You expect, as a matter of course, that the phones will work. Getting a new phone is routine.
The train system, by contrast, isn't very good. Trains don't go any faster than cars; you're better off taking a plane.
You find a two-party system natural. You expect the politicians of both parties to be responsive to business, strong on defense, and concerned with the middle class. You find parliamentary systems (such as Italy's) inefficient and comic.
You don't expect to hear socialism seriously defended. Communism, fuhgeddaboudit.
Between "black" and "white" there are no other races. Someone with one black and one white parent looks black to you.
You think most problems could be solved if only people would put aside their prejudices and work together.
You take a strong court system for granted, even if you don't use it. You know that if you went into business and had problems with a customer, partner, or supplier, you could take them to court.
You'd respect someone who speaks French, German, or Japanese-- but you very likely don't yourself speak them well enough to communicate with a monolingual foreigner. You're a bit more ambivalent about Spanish; you think the schools should teach kids English. It's not all that necessary to learn foreign languages anyway. You can travel the continent using nothing but English-- and get by pretty well in the rest of the world, too.
You think a tax level of 30% is scandalously high.
School is free through high school (at least, it's an option, even if you went to private school); college isn't, unless you get a scholarship.
College is (normally, and excluding graduate study) four years long.

Everybody knows that...

Mustard comes in jars. Shaving cream comes in cans. Milk comes in plastic jugs or cardboard boxes, and occasionally in bottles.
The date comes second: 11/22/63. (And you know what happened on that date.)
The decimal point is a dot. Certainly not a comma.
A billion is a thousand times a million.
World War II was a just war, and (granted all the suffering of course) ended all right. It was a time when the country came together and did what was right. And instead of insisting on vengeance, the US very generously rebuilt Europe instead, with the Marshall Plan.
You expect marriages to be made for love, not arranged by third parties. Getting married by a judge is an option, but not a requirement; most marriages happen in church. You have a best man and a maid or matron of honor at the wedding-- a friend or a sibling. And, naturally, a man gets only one wife at a time.
If a man has sex with another man, he's a homosexual.
Once you're introduced to someone (well, besides the President and other lofty figures), you can call them by their first name.
If you're a woman, you don't go to the beach topless.
A hotel room has a private bath.
You'd rather a film be subtitled than dubbed (if you go to foreign films at all).
You seriously expect to be able to transact business, or deal with the government, without paying bribes.
If a politican has been cheating on his wife, you would question his ability to govern.
Just about any store will take your credit card.
A company can fire just about anybody it wants, unless it discriminates by doing so.
You like your bacon crisp (unless it's Canadian bacon, of course).
Labor Day is in the fall.

Contributions to world civilization...

You've probably seen Star Wars, ET, Home Alone, Casablanca, and Snow White. If you're under forty, add Blazing Saddles, Terminator, Jaws, and 2001; otherwise, add Gone with the Wind, A Night at the Opera, Psycho, and Citizen Kane.
You know the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Michael Jackson, Simon & Garfunkel, Linda Ronstadt. If not, you know Frank Sinatra, Al Jolson, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett, and Kate Smith.
You count on excellent medical treatment. You know you're not going to die of cholera or other Third World diseases. You expect very strong measures to be taken to save very ill babies or people in their eighties. You think dying at 65 would be a tragedy.
You went over US history, and some European, in school, Not much Russian, Chinese, or Latin American. You couldn't name ten US interventions in Latin America.
You expect the military to fight wars, not get involved in politics. You may not be able to name the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Your country has never been conquered by a foreign nation.
You're used to a wide variety of choices for almost anything you buy.
You still measure things in feet, pounds, and gallons.
You are not a farmer.
Comics basically come in two varieties: newspaper comics and magazines; the latter pretty much all feature superheroes.
The people who appear on the most popular talk shows are mostly entertainers, politicians, or rather strange individuals. Certainly not, say, authors.
You drive on the right side of the road. You stop at red lights even if nobody's around. If you're a pedestrian and cars are stopped at a red light, you will fearlessly cross the street in front of them.
You think of Canada as a pleasant, peaceful, but rather dull country, which has suddenly developed an inexplicable problem in Qu├ębec. You probably couldn't explain why the Canadians didn't join the other British colonies in rebelling against King George.
You consider the Volkswagen Beetle to be a small car.
The police are armed, but not with submachine guns.
If a woman is plumper than the average, it doesn't improve her looks.
The biggest meal of the day is in the evening.
The nationality people most often make jokes about is the Poles.
There's parts of the city you definitely want to avoid at night.
Outside the Beltway
You feel that your kind of people aren't being listened to enough in Washington.
You wouldn't expect both inflation and unemployment to be very high (say, over 15%) at the same time.
You don't care very much what family someone comes from.
The normal thing, when a couple dies, is for their estate to be divided equally between their children.
You think of opera and ballet as rather elite entertainments. It's likely you don't see that many plays, either.
Christmas is in the winter. Unless you're Jewish, you spend it with your family, give presents, and put up a tree.
You may think the church is too powerful, or the state is; but you are used to not having a state church and don't think that it would be a good idea.
You'd be hard pressed to name the capitals or the leaders of all the nations of Europe.
You aren't familiar with Mafalda, Lucky Luke, Corto Maltese, Milo Manara, Guido Crepax, Gotlib, or Moebius.
You've left a message at the beep.
Taxis are generally operated by foreigners, who are often deplorably ignorant about the city.
You are distrustful of welfare and unemployment payments-- you think people should earn a living and not take handouts. But you would not be in favor of eliminating Social Security and Medicare.
If you want to be a doctor, you need to get a bachelor's first.
There sure are a lot of lawyers.

Space and time...

If you have an appointment, you'll mutter an excuse if you're five minutes late, and apologize profusely if it's ten minutes. An hour late is almost inexcusable.
If you're talking to someone, you get uncomfortable if they approach closer than about two feet.
About the only things you expect to bargain for are houses, cars, and antiques. Haggling is largely a matter of finding the hidden point that's the buyer's minimum.
Once you're past college, you very rarely simply show up at someone's place. People have to invite each other over-- especially if a meal is involved.
When you negotiate, you are polite, of course, but it's only good business to 'play hardball'. Some foreigners pay excessive attention to status, or don't say what they mean, and that's exasperating.
If you have a business appointment or interview with someone, you expect to have that person to yourself, and the business shouldn't take more than an hour or so.

If this is our it evil? [We can debate the accuracy of the content at another time.] That's the first question I'd like to ask someone. And if the answer is yes...explain why please.

Paul Burleson


Les Puryear said...


Great question.

To me, culture is nothing more than the product of human work and thought. If it glorifies Jesus, great. If it doesn't glorify Jesus, then culture and Christianity are going to clash.

To my simple way of thinking, anything that does not glorify Christ is evil. I'm sure some can find some caveats for that and that's okay.

Thanks for the opportunity to comment.


Paul Burleson said...


Thanks for the comment.

My take on what is sinful/evil is whatever is not of faith. So the most mundane behavior [all things] of human beings would fit into that category, hence the need for a Faith Relationship based on the gospel/claims of Christ being established.

Then, having established that faith relationship guided by the Spirit and scripture, whatever a person does that is in faith connected to the reality of Christ is not sin. So I can enjoy my culture, as did Paul, shown by his appealing to Roman authorities as a citizen, and have confidence that my culture is not evil but simply a gift to be experienced. Thus I can enjoy many of the things listed in the post, discerning which things scripture [silent on most, unclear on others] would give me guidance concerning...some to be personally rejected...some to be personally enjoyed, but all would then be to the glory of God. [Which means..Doxa..God seen present and real.]

But to categorically condemn culture or to assume all things considered cultural are automatically sinful, which is what I seem to be hearing lately, is categorically incorrect from my personal perspective.

By the way, I've enjoyed many of your comments on other blogs of late, including this one. Keep it up.

Paul B.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking that culture is simply a reflection of the entities who are creating it. It, with this line of thought, in and of itself, isn't really good or evil. The scripture teaches us that there are none who are righteous and that a man's heart is deceitful all the time. Those who aren't with Christ are against Him. So, what is evil in this world are any who do not worship the only One worthy of worship. Culture just becomes a tool in the hand of evil to distract humanity from the One we should worship. It permits a multitude of idols to worship. On the other hand, if our eyes remain fixed on Jesus, much of culture can be a part of the enjoyment of life here and now.

By the way, I'm just old enough to know all of what is being described as American, but I daresay that you wouldn't have to get too much younger than me to find many who would say Beetle who? Archie who? etc.

Paul Burleson said...


If you were to take the first two sentences of your first paragraph and the last sentence of that same paragraph, you would have, in a nutshell, my understanding of culture. In any nation of people.

Paul B.

Bob Cleveland said...

I don't know as culture can be evil. People seem to have that market cornered.

Governments can do evil things. But it's people that do the doing.

As to our ability to reach the lost and help people deal with their lostness, if we'd all remember we are hopeless outside of Jesus and it's not really our fault, or to our credit, that He saved us, perhaps we'd lose whatever condemnation some may feel toward lost society. In order to get saved, we have to admit we were part of it, ourselves, at one time.

The only vitriol I read in what Jesus said, ever, was directed at those who misused their religion, and the temple. We'd to well to limit our vitriol to those events, ourselves.

Even at that, Jesus said to let all malice be put away from us. I guess we need to throw love, not condemnation, at lost mankind (including that evil culture if there be such an animal).

Chuck Andrews said...

Hi Paul

The description of our culture is interesting. Even, humorous at points.

I agree with your assessment of viewing culture through the lens of faith. It appears to me that if we, as Believers, were to spend our time and energy condemning our “evil” culture, we would have examples in the New Testament of Jesus, Peter, Paul, John, etc. condemning that first century Greco-Roman culture. If my understanding of history is correct it was much more openly “pluralistic” than our twenty-first century American culture.

According the scriptures, at least the way I understand them, there is no such thing as a “Christian” culture. Only individuals can become Christians. When culture is being defined as “evil” or “Christian” have we not created a social gospel? Or, maybe, it’s a religious gospel much like the one the Pharisees and Sadducees proclaimed. In the Gospels, if there was a culture Jesus condemned, it was the one that set false religious standards as a way of justifying and judging. Culture can’t do those two things, only “Christ, and Him crucified” can! And because He did, I can enjoy Him and His presence in all kinds of cultures.

Thanks, for the thought provoking question.


Paul Burleson said...


Great observations. I remember years ago hearing B.J. Thomas say when asked if he enjoyed being a "Christian Entertainer" that he wasn't. He was an entertainer that sings and was a Christian. That's what I believe, as you and I have talked about many times, there is no such thing as christian music, or christian literature, or christian business. You're correct, only people can be "christian."


You and Chuck [above] have both said something that I think is telling. The only people Jesus seemed to vent His anger on were those who were religious. It is religious people who condemn the behavior of others that seem to be the real problem in scriptures.

The bottomline so far in this discussion, it seems to me, is that culture is not evil in and of itself. If that is true, why all the hateful language about confronting culture, becoming like culture, and acting as if "culture" is our enemy?

Why don't we just view it as loving and relating to people who are a bit different in behavior than are we in some ways and being careful of our own attitudes and behavior while we're at it. All the time telling the gospel story to anyone who will give an ear to us. It seems to me that is the essence of the life of Jesus lived out in His culture. Thanks guys for weighing in.

Paul B.

Logan Mauldin said...


I believe that people are evil, and often their actions are evil. But culture, and all of it's many components, is amoral.

This is the main subject of my website. There I discuss various aspects of "culture" (movies, music, art, books, dance, advertising, relationships, etc.) from a conservative biblical viewpoint (I am a Reformed Southern Baptist) and ask how we should confront and transform culture, so that it brings glory to our Savior.

I hope you'll check it out and tell me what you think.


Paul Burleson said...


I definitely like your opening paragraph and will certainly check out your blog. I even like your name, Logan, since it's my grandson's name as well. You've got a lot going for you with me already. :)

Paul B.

Alycelee said...

IMHO culture simply mirrors the people who form it ie, be it the culture of the community, the culture of the church, the culture of a particular town/city so the degree of light or darkness would depend on the light/darkness that particular people are walking in. However concerning the people of God, we are called to "bring down strongholds."

Paul (changing the subject) any teaching on covenant theology. (at the risk of being stoned)

Paul Burleson said...


I think you're correct. Thus the folly of attacking culture as evil. People are and need to be loved into the Kingdom as they see and hear the gospel message from us.

I am studying for a new series to be presented to the Emmanuel, Enid's congregation in January which has as it's basis an understanding of the New Covenant. You've given me some thought as to future posts. No promises but some serious thinking. Thanks.

Paul B.

Anonymous said...

Acts 17 is a great chapter to look at in this discussion, especially the following verses.
26 "And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 "so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;
Acts 17:26-27 (NKJV)
There are bridges and barriers in every culture and in every heart. So I find hope in culture because God determined the times and boundaries that we all live in. There is a way to share Christ and the gospel message if we are looking for it. Often it is in the sub-cultures of a given culture that we find the most openness to the gospel. It may also be one of the most uncomfortable places for Christians to go because of the unrepentant sin nature. But our Lord went. Isn't that what Christmas is all about too? God became flesh and dwelt among us. What a culture that was.

A Pac Rim Missionary