Monday, June 13, 2016

Values, culture and racism

Culture in great part is the fruit of values. What we value shapes the way we conduct our lives. Over time a people **group with similar values will repeat certain conduct driven by those values which eventually becomes a pattern and part of that groups **culture. 

Is there such a thing as *right or wrong, good or bad culture? It depends. Many aspects of a culture are likely neutral and based on the unique talents, skills and resources distributed throughout a people group. However the degree to which our values are aligned with God's values, is the degree to which our culture will honor God. 

*I am assuming there is objective morality. Many today reject the notion of an absolute right and wrong i.e. there is no objective moral standard. If you wish to explore this issue more click here

  • A "group" can be identified by ethnicity, region, religion, vocation and any other common yet distinguishing feature of that group. 
  • Also in discussing "culture" I am including behavior patterns which can be moral, immoral or amoral.  

Certain aspects of any culture are more God honoring than others. Likewise a culture that is less inline with God's values overall will be less honoring to God than one that is. Not because we say so but because God does. 

God says, for example, loving others as we would have them love us is better (a good or higher value) then coveting or stealing our neighbors property or taking our neighbors life. 

A culture built on the former (love) honors God and is therefore superior to one built on the latter (envy, disrespect or destruction), not only morally but practically or functionally. Cultures that ignore these absolutes can (and often do) self destruct over time. 

Culture in itself is not sacred. Only God and his standard of love is. To the degree a culture embraces God's standard it becomes sacred. To the degree it doesn't it is not.

A classic illustration is when a spiritual awakening occurs within a particular people group or community. Before such an event occurs, a group might display certain characteristics that are destructive and harmful such as a high murder rate or a high level of substance-abuse, familial abuse or infidelity etc. After such an event many of these kind of behaviors either diminish considerably or altogether disappear (while those qualities which are amoral may remain). That group or community becomes more kind, more diligent in good deeds, often more stable or productive economically or experiences a reduction in crime rate. Such events have occurred to all kinds of people groups historically irregardless of race or ethnicity of the group. For some examples click here.

Culture and race are not one in the same

Though cultural values and race are often very closely connected they are distinctOne does not automatically or necessarily follow the other

To say it another way, we must identify and isolate bad behavior and distinguish it over against a supposed "bad group." There are no bad groups per se. A particular behavior on the other hand can be right or wrong within any given group. 

The standard is entirely different. Morality is the standard, not group identity. The focus should not be a group but on appropriate or inappropriate (i.e.immoral) behavior. Certain behavior is inappropriate no matter which people group participates (e.g. virtually everyone recognizes things such as lying, stealing or murder are always wrong. They undermine trust and a society can't function well without trust or morality i.e. recognition of right and wrong behavior). If we do not distinguish the two, we fall into the common mistake made today that all people within a given group are bad because a particular behavior is common to a group e.g. all cops are bad because there are some bad cops or all Latinos are gangsters because some Latino's are gangsters, or all liberals or conservatives are bad because some are bad etc. 

Many wish to connect race (or group) and culture together as if they are one in the same. They are not. Because of this if someone questions a certain aspect (behavior) of a groups culture (regardless of which group) some will cry racism when it has nothing to do with race i.e. it's not genetic it's spiritual, moral and/or philosophical i.e. what are their beliefs and values. (Keep in mind I am assuming there are absolutes i.e. there are things that are always right or wrong e.g. loving our neighbors verses desiring or stealing our neighbors stuff etc.)

For example if theft or murder or abusive domination (or whatever vice common to a group) is more statistically common within a certain people group, to point out this fact is not racial, it's moral.

Values that are contrary to who God is and who we are (as God's image bearers) corrupt any group regardless of it's ethnicity/color/race etc.

The objective standard of loving and honoring God has absolutely nothing to do with one's race or the color of one's skin and everything to do with the beliefs and disposition of one's heart. All peoples are equally able to display God's glory or not display it because all of us (regardless of race or background etc) are created in God's image.

To say it another way there is nothing innately valuable or odious about any culture simply by virtue of ethnicity or skin color. Again, determining what is good or bad culture is measured by a totally different standard than ethnicity. 

Anything within a culture that seeks to honor God should be embraced and anything that dishonors him should be abandoned, regardless of what group these qualities are or are not present in, be that western, eastern, middle eastern, African, Latin, Asian or any other culture or people group.

What made western culture flourish morally, in work ethic and materially etc over other cultures had nothing to do with the skin color of those in that region and everything to do with the influence of Gods values/standards/laws expressed in and through God's people (the church). This was a major foundation for the development of the European culture during the Byzantine period and later on in the Reformation.
Of course along with strengths were also vices. Vices and strengths are a part of all cultures depending on how closely a people group adheres to God's direction or not (vices are due to our rebellion from God's prescribed directions; virtues due to being aligned with those directions). The issue becomes which culture is more virtuous with less vices. Again we must look to an absolute standard outside ourselves to determine this i.e. to God and his law of loving him with all we are and have and our neighbors as ourselves. 
What we call "Western Culture" in turn spread to North America via the pilgrims and separatists who had a high regard for God's laws/design. This is not to say the church (made up of fallen people) was (or is) perfect but simply recognizing the nature and extent of it's more positive than negative influence.

To say it another way, if the racial make up of that same group that came to the west were for example Latin, Asian or Negro verses Caucasian, and had the same value system, the outcome would have been *exactly the same.
*There may be slight genetic variations within a given people group possibly resulting in a minor difference in how those values would have been carried out e.g. as a people group Asians tend to have higher IQ's and are smaller in stature than Caucasians. However, how much of this is environmental is uncertain. Some say 50/50, others have difference %'s. Asians growing up in the same western Europe region with the exact same environmental factors such as diet and climate etc may in fact turn out exactly the same in group characteristics similar to Caucasians (larger in stature with a slightly lower IQ). On the other hand, Caucasians living in the locations Asians lived with the same diet, my turn out smaller in stature with a higher IQ. For an interesting discussion on this particular point click here
However overall, to say one race is superior to another or preferred over another merely by virtue of race or skin color (i.e. genetics, which was the Aryan argument used by the Nazi's) is the essence of racism no matter who holds such sentiments and what color one's skin is.

The unfortunate reality is racism is generally a part of every people group and not unique to Caucasians, contrary to increasingly common assertions by the progressive side of the political spectrum.

All groups display different innate qualities genetically that are strengths or weaknesses compared to other groups (again how much environmental factors come into play, if at all, is uncertain). They are each unique and bring something unique and of value to the human family the others don't. This simply makes them different, not necessarily superior or inferior.

This is also true among siblings within a given family (which are obviously of the same ethnicity). Certainly no one would argue one child is better than another (or more or less worthy of a parents love) within a given family. But they will all have their own unique strengths or lack of them and make unique contributions.

There can be superior cultures. There are never superior races.

To give higher regard to certain values and behavior over others is good and right. To give higher regard or respect to one race over another is not (which is not the same as having a fond affection for the best things in our culture. This is normal and true of all cultures). Considering one race as superior to another is the essence of racism, regardless of which people group displays this belief. This means white's, black's, Latino's, Jews, Asians and so on can all have racist tendencies. It is the dilemma of being broken as a human race.

The biggest factor that overrides all of this is our commonality. We are all beings created in the image of God and are equally invited to be in relationship with God. To use a biblical phrase, "God is no respecter of persons" i.e. your "station" in life.

This was also recognized by the founders of America in our founding documents (though not consistently put into practice). It was because of this world view expressed within those documents that slavery was finally abolished (even though abused by many). It was followers of Christ who were the primary reason for it's eventual abolition (William Wilberforce being the leader of the abolition).

We must always pursue and embrace superior (i.e. God honoring) values but reject racism in all it's forms no matter what culture or sector of society it is found in, for all men and women are all equally in the image of God and all are created to honor God. We must equally embrace all fellow humans as God's image bearers no matter what their race or skin color.

But equally true, we must recognize and be aware there is behavior that is destructive to our fellow man, thereby dishonoring to God as well, no matter what race displays this behavior. Pointing out destructive behavior is not racial or racist, it's moral and deals with the flourishing and betterment of all men and women as well as honoring to God.

For an a discussion on racial tension and key factors needed to diffuse it click here


  1. Great article.

    Here's my take on the same topic from Nov. 2011.

  2. Thanks for sharing. For some reason I am just seeing this, so will take a look as soon as possible.


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Jim Deal