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Thomas Thompson
Thomas Thompson

Beyond Culture [Extra Quality]



The topic of "culture" and its influence on and interaction with law, politics, and gender has been a preoccupation of many scholars for decades, if not centuries. Particularly in those countries that have experienced waves of immigration from various parts of the globe, questions of assimilation, culture, and identity have been a perennial source of concern and inquiry. In the United States, where the dominant culture has been a product of European immigration, notions of race and national origin have shaped the question of citizenship and belonging, often playing a critical role in the granting or withholding of rights. Indeed, certain kinds of racial and cultural difference were deemed so immutable and so unassimilable that they led not only to the denial of citizenship, but also to the stripping of citizenship from those to whom it had been granted.' Furthermore, religious difference also played a role in the ongoing attempts by federal government to regulate minority religions, as is starkly evident in the ongoing regulation of Mormon polygamy. Today, one would be hard-pressed to find a Supreme Court opinion baldly




Beyond Culture



But the value of this insight spills beyond the single act of hiring and into the realm of employee retention. Goldberg and his colleagues parsed the data on employees who left the firm to explore who went voluntarily and who was asked to leave. They found that employees who struggled with enculturation from the outset were often fired; these were classic cases of cultural mismatch. But a second group started out as mismatches, quickly learned to fit in, and then, over time, their attachment to the firm began to weaken. Ultimately, this drifting interest often led to volitional departure.


A good example of this can be found in the way people greet each other. While the Japanese bow, Inuits rub noses. Such behaviors are taken for granted within each culture and are performed automatically. Both actions, however different, convey respect or gratitude, yet only when performed in the context of each respective culture.


So what other practices does a culture carry with it? Different cultures usually speak different languages. Some researchers have argued that the language a group speaks has a big effect on the way a group thinks.


People from Latin America or Mediterranean cultures, on the other hand, see handling disputes much differently. In general, people from these cultures try to avoid confrontation with coworkers or family members unless they feel that they must engage directly.


Cultures that communicate explicitly include those in Germany, Switzerland, the countries of Scandinavia and (although to a lesser extent) the United States. In the context of these cultures, plans are typically set clearly and plainly, using words.


If a culture is stable for a long time, people become more able to efficiently communicate, often through developing implicit signs to speed things up. But if a culture is changing rapidly, communication remains explicit, as it allows for more flexible communication.


People from cultures in the Middle East and Latin America, in contrast, tend to focus on the present moment. They often prioritize tasks on the fly, based on what is most pressing at that moment. For people in these cultures, time is flexible, and deadlines are seldom hard or fast.


In Latin America, it is understood that you might need to prioritize an issue that you feel is more pressing than your appointment. Changing plans last minute, however, is seen as rude in the US and Northern Europe, as people from these cultures expect you to plan your schedule in advance.


For the Japanese, this is a completely normal practice, and even connotes familiarity and a sense of inclusion for the guest who is being moved. Yet American and European guests, when faced with such a situation, are often shocked and insulted. Why? People from Western cultures tend to associate space with private ownership and personal status. A stranger moving your stuff is just wrong.


In Western cultures, children are trained to get ready for the job market, thus schooling is competitive and task-driven. Regular exams measure student achievement and awards are given to those who excel.


When you meet and interact with people from other cultures, your experiences will help you recognize differences in points of view and identify new perspectives on beliefs and behaviors you might take for granted. For that reason alone, this can be a rewarding, fulfilling experience.


So, what other cultural practices does a culture carry with it? Different cultures usually speak different languages. Some researchers have argued that the language a group speaks affects how they think. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis states that the way people see the world is significantly influenced by their language.


In his landmark book, Beyond Culture, Edward T Hall suggests that the three characteristics of culture are: 1) that it is not innate, but learned; 2) the various facets of culture are interrelated and thus impact each other; and 3) culture is a shared experience that defines the boundaries of a group.


Culture wars. That is what this thing is being called as American society polarizes into two camps, each employing the language of the battle field poised to gain control of the nation's public institutions. In this issue we will walk you through the culture wars debate, with some additional essays on evangelism and apologetics. You might ask what all this has to do with evangelism and apologetics? Everything! Ask the average person on the street what an evangelical is and you are likely to get stereotypical images, or portraits of TV evangelists, or particular political or ideological positions, but how likely are you to hear the "evangel," the gospel as the singular proclamation of the evangelicals.


Christianity Is Not A CultureThe first problem with the church being identified with the culture wars is a pretty basic one: Christianity is not a culture. It is a faith wrapped around a person who had a real life, a life of significance because he was God incarnate and rose from the dead as he promised. It is a system of truth claims. The gospel has succeeded in a variety of cultures and has thrived among groups maintaining vastly different values and mores, and has been just as good at reconciling socialists to God as capitalists. This past January in the wake of the inaugural festivities President Clinton gathered a group of Southern Baptists ministers to pray with him in Little Rock They assured the evangelical community and the secular media as well that President Clinton was a sound, solid, Bible believing evangelical. Why? How did they know that? They said because he even cried during the singing of some of the hymns. While all this was going on I did an interview with a Christian station in the Bible Belt and Clintons Christian convictions seemed to be the chief interest of the callers. One caller said, "Isnt that amazing! Can you believe all that? Did you hear that just the other day Jerry Falwell responded--and good for him--he responded, 'You cant tell whether a person is a Christian or not just because he cries at the hymns. I want to know what is his position on abortion!'" I replied to the caller, "No, you are both wrong. The question is what is his view of Christ. Who does he say He is?" Neither group seemed to get the point. One group is influenced by pietistic sentiment, the other by political ideology. Now one might argue that one's position on abortion must be consistent with his profession of faith, and I do believe that every Christian ought to seek the end of this worldwide holocaust, but abortion is not in the Apostles Creed! It is not an article of Christian faith!


This is why we must recover the biblical doctrine of the two kingdoms as Luther and Calvin did so clearly four and a half centuries ago. There are two kings and two kingdoms, each ruling a distinct sphere. I remember one of the leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals (N.A.E.) when Clinton was elected said, "Now what is to become of the kingdom of God" as though Clinton had anything whatsoever to do with the kingdom of God, that is, as a public official. In the kingdom of culture, what Augustine called "the city of man," there are rulers, there are laws, there are customs which are regulated by human wisdom. In the kingdom of Christ, or "the city of God," there is one ruler, our Lord Jesus Christ, and he advances his kingdom, not through marketing, not through legislation or police force, but by the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of his holy sacraments. If we confuse these two kingdoms--and we have--we will no doubt confuse evangelism with cultural,moral, and political programs.


A Grand ObstructionAnd that brings me to my second point: it is a grand obstruction for the people out there. What happens when we confuse evangelism with a particular social or political agenda? Well, we've seen it in history, haven't we, in the crusades when evangelistic texts like "Go ye into the world and preach the gospel making disciples of all the nations..." was used as a justification for political expansion and the building up of an empire. When this confusion occurs it is very difficult to convince the South African victim of apartheid, or the Jewish victim of the holocaust, or those who suffered under the pro Czar Russian orthodox church, that Christianity is not a source of political oppression. And whether or not it is true or an unfair caricature by the secular press (I tend to think it is both), evangelical Christianity is now being widely perceived as one more dying gasp of one more ally of the status quo of middle American, white, middle class culture, unwilling to let go of its power. The issue is whether we confused culture values with the gospel, not whether those values are right or wrong. Billy Graham said,


It is an error to identify the gospel any particular system or culture, that has been my own danger. When I go to preach the gospel I go as an ambassador for the Kingdom of God, not America. To tie the gospel to any political system, secular program, or society is wrong and will only serve to divert the gospel. 041b061a72


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