Saturday, January 30, 2010

Cultural Faith

My train travel companion for nearly 34 hours was a Wing Commander in the Indian Air Force.  From Chennai to New Delhi the WC talked almost non-stop.  Thank goodness he did rest long enough to let us get some sleep in the night.  Interesting fellow, nevertheless, and I found him a very likeable person.

As usual, when people ask me what I do for a living the discussion turns toward philosophy and religion.  As a teacher in intercultural studies it’s impossible not to touch on faith as it is a part of worldview, values and a whole host of other issues.  And, like most people,  WC wanted to tell me more about his views on these matters than listen to mine.  I find such encounters interesting and see them as learning moments of culture and people.  What I learned from the WC was that he is basically an agonistic, has always grown up with wealth and privilege, enjoys his family (2 kids, one wife), has no real financial worries now or in the future, likes to drink, smoke and play golf.  He is a “clean shaven” Sikh, married to a Hindu and will go to the temple or Gurdwara  only if he has to.  The WC is the classic case of cultural faith.

Sometime back I met an American who who had visited India.  As we talked he said he just couldn’t understand how reasonable, intelligent people can worship idols.  I reminded him that every faith looks and feels weird to non-believers.  Jesus certainly seems like a strange myth to Hindu’s. He confessed that he, too, had problems with the Lord’s death and resurrection.  After my train ride I thought that of that conversation with the American and that he is probably not any different than the WC – a product of cultural faith.

Yesterday I was reading a blog of someone I know in the U.S. who is now living with a man though not yet divorced.  Her comment was that she knows that she is living in sin, but she is so happy.  The assumption is if you’re happy God doesn’t care, but why would she admit she was living in sin?  Is the faith of a Christian so anemic that we can by-pass morality, or has cultural religious relativism so permeated our thinking that it’s not really what God thinks that is important but how I think He should think about my faith, no matter how I behave?

And what about my own faith?  Do I truly believe that this Jesus I proclaim is so necessary for all humanity it’s worth being away from my family half of each year?  Or am I just a religious coolie peddling my wares for a monthly income?  Am I, also, such a product of my culture that I only see God’s hand when it suits my taste, or is He a part of the process of my life trying to break through my cultural bias and assumptions?  The greater question, am I (or you) a product and part of a Divine intervention that through time and space is a great narrative for all eternity to observe?  Or like so many, am I, we, just a result of cultural faith, blissfully ignorant of eternal reality, hoping for the best?