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4 Christian CuIture as a Culture of Hope TH ESClEN CEOFeu L T U R E-culture history; cultural morphology and the comparative study of cultures-is of very recent origin. It grew up in the nineteenth century with the development of the new social sciences, above all anthropology; and it had no place in the traditional curriculum of liberal education . But during the present century its development has been rapid, especially perhaps in Germany and in America, so that today it is no longer confined to scientific specialists but has been adopted, however superficially; by publicists and politicians and has a growing influence on modern social thought. Nevertheless there still remains a certain contradiction and confusion between this new idea of culture and the old unitary conception which is deeply rooted in our educational traditions. To the average educated man culture is still regarded as an absolute. Civilization is one: men may be more cultured or less cultured, but in so far as they are cultured, they are all walking along the same high road which leads to the same goal. The Christian Culture as a Culture of Hope 47 idea that there are a number of different roads leading, perhaps, in opposite directions, still remains a difficult idea to assimilate. Humanism, the Enlightenment and the modern conceptions of "the democratic way of life" and the "one world" all presuppose the same idea of a single universal ideal of civilization toward which all men and peoples must move. Against this we have the anthropologist's and ethnologist's conception of a culture as an artificial creation which has been constructed by particular men in particular circumstances for particular ends. The cultures are as diverse as races and languages and states. A culture is built, like a state, by the labor of generations which elaborate a way of life suited to their needs and environment and consequently different from the way of life of other men in other circumstances. The Negro in the tropical rain forest makes his own terms with life which are different from those of the herdsman of the steppes, as these terms again are different from the ways of the hunters of the Arctic. All these simple cultures have their limits set by nature. They cannot go far, but they can endure indefinitely, until their environment is changed or some external force, like a conquering race, displaces or destroys them. The primitive existence of the Eskimos or the Bushmen is in a sense timeless and has remained outside history, so that it seems to take us back to a prehistoric world. But with the higher cultures this is not so. They are essentially the children of time and of history, and the more they emancipate themselves from their primitive dependence on nature , the more closely do they become confined to the human restrictions and laws of the artificial social world that they create . We see this tendency already operating in barbarian cultures like those of Polynesia where social institutions are fortified and protected by an elaborate system of taboos which seem so inexplicable and irrational to the foreign observer. And yet the same principle is to be found in the more advanced cultures. In fact the more advanced they are, the more elaborate are the artificial rules of caste and status, of custom and law, of ceremo- 48 The Historic Reality of Christian Culture nial and etiquette with which they surround themselves. It is the great paradox of civilization that every victory over nature, every increase of social control, also increases the burden of humanity. When man builds a fortress he also builds a prison, and the stronger it is, the greater its cost in human suffering. When we look back at the civilizations of the past, we cannot fail to be impressed by their achievements. The Egyptian pyramids still stand today after nearly five thousand years as monuments of human power. But while we marvel we are appalled at the suffering and the waste of human labor that they represent . For at the heart of the pyramid there is nothing but the corpse of a despot. So too in Mesopotamia, it was from the spectacle of those vast artificial mountains or ziggurats which towered over the cities of Babylonia that the inspired writer drew his image of the nemesis of human power and pride-the curse of Babel. For whenever a culture reaches its culmination of power and social control, as in the age of...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813220420
Related ISBN
9780813209142
MARC Record
OCLC
815969435
Pages
296
Launched on MUSE
2013-02-13
Language
English
Open Access
No
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