Friday, September 23, 2005

The American Culture of Race and Religion...

In response to my post(s) on race and religion, Aaron Kinney (for whom I have a high amount of respect) commented:

"I think it’s cultural rather than racial, personally."

As he clearly states, this is his personal opinion – to which he is completely entitled, and along with which I very frequently find myself in total agreement (still undecided as to objective vs relative morality). Quite obviously, this is one of those rare times I disagree. While a simple conflict of opinion is very minor indeed, I feel this particular statement deserves further consideration.

For clarification, "cultural" needs to be defined before this point can be considered (all emphasis mine):

"cul·ture (kŭl'chər)
1. The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought."

This is a very broad, sweeping definition, and includes religion as a mere piece of a larger puzzle.

"2. These patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population: Edwardian culture; Japanese culture; the culture of poverty."

This, I feel, is more along the lines of what AK meant, but it would apply more to the African American culture as a whole, which is multi-faceted, and of which religion is only a part, no matter how big a part.

"3. These patterns, traits, and products considered with respect to a particular category, such as a field, subject, or mode of expression: religious culture in the Middle Ages; musical culture; oral culture."

This would narrow it down to what the topic is: religious culture amongst Americans, and its differences amongst blacks and whites in particular.

"4. The predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize the functioning of a group or organization."

I think this is more along the lines of 1.2 above.

If AK intended "cultural" along the lines of 2 (and 4), it just isn't particular enough.

I personally feel that some people use words like "culture" to dampen the effect when they mean "race." In fact, when it all boils down, the modern, Western concept of race is a purely social construct with no scientific validity. It can be argued (valiantly and biologically) that there is only one race - human, or Homo sapien sapiens - with an overwhelming body of supporting evidence from geneticists. From there we see that what we refer to as races are in fact just separate cultures - or, more specifically, population groupings - within that one race, essentially based on geographic separations. But we have to be real here: those different categorical groupings would be divided along pretty much the exact same lines we currently use to popularly define race. Obviously, there are distinct cultural differences between, and amongst, the races - which, by the way, allow for some flexibility (me for example) - but the similarities, although emphasized far less, outweigh the differences.

Besides, that's not what I was getting at in my post.

Due to the way history has played out we find ourselves in the current predicament: We live in a country that's overwhelmingly Christian, and divided along color lines. This is and has been a fact since non-indigenous (read: European) people first arrived, complete with cargoholds for stolen goods, resources, and lives, aspirations of colonialization and imperialism, a capacity for mass genocide and land theft, and a Bible full of atrocities to back it all up.

In my post, I feel I focused on issues that were blatantly based on, and particular to, race (in its most widely understood connotation). The curse of Canaan is based on a perceived literal translation of Noah's sons' names, specifically that Ham actually meant "black" (a priori or not). It has been accepted for years that Noah's sons we're the precursors of today's racial divisions. Canaan (Ham's son)'s curse to be a servant amongst servants (the word "servant" is used in translation throughout the Bible where the intent is no less than "slave") to the other two for all time was a major defense used by white people for enslavement of Africans.

The history of Europe's people cannot be told without tales of conquest, colonizing, and empire building or with the exclusion of Christianity. Through the first, the second was spread (whilst the second was used as the excuse for the first). Another consequence of conquest was the subsequent subjugation of the conquered by the conquerors (how's that for alliteration).

{My current personal theory is that Europe's relatively small size and lack of resources made expansion a must, and conquest a necessary evil. Both Africa and the Americas' sheer size and natural abundance provide explanation for the relative absence of these actions on each respective continent. I cannot accept that blacks and Native Americans were too ignorant or unambitious to engage in near constant war and colonization of other people's land, nor that Europeans have an innate bloodlust and greed (although for the latter it does seem to be a cultural norm). Geography of course played a major role, but I am digressing from the point at hand.}

I need not hear that white slavery was a reality or that freed blacks also held slaves, as it is essentially meaningless. It cannot be argued that the black experience in America has been anything other than one of oppression – property for over 300 years, then merely three-fifths of a (hu)man, and nothing less than a second-class citizen since. This is not debatable. The Civil Rights era was only 40 years ago. White Americans as a whole have held a position of (absolute, crushing) power from the very arrival of Europeans in 1492 (here I need not be informed that the Irish and other European immigrants were mistreated - or that pre-Columbus explorers reached the continent).

I illustrated that this relationship of subjugator and subjugated formed distinctly different views on, needs for, and practices of religion in America.

Here, culture is irrelevant. An elderly black man in Mississippi and a teenaged black girl in the Bronx (or Beverly Hills for that matter) can be, and probably are, as different as possible culturally, yet share the same legacy and most likely the same religious views. The mere fact that Christianity can be found on six continents, in nearly every nation, and amongst people of completely different backgrounds – one-third of the earth’s population – demonstrates that it is a culture all to itself which transcends and further distinguishes other cultures completely.

I fail to see how the psychological damage of a slave mentality, or the perceived and realized privilege of a master mentality, as they apply to religion, and as religion applies to them, are cultural issues.

Although, as I acknowledged, there are certain similarities on socio-economic (class) levels, there is still a major difference. A difference that gets to the heart of matters of race in America, and which is the only discernable, distinguishing characteristic of a "white culture" in America...

No matter how poor or socially excluded a white person is, they can always say, "at least I’m not black."

Atheists in an increasingly Christian dominated society should – albeit to a very, very small degree – be able to relate, or at least sympathize.


Tanooki Joe said...

Hmm.. you're a bit all over the place, but thoughtful. I don't agree completely with you, though.

DUB said...

" Hmm.. you're a bit all over the place"

A day in the mind of DUB. I have imposed a cover charge of Ritalin, Aderol, or Stratera. A.D.D. sucks.

Anyhow, this post would indeed apear quite disjointed if one had not read the original.

Maybe even then.

But to each their own - at least we atheists won't call this a schism. I won't proclaim Tanooki Joe a heretic and order an Inquistion.

We're such elitist bastards. Superior elitist bastards, but elitist bastards all the same.

Tanooki Joe said...

"A day in the mind of DUB. I have imposed a cover charge of Ritalin, Aderol, or Stratera. A.D.D. sucks."

I know that! I, too, have ADD.

Sure, we may be elitist, but we're humble about it. In fact, we're the most humble of all. No one could be more humble than us.