Monday, August 3, 2009

religion-culture-geography

_5200711   My world  religions professor used to say "unless you can see how someone could believe a particular thing, you have not studied it enough."  It is all to often that I  hear something to the effect of. "how could anyone be so stupid to believe that?!"  While this comment smacks  of arrogance, it betrays an underlying ignorance.  Ever heard someone say that?  Perhaps about Mormons, Postmodernism, Islam, or animism?  At the base of this statement is an ad hominem.  The persons intelligence or lack thereof neither proves nor disproves a particular belief.  What is really being said is "I don't understand your belief system.  it is easier to call you an idiot and affirm in my mind that you are wrong than it is to actually listen, learn, process, and engage."  Most people cannot understand how someone could be LDS.  This is because they have not studied the issues enough.  They don't understand the cultural issues and pressures.  Having grown up nearly neo Amish, I can completely understand how someone can be LDS, especially if they grow up in it.  I completely disagree; but I completely understand it as well.  My understanding of LDS changes my approach. It releases me from the need to "get them off my doorstep" and actually treat them like real _5310898people.

The real point of the post is not to talk about religion but about culture shock and ethnocentrism.  People go from one culture to another, don't see what the locals see in their food, climate, culture, etc. and make lots of arrogant "you people" kind of statements.  What is true of religions is true of cultures and countries.  I recently experiences someone who moved to my town from the middle east.  He missed his home country and was experiencing culture shock.  I had him over for some texmex, and, though he didn't say anything, he hated it.  He would make remarks about how much better his town is than mine.  After so much of this, out of concern for him, I almost suggested he return. _6061384 I realize Americans do this wherever we go.  We eat their food.  But when we get home, we enjoy the satisfaction of "real food" with people who "really know how to cook."  No doubt my friend felt the same way.

So, here is my observation: unless we understand how someone could live in a certain place, relish a certain food, and subscribe to a certain culture out of love for these things, we have not been there long enough, studied it enough, and experienced it enough.  In my previous job I did quite a bit of traveling.  My company operated in the gulf coast states as well as the rockies and parts of the west.  I would travel to oil field towns and think to my self "wow! how could anyone live here."  {That is actually exactly what I thought of Houston right after we moved back from Scotland...  Now I miss it every time I am gone.  I miss the traffic, the rude driving, the bums, the illegal's, the sprawl, the noise.  I miss it all.}  The problem with my view of these places was that I would come in for three days and be gone.  Riverton Wy was _5160488one of these places.  It looks like any other oilfield town-ugly and purely utilitarian.  I hated it.  It gets to 40 below in the winter, not to mention it has 9 months of hard winter.  This last summer I was tired of being treated like a terrorist in the airports.  I talked my company into letting me drive and renting me a 5th wheel trailer.  I brought my family and we stayed out the entire summer.  We drove 10,000 miles a month, and loved it.  We stayed the longest in Riverton.  After experiencing life there, I can now see how people would live there.  They go big game hunting in the fall.  They drink beer and shoot prairie dogs on the weekends.  They ATV and snowmobile religiously.  I loved certain aspects of their life and territory.  I still could never live where it gets below 0 for months, but I can see the lure. 

I now look at new places, foods, music, and cultures this way.  Everyone was shocked when I signed up to head overseas.  They act as if life is somehow over if you move somewhere out side USA.  How will you hav_6061345e kids over there?  What will you eat?  Where will you live?  These are common questions from shocked friends, families, and church members.  My logic is that the whole earth belongs to God.  The other side is just as inhabitable as this side.  The food is just as edible, and life is just as sustainable.  Think about the other side of the world... billions of people are making it somehow.  Perhaps we should drop the "you people" complex and sit a while with an open mind.