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  • Writer's pictureGODVERSITY

How Real Christians Can Change Our Culture For The Better

First of all, we live off culture, it feeds us, it carries us along, it makes communication possible, we hand it on to other people, to other generations, through words, gestures and actions. It expresses and communicates our identity and that of the people we interact with. It is what we have in common; in fact culture is what makes the ‘we’ possible.

Faith of course is a central concept for Judaism and Christianity (see O’Callaghan 2016, 307-319). In general terms, it denotes trust, belief or confidence, whether in reality, in other people, or ultimately, in the divine.

The very possibility of there being ‘faith’, however, begs the question of the trust-worthiness of the reality or person we believe in. Faith in someone or something unworthy of it is by definition misplaced. In other words, the dynamics of faith are determined more by its object (the one believed in) than its subject (the one who believes). In the context of Christian religion, the entire profile and dynamics of faith is determined by the One we believe in, God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Lord, Creator of the universe and Saviour of humanity. If God did not exist then there is no real place for religious faith. Even ‘faith in man’ would be meaningless. If God were different than he is, then ‘faith’, such as it is, would take on a correspondingly different profile. If divinities of one kind or another existed but were considered grasping, greedy or envious (as in polytheistic religions), then faith would at best be generic, at worst empty. In real terms, humans would relate to the divine not through faith, but perhaps through ‘collaboration’ or ‘negotiation’.

All in all, it can be said that faith is possible and meaningful because God is ‘trustable’. In effect, one of the key terms the Bible applies to God is that he is ‘faithful’… and the faith of creatures is possible because in the first place God is faithful in his actions and words to the Covenant he established with humans, being at once all-powerful, good and merciful. And in the New Testament the same idea is to be found: God is omnipotent Love, and therefore is worthy of unreserved faith. If God was not faithful then faith would dwindle, slump and die. In other words, faith is not ‘our’ contribution to a religious life, ‘our’ trusting attitude towards ultimate reality… Rather it is the adequate response of humans to a faithful, loving God who reveals himself to us, who infuses the light of his life into our hearts. In that sense it makes no sense to speak of ‘faiths’ in the plural: there is only one ‘faith’ because there is only one God. There are different religions, because God created us as religious beings, “in his image and likeness” (Gn 1:27). But there is only one faith, because there is only one God who reveals. In the letter to the Ephesians Paul says that there “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ef 4:5). “If faith is not one, it is not faith”, to cite Gregory the Great (In Nativ. Domini Sermo, 4, 6).

Interestingly, the terms ‘faith’ and ‘culture’ in the modern and Christian meanings were absent on the whole from the lexicon and world-view of the ancient world.

The Greeks spoke of faith (pistis) in a religious context, but gave it very little weight, in keeping with the nature of the divinities it was directed towards (Silva 2014, 3, 760–72, s.v. π´ιστις). Gnostics took it that faith was the destiny of inferior human beings, whereas the spiritual ones enjoyed gnosis, that is, pure knowledge that dispensed with faith. Fides for the Romans was important in a legal context, but is virtually absent in a religious one (Glare 1968, 697f., s.v. fides).

Our term ‘culture’ derives from the Latin term cultura, which referred in antiquity to cultivation or tending, mainly of the soil. Only in the 16th century was the term applied to the cultivation of the mind and its faculties, or of manners and human behaviour. Obviously this was possible because humans were seen to be agents of their own existence and, indirectly, of that of others. Modern thought is structured, according to Guardini (1940, 1–9) around three magnitudes: nature, subject and culture. Nature, what we encounter or what is given to us, is transformed by the human subject, and this is what produces culture.

From the time of the Renaissance onwards, however, the subject is commonly perceived as superior to and autonomous with respect to nature. As a result, culture, produced by the subject, is itself seen to be superior to nature, ultimately occupying its place. More and more in fact does ethical reflection come to refer to nature at a merely material level, but to culture at a formal one, a position that culminates in the writings of Kant (Fassò 1966, 2, 375–90). Humans are meant to transform the world, freely following each and every desire and imagination, setting aside the constrictions of nature. Corporal and cosmic nature offers them the ‘prime matter’ as it were, but they are the ones to determine the meaning, consistency and purpose of things: humans become ‘creators’ of the world. Perforce, ecology becomes an issue.

In brief, ‘faith’ is meaningful because God is God, culture is possible because humans are not just part of nature, but are both free and social. One and the other would have a very different meaning and profile if God or man were not as they are.

Yet both faith and culture involve two inseparable elements: transmission and content. Both are received, assimilated and handed on from one generation to the next, faith often transmitted as culture, and culture on the basis of ‘faith’. And both have a content, a vision, a doctrine, an intuition, that stands in need of interpretation and comprehension. Faith which arises from divine revelation, and culture which springs from the human spirit, invariably interact with one another.

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