Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cultural Object Lesson

The online Wall Street Journal (link below) has a fascinating article that you might be tempted to bypass just because of the title: “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”. Don’t do that. The author, Amy Chua, is exactly the sort of “native witness” we need to help us get a better grasp on just how different Biblical culture is from ours.

Chua’s native Chinese culture is of course not an exact match for the Biblical world, but that’s not quite the point. I cal upon such native witnesses as much to open minds as to draw analogies. Too many – whether Skeptic or Christian – assume that Western thoughts and values are a) universal, and b) if they’re not, it’s because everyone else hasn’t caught up yet. That isn’t the case at all.

I won’t spoil the fun by quoting the article extensively, but its main focus is on how different parenting is from one cultural situation to the next – especially when it comes to education. I’ll just select a point that relate to apologetics issues I have discussed:

Chinese parents can get away with things that Western parents can't. Once when I was young—maybe more than once—when I was extremely disrespectful to my mother, my father angrily called me "garbage" in our native Hokkien dialect. It worked really well. I felt terrible and deeply ashamed of what I had done. But it didn't damage my self-esteem or anything like that. I knew exactly how highly he thought of me. I didn't actually think I was worthless or feel like a piece of garbage.

As an adult, I once did the same thing to [my daughter], calling her garbage in English when she acted extremely disrespectfully toward me. When I mentioned that I had done this at a dinner party, I was immediately ostracized. One guest named Marcy got so upset she broke down in tears and had to leave early. My friend Susan, the host, tried to rehabilitate me with the remaining guests.

This is not only an illustration of honor and shame and how it works differently – it’s also a fairly good example of why we shouldn’t be so judgmental about Biblical texts that seem as offensive to us. (Chua rightly notes that “Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem” whereas Chinese parents “assume strength, not fragility…” That is one assumption we can be sure held true in the Bible’s agonistic world as well.)

For extra amusement, read some of the (sometimes bigoted) comments by some of the shocked Westerners reading the article. They sound an aeful lot like fundy atheists at times.

Article here.

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