Cultural Relativity?

I have a confession to make. I used to be what is called, kindly at best, a “packrat.”

packrat

I kept way too much stuff that was never used, just because I owned it, and had enough space to keep it, out of sight, out of mind. But over twenty years ago, I shook the addiction. Reading several books by this author really helped.

clutter

clutterfree

I was really proud of myself!

But now I have another confession to make. Although I downsized my physical clutter “in the real world” of my physical home, I’ve kept a huge stash elsewhere…in the form of “digital packratting.” I have many gigabytes of old digital documents, photos, and more, stashed in folders inside folders inside folders…inside my laptop and several external harddrives and thumbdrives.

Including some email and Internet forum posts from as long ago as 1996. Which brings me to this blog entry.

A few nights ago I was feeling restless, trying to think of something to write about for one of my blogs, and coming up with nothing. So on a whim, I decided to plug in an old external hard drive backup containing the files from my previous laptop, and just randomly rummage. It’s kind of like going up in your great granny’s attic and looking in old steamer trunks to see if you can maybe find something fun, like a “flapper dress” from the 1920s.

No flapper dresses in my files. But I did find a document with the material I am going to share below, an artifact from a long-forgotten “thread” on a forum I participated on back at the time.  Much of the content of the forum was related to biblical topics, which is why the mention of biblical passages and history in the material below. The post wasn’t really all that old, actually, just from 2012. I hadn’t saved the whole thread itself. I had just copied and pasted into a Word document one man’s comment to me, and my response to him, as I thought I might find some use in the future for my thoughts at the time.

Then I promptly forgot about it, until spotting the title of the document in an old folder this past week. Curious what I had written, I pulled it up on my screen. And discovered that it is just as applicable today as the day I wrote it. Especially given the current climate in America related to the desire by many to “Make America Great Again.”

In summer 2012 I had first learned the “back story” of the infamous Cherokee Trail of Tears episode in America’s history. By the time I wrote the forum post below, I had turned my research on the topic into a series of blog entries, and had shared a link on the forum to that material. (I recently turned that series into a docu-commentary. I will append a link to that, at the end of this blog entry.)

Below is the response (just as he wrote it) of a man named Jim to the posting of that material. And below that is my reaction to his comments. Perhaps you will find it as timely as I did.

Jim wrote …

The travesty done to the Cherokee was great. I am part of the eastern tribe. The reality is that although they hid in the hills, I think the eastern tribe fared better than those who survided the trail of tears. I don’t idolize the good old days in the US. Gold and greed had a lot to do with “manifest destiny.” But have you studied European history for that time? Have you looked at the Ottoman empire. Some times it is good to compare and contrast apples to apples by looking at the same time frame. Yes, the south kept slaves, but look at how slaves were treated in general in the south verses how they were treated in the ottoman empire at the same time.

Jim is the one who introduced the topic of “the south” and “slavery” totally out of left field into this discussion. I had not written anything about those at the time. My article had been totally about the Trail of Tears and Native Americans. I would guess that he was very uncomfortable about the implications of the Trail of Tears episode, but couldn’t come up with an example from other nations that seemed relevant, so chose to shift the topic to slavery so that he could make his comparison as effective as he could. Rather than insist on bringing the issue back to the Trail of Tears, I chose to just go along with his analogy in offering a response.

I wrote:

No, Jim, I do not find comparing our “Founding Fathers” and our early citizenry to the Ottomans at all helpful.  In the same way, the ancient Assyrians were REAL horrific when it came to what they did to captive peoples—various gross types of torture including hooks in their jaws and all that … but in the Bible the prophets never suggested that God commanded the Israelites to compare themselves to the Assyrians and gloat over how much “nicer” they had been throughout their history. They were to compare themselves to what they had been taught were God’s ways, not the ways of the heathen.

My concern is that MY country has claimed to have been “founded on Christian principles,” that its culture is allegedly “based on the Bible.”   The great, giant genius minds  who wrote the brilliant, vaunted Founding Documents of the nation…just what part of the Golden Rule were they too “primitive” to “really understand”?

My concern is that MY country at its very beginning proclaimed for the whole world to hear that ALL men were created equal, and had the right to life, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness. (No, neither the Assyrians NOR Ottomans proclaimed that.)

My concern is that many of MY Christian friends have bought into the idea that God really did pick the United States of America out for “blessings” and heaped them on us throughout the past 250 years … blessings of a high Gross National Product and the most powerful Military Industrial Complex that ever existed. And that these blessing specifically came because of our basic record of Christian values and behavior of leaders and the majority of citizens in the country throughout all our history.

My concern is that so many in my generation … Baby Boomers… are convinced that they, and their parents–of the so-called “Greatest Generation”– were at the height of this blessing … in the Fabulous Fifties … and that some awful people in later generations (that of my daughter and grandchildren) have “turned away God’s favor ” from this country because of 1. Abortion,   2. Gay marriages,  and 3. Maybe the threat of laws prohibiting the private ownership of AK47s.

Want to compare ourselves with other historical groups? OK. The Romans were HORRIBLE about not just abortion, but infanticide. Unwanted newborns were put BY THEIR FATHERS in urns and set by the side of the road—to either die of starvation, or be picked up by strangers and taken to be personal slaves. Sometimes breaking their little limbs so that they would become deformed that they might be used as “jesters” and such.  So maybe our record of killing unborn babies isn’t so bad in comparison??

NONSENSE.  There are so many areas in which we would reject that type reasoning of what you might call “Cultural Relativity”–judging the seriousness of your own evil actions “relative” to the actions of some group you consider “worse” than yourself. We rightly reject that kind of relativity!

PLEASE … are we REALLY aiming at using Cultural Relativity to evaluate—and somehow excuse—our own country’s record of problems?? We would deny that with vehemence if another country tried to do so…such as Germany regarding the Nazi era of its history.

Jim, most people of our country are utterly ignorant of what was done to the Cherokees. And are utterly ignorant about a huge amount of other gross injustice in our history, including mass audiences for lynchings in American city squares that involved mind-bogglingly gruesome torture, and sometimes burning the victim alive, while men, women, and children looked on and laughed and cheered. In the lifetime of my grandparents. This isn’t “ancient history,” Jim.

In their ignorance many Americans idolize evil men from out of our past who do not deserve their admiration. I do not believe that is healthy. Nor does it engender TRUE patriotism—TRUE love of country. Surely we don’t want BLIND patriotism, such as the masses in Nazi Germany indulged in, do we??

I propose that we just be HONEST about the dark parts of our history, admit that indeed things were AWFUL at times, quit making excuses that some other country or people in some other time were worse, REPENT for the evil, rejoice in and be proud of those things that we can find that were TRULY good in our history , and then get on with encouraging different and better choices in the future.

If you want someone to speak smooth things about our history, don’t come to me.  I love my country too much to whitewash its record. I love it too much to do to it what the false prophets of ancient Israel did to their people.  They lied about what God thought about evil. God never sent prophets to tell a nation how much better it was than some other heathen nations  … that didn’t even claim to know  him. He sent prophets to tell the truth, and to call HIS people to a higher standard. A standard full of admonitions about caring for the poor, the downtrodden, the orphan, the “stranger.”  The Bible is full of this message. Surely we don’t think it was just a message to ancient Israel, or that needs to be sent “out” to other nations. If those who self-identify as Christians in America are a “people of The Book,” then the messages are to them. I say those Christians had better heed them.

I would add now in 2016…

A case could no doubt be made that the typical tactics of Attila the Hun and his hoardes were more numerous and more heinous than the worst of any atrocities done in America. But would we really want to “advertise our country” to the world with a poster like this?:

attila

Here is the link to my video docu-commentary on the Trail of Tears.

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5 Responses to Cultural Relativity?

  1. Pingback: Cultural Relativity? | StarrTrekking

  2. Pingback: Cultural Relativity? | Currently StaRRing …

  3. Steve Carson says:

    If you travel US highway 74 between Lumberton and Wingate NC you’ll see something totally ironic. Part of the road is called the American Indian Highway. Followed by the Andrew Jackson Highway. Every time I’m on that road I wonder at the ignorance.

  4. tom bass says:

    The proclamation all men are created equal.
    Exists with truth that all men do not behave the same.

    i think of Cecil B DeMille in the movie theTen Commandments.

    There are many Among Us even to this day that purpose to corrupt us all for their fun and profit.

    May God give you the insight from the past to expose those that exist today.

    amen

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