Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Ever-Pervasive Wider Culture

I’ve been reading “Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties: Mennonite Pacifism in Modern America” by Perry Bush, one of the required texts for the Biblical Foundations of Peace & Justice class I’m taking this semester.

I don’t know if the book would be interesting to non-Mennonites, but it has really helped provide me with a solid context for modern Mennonite thought, and has also been a reminder of how modern culture has become so pervasive. A hundred years ago, Mennonites and other groups could remain in isolated enclaves with very different values and customs from the rest of society. Now, everyone engages and interacts with the wider culture, and it is very hard to retain values that go against that wider culture.

For instance, the values of non-violence and simple living are extremely hard to maintain within the wider cultural values of mass consumerism and militarism that are so powerful today. I was struck that if we are not careful, it would only take one generation for our peace witness to go the way of simple dress and Quaker use of “Thee and Thou”. We can’t merely tread water on cultural issues that we think are harmful – we have to actively swim upstream or we will simply be carried down the river. And even if we are able to tread water, our children will not if we are not actively engaging them and teaching them these values.

On the other hand, interaction with the wider culture can also bring about positives. When Mennonites were forced out of their isolation, they discovered others in the world who had great need, and as a result, felt that they had a Christian obligation to respond with service to those needs. Even later, they found that merely doing individual acts of service to others was not entirely enough. You can help people best by being in a continuing relationship with them, and also by advocating for social policies that reduce their needs in the first place.

Anyway, as someone who grew up immersed and embraced by American middle-class white culture, it was illuminating to see how easy it is to lose positive aspects of smaller communities in the wider culture, and how hard it is to attempt to move the wider culture in better directions.

1 comment:

The Decider said...

This book costs $48 new on Amazon. (Luckily, they have used copies for about seven bucks.) I should talk to you sometime about my East Bend project. There is a chapter about Two Kingdoms...