Gateway is coming to a close tomorrow, it’s hard to believe it’s been three weeks already. Next week is Basic Safety Training (which should be tons of fun, fire fighting etc.) but before I can get there I need to complete one final assignment. Basically we’re being called upon to summarize a key concept from the week in essay, poem, or song. I think Blog post should suffice.
One of the eight goals for the week was to be able to “identify how world views, our own and those of the people we serve, can help or hinder transformational development.”
One of the most difficult aspects of this is recognizing what exactly the world view is, and whether or not the result is truly wrong (from one culture to the next) or simply different. Coming from the Northwest and academia, one primarily believes that culture is the determining force behind morals and ethics. This makes the question of whether or not to change a culture’s belief system and behaviors difficult to say the least.
I can recount various times where I felt like I must have been the crazy one in a given group because of this mentality. In an Intro to Ethics course at Eastern the debate arose as to whether or not it was wrong that a given tribe would vote as to whether or not to keep a newborn infant. If they didn’t have the resources they would take it out into the jungle and leave it to die, however if there were enough resources to go around they would keep the child.
In my mind, human life is sacred (something else we covered this week). To my ethics course classmates, in a surprisingly vocal minority if not the majority, such things are to be determined within the context where they occur. Culture. Relative to the people, it’s right to do this.
We watched a dramatization of just such a practice this week, where a village in the Amazon decided to kill two handicapped children after a storm rolled through. In their minds the storm was a direct result of the deformed children. In order to appease the spirits they demanded the parents bury their children alive. Unwilling to do so, the couple ran into the forest and committed suicide.
This left the eldest brother to do the family’s duty. He finally did so reluctantly. It was gruesome. Thankfully a younger brother saved the baby girl, and kept her alive for three years before taking her down river to a missionary outpost where her illness was easily corrected. It was a simple vitamin deficiency.
The surprising thing, I imagine, for my former classmates would be that this movie was created by a group of indigenous Christians that want the practice to end. They’re working hard to get their government to pass laws that protect children, and are taking steps of their own (rescuing and adopting unwanted, often already buried children for example).
The question for my classmates would be: if there are people within this culture who recognize the practice is wrong, what does that mean for their relative context? If there are members of that culture whose views align with our own, should we support them? If world views and cultures can change, why not work towards that? One of the quotes in the following interviews was that they want to keep the good parts of their culture, and leave the bad behind.
It’s interesting that from the outside, naturalistic view point these people must be making a rational decision that we shouldn’t judge. From the inside, that rational decision may be driven by completely “irrational” causes and beliefs. For example, one story we were told by a Congolese staff member this week involved a village going out to bury a child alive because he was sick and they couldn’t heal him.
He was suffering from malnutrition; they were out of food in the village because they had sacrificed all of it to their gods in an attempt heal him. Does their belief have negative consequences? Apparently. Should we work to change them?
Some behaviors may simply be different. Wearing a suit and tie to church being seen as a requirement, for example, isn’t necessarily wrong. It is certainly different, at least for a West Coast, non-denominational kid like me who grew up wearing flip-flops on Sundays.
In the Christian world view we believe that ideas have consequences.
One thinks that the individual life isn’t worth the potential hardship to the whole, thus children are killed to protect the needs of the group.
An opposing view would be that the individual life is highly valued. There are plenty of resources around us, let’s work hard to develop them so that no one goes hungry. Human life is worth the extra work it takes to maintain.
To say that both views and their following consequences are equally valid defies logic since they’re diametrically opposed. And even if it’s relative, what do you say to the parents who would rather kill themselves than their children? Or neighboring tribes who have ceased the practice and wish that the rest would follow suit?
Their world view directly affects their actions. This isn’t to say their culture is bad, or that they need to conform to any other. But there are moral realities ignored that should be addressed in every culture. However the roots of those behaviors are in how we view the world around us, thus effective change must come from an altering of how we see ourselves and our world. Not in a simple pushing of behavioral change.
Ultimately if you plan on altering behavior within a culture you must be aware of the paradigm through which they see things. You have to be humble, willing to learn, and ready to recognize that what they say and do may simply be different rather than wrong. Should we work to change world views? Considering that the tribes in the Amazon who practice this are dying off because they’re literally killing their own future generations: perhaps the preservation of their simple existence supersedes the importance of preserving their culture. What’s the point in preserving a community’s cultural practices if those practices will inevitably kill off the community and thus the culture we seek to preserve?
In other words, what’s more important: human culture or human lives?
You might say this is an extreme example, and yes, it’s on the extreme end. But it draws out the point: ideas have consequences. And again, I’m not saying we should change anyone’s culture but we should work to change their world view so that their culture can retain its healthy aspects yet lose the unhealthy. The tribes in the Amazon who have shed their old world view still look like any other tribe in the region, they’ve retained their cultural identity, but they’ve shed the practices that brought such fear and destruction to their midst.
Change can and should be affected in us all. The Western world view is in need of adjusting, I think my relativist friends would throw that out there right quick and I agree. If we’re in need of change, I would suggest, so are the rest.