Bethesda-Khankho Foundation

Celebrating Cultural Differences for Global Peace (English)

We live in a world in which cultural diversities are often used to create divisions, hatred and conflicts between nations, tribes and languages. This needs to be challenged by realizing the truth that human differences are the manifestations of God’s beauty in creation, calling for peaceful co-existence and mutual enrichment.

HIGHLIGHTING THE SITUATION

The holocaust under the rule of Hitler in the 20th Century being the most horrific human experience of racial discrimination, the ethnic cleansing in the former Yogoslavia in 1990s, Genocide in Rwanda (Africa) during and after 1994, and the recent ethnic conflicts among the 'tribal' people in Northeast India proved the misunderstanding and misuse of human differences in the contemporary society.

This prompts us to ask a question, 'How different are human differences?' Can we really be sure about the cultural boundaries, separating one community from others? In other words, how should we view these differences?

It is a generally accepted position among sociologists that a racial or ethnic group does not exist on its own. Instead, it emerges in a given context of the people concerned in response to their socio-political, economic and religious contexts. Therefore, it is not static but fluid and dynamic! Similarly, the notion that race shares in physical appearance as well as temperament ability and moral qualities is no longer accepted. Besides, the belief that physical and moral qualities of a race are preserved through racial descent is also untenable. For these reasons, we can say that boundaries of ethnic identities are not ready-made given to us. Instead, they are defined and re-defined, reflecting the people's socio-political and cultural context within which it emerges.

There are two factors that prevent us from seeing this fact. One, Self-deception: It is a misunderstanding self, thinking that you are this or that but, in reality, you are not. You think you are the best of all who is to be loved but in reality you are not more precious than others. In a self-deception, one also thinks that the God she/he worships is the God of him alone. The result of this is ethnic conflicts and violence. Two, Failure to recognize others: Peaceful coexistence with others is at stake when we do not recognise others. In fact, we cannot think of living with other people when we do not see them, their lives, their gifts and their worth. Most of the times, we look down ward and when we do that we see only our feet. We do not see what is there around us. By doing so we enslave ourselves with our own needs. We put ourselves in our own shells. Often we are like a frog in a well which thinks that the world is all that it sees within the well. Often we run into problems of pride and conflicts because of our own ignorance, ignorance of the lives, talents and worth of others. We think others are a threat, a threat to our existence, a threat to our privileges so on. We build walls around ourselves thinking that separating from otherse is the way ensure our security not realising that our security is in the hands of others. Failure to recognize others leads to suspicion, division, hatred and violence. Common challenges faced in multicultural contexts are superiority complexes, failure to respect and accept others as they are, and suspicion and lack of trust in others.

A THEOLOGICAL/BIBLICAL REFLECTION

Looking at the issue of differences and diversities from a Biblical perspective, it is clear that differences and diversities are God’s own design and it is with a purpose.

Concerning the origin of different languages, Gen.11:7-9 says, ‘there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.’ The differences of language were created at the Tower of Babel. These differences have grown so much that today linguists have identified more than 5000 totally different language groups in the world. Some countries have many such ethnic groups within their borders. Nigeria, for example, has more than 400 ethnic groups living within the same political border.

From God’s point of view, each of these language-culture groups is a separate nation of people that need to know the Good News of Jesus Christ (Acts 17:26, Mtt.28:19-20). Also, Revelation 7:9 refers to ‘the multitude of people’ as coming from every nation, tribe, people and language praising the name of Christ. At the same time, nowhere in the Bible do we see that there is distinction among the ethnic groups. It is true that the Israelites were chosen by God (Rom 9:4-5), but this not to say that they were superior to others. In fact the Bible says that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28). Divisions in the church based on ethnic backgrounds are sin against God. In dividing God’s people, one grieves the Holy Spirit. Human pride and the feeling of superiority often cause division among the believers and this is sin against God (Prov.16:5). God’s purpose as recorded in Rev 5:9-10 is that every tribe and language and people and nation recognize the Lord and worship Him. The focus is not on who is higher or lower but rather, it is the beauty of diversity displayed in the church.

PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS

  1. Knowing oneself: If I ask you a question, ‘who are you’ what will be your answer? You might answer me by saying, 'My name is XYZ,' but XYZ is only your name, not you. What were you before you were given a name? The question is ‘Who’ is you or ‘What’ is you?

Ask a theologian, and most probably s/he will say ‘you are the handiwork of God, created in God’s image’ and so you are human being. But if you ask for detailed information regarding how you were created, you will not get an answer. Ask a scientist, and s/he will say ‘you are a vast colony of atoms’. You are made of about one hundred thousand cells. Each cell is made of fifty thousand millions of atoms. And atoms are formed by myriad particles and waves. These atoms were part of stars. So you were once part of the stars, and so you are a mystery! In his highly acclaimed introduction to Einstein, Lincoln Barnett wrote in 1957 “Man’s inescapable impasse is that he himself is part of the world he seeks to explore” (Humility p 14). The famous Cambridge astronomer, Sir Arthur Eddington writes, “the universe worth studying is the one within us” (Humility p14). We do not know fully who we are or what we are. We are still in the process of knowing ourselves. We only think that we know who we are but in reality we do not yet know many things including ourselves. So, do we have a room for pride and arogance?

  1. Knowing others: Who are others? What are they to us? Do we know them well?

Sometimes, we misunderstand others, thinking that they are lower because of their backgrounds. In a similar way, we also think of some as higher because of their backgrounds. The practice of caste system is a good example. In this system no matter how brilliant you may be, how talented you can become, your future is already decided when you are born. Caste system is already banned by the law of India. But treatment based on caste is still happening. In fact, this can be practised by anybody at any time, right here. When I look at some of you as lower or higher because of your backgrounds I am practising caste system. And by practicing this, I am practising Hinduism, and then the question comes, ‘Am I a Christian?’

We need to know that every human person is created in God’s image. Everyone is equally valuable and important. Everyone is unique in some way or the other. God gives different talents with a purpose according to His own plan and desire. Neglecting the gifts of others or neglecting others as people is sin against the God who has plans and purposes in their lives. Therefore, it is a serious mistake to disvalue others. What we need is recognition, acceptance and community. Our security, our well-being, and future depend upon how well we know and relate to others. One must have thought that the security of the WTO Twin Towers was in the hands of the organization with the support of money but it was not. The security was in the hands of the terrorists/others. Know the importance of others in your life. The Africans say, ‘I am because we.’ You are important for my well being, for my survival, and for security.

  1. Knowing God: How do we know God? Can we know our Creator? If we can know God can He be the God who created us? The question is ‘can a creature know his creator?’ These questions arise when we talk about knowing God.

But, for our interest here let me put it in this way,‘what does it mean to be knowing God in the context of violent solution?’ In this case, we need to connect the salvific death of Christ with the fall of human beings for which Christ died as the redemption. The death of Christ was the result of the fall. The fall took place because of the sin of Adam and Eve which was because of their selfish desire to be like God himself, meaning pride, self-centredness, ego and disobedience. In other words, pride was the root cause of the fall of humanity. Now if pride was the root cause of the fall, then the salvific death of Christ needs to deal with this pride.

The Bible tells us that God incarnated in a human form in the person of Jesus, and his believers called him the Christ. This Christ, though the Christ, died on the cross. Phil 2:6f says ‘[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness … He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.’ In dealing with pride God shows the apposite way. He emptied himself. He gave up his self, his own will, his own desire and ego. He gave up his own SELF.

It is clear that ‘humility’ is the key to peace. Humility is not humiliation. Humility is recognising and accepting our finiteness as human beings. It is also recognizing the Lordship of Christ in our life. Also, humility is a total dependency on God for everything. 1 Pet 5:1-7 clearly speaks out the importance of humility. Verses 1 – 5 are advice for the elders saying (vs 3) ‘do not be lords over your followers. But be examples to them.’ The point is that ‘we should not be boasting’ around, thinking that we are better than others. In Verses 6 – 7, the author advises the young people and says ‘humble yourself’. Where, how and when to humble? He says, ‘under the hands of God.' This again is to recognize one’s own situation of need and make a conscious choice to be submitted to God, accepting His lordship over us. This is a true and profound self-realization. This realization is a realization of nothingness of our ourselves without God as well as a realization of somethingness of us with God. It is a total dependency on God for everything and this is a humbling experience.

If God created the human differences and diversities and He created them in His will and purpose, how can we say, 'it's not good'?