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The Dismantling of Culture

I may be the perfect candidate to muse on the dismantling of culture primarily because I am so culturally compromised.

Ethnically I am 100% German with roots so close to the old country that my mother spoke German as her first language.

But as she came to age during the dawning of World War 2 she abandoned all vestiges of Teutonic culture she was raised with, including ever speaking her native tongue again, enlisted in the military and ended up in San Diego for the rest of her life.

On my father’s side I had a great uncle who fought with the American doughboys in the trenches of the First World War and was gassed. (I met him only once but still remember his odd warbled voice that came from ruined vocal chords due to mustard gas.) In addition I had another great uncle who fought on the German side and, from what I have been told, was shot off the deck of a primitive tank.

This, I have found, is a fairly typical commentary for Americans as most of us had family members that came from somewhere else on the globe.

My childhood was further eroded of ethnic culture by the fact that my adopted three sisters were of different race and culture; American Indian, Hawaiian/Filipino and Mexican. Which in the 50’s created amazement or curiosity when we all went somewhere.

I grew up in Southern California's surf saturated world where we talked in surfing Ebonics and where most of us favored Mexican food. In some regards, if I were to claim a culture, this would be it: So Cal beach culture circa 1950’s- 60’s.

But I complicated a complicated ethnicity even more by marrying a Japanese girl and producing mutant children who have no idea what culture they should identify with.

But the thing that really messed up any of my claims to culture the most was becoming a Christian.

You see, claiming a culture is a big thing for most people. It gives us roots, an identity and a way of seeing the world and others in it.

This is a bit tough for Americans as many of us are numerous generations away from the immigrants who came to this country and over the years a lot of us have become mutts in the term of Pedigree.  In addition, American culture is a vampire that feeds off of the best of all the various cultures that have taken root on our shores. Still, we grasp for something we can call our own. Something that tells us who we are and what values we should hold in esteem. And if our heritage doesn’t give us that, well we can find it in some subgroup that has carved out it’s own cadence within a larger civilization.

But regardless of what shreds of culture I wanted to wrap myself in, I found that sooner or later Christianity became an enemy to my culture.

Where I wanted exclusivity, Christ wanted inclusion.  Where I wanted a sense of pride, Christ wanted a sense of humility. Where I wanted personal identity, Christ wanted emptiness of self and identity with God.

Cultures, by nature divide people into “us and them”. And cultures can be quite ugly. The private joke of those who rest their laurels on their wonderful culture is the fact that most of the time they are very selective about what is celebrated in any culture adopted. 

For example, the Hawaiians are proud of their Aloha spirit, their music, their land and dance but they have leeched out of their culture the horrific barbarism, wretched caste system and bloody violence that coexisted with it for centuries.  They allow for the romanticism of the little grass shacks they once lived in but are loath to mention that those shacks had to be burned to the ground from time to time because of the fleas that constantly plagued their inhabitants.

Ditto for just about any other culture still clinging to survival on earth.

Because of this constant positive revision of the history and tenets practiced by all societies and the fact that cultures are not static but constantly changing, especially the moment they touch another culture, the act of saturating one’s self in a culture is almost comedic.

And it is precisely here where Christianity becomes dangerous to a culture. Christianity allows us to celebrate the good and joyful of any culture but does so not because the culture itself good but itself because the thing being celebrated is in harmony with the culture of Christ.

This is the reason I can, with reckless abandon, enjoy Halloween, Thanksgiving, Birthday parties and the good things imbedded in all kinds of other trappings of modern American culture.

But much of the time Christianity is, screw by screw, dismantling any culture it infects.

The Kingdom of Heaven has it’s own unique culture. It is a culture that does not change values over time, a culture that is always right, always just, always good and almost always at odds with earthly cultures.

The culture of Rome was largely dismantled by Christian culture, so have countless smaller societies all around the world and of course it is this fact that makes anthropologists livid.

Nevermind that before Christianity had infected it an Amazon tribe would steal women from other tribes and if caught in the act, would engage in the tortuous “girl pull” between the thieves and the other tribe. (I saw footage of this horror as a young man).

Never mind that some cultures very much need to largely dismantled by Christ.

God will leave no culture alone. He will gut it of evil and recast it in his image.

Perhaps those who come from deep, rich cultural heritage have a much harder time navigating within the Kingdom of Heaven than those of us with only shards of cultural history or one that we have cobbled together out of remnants of other cultures.

I do know this, in the end all cultures, the decent ones, the ridiculous ones and the evil ones will only be found in the dustbin of history…all but one.


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Rick is a writer and illustrator who serves as teaching pastor at Kauai Christian Fellowship. He lives with his wife, kids, a weenie dog and a quiver of surfboards in Poipu, Hawaii.