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How Do Culture and Christianity Relate to Each Other?

Christianity is often claimed to have a significant influence on Western civilization and culture. Some scholars even consider Christianity the creative force that shaped the world into its current condition. For example, Lobkowicz (1991) argued that “only a culture with faith in one transcendent God had the capacity to demystify nature” (p. 374). As such, Christianity can be perceived not merely as a religion, but a sustainable cultural paradigm that evolved and survived through millennia. However, identifying oneself as a Christian person implies adhering to certain types of behaviors. The understanding and sense of these behaviors have not remained static; despite its Christian roots, contemporary culture has arguably changed and affected traditional Christian behaviors.

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Christian Behaviors: Summary of Chapters 7-12

A common understanding of Christian principles often includes such admirable concepts as “love,” “temperance,” “patience,” “forgiveness,” “humility,” and many others. Those concepts represent a considerable part of the Christian lifestyle and philosophy. However, even the believers often cannot comprehend the sense behind those concepts and replace them with convenient constructs. For instance, temperance can be reduced to teetotalism, and humility gets confused with sanctimony. Lewis (1952) attempted to alleviate existing misunderstandings regarding Christian behaviors by elaborating their meaning from a theological perspective. His book Mere Christianity explores and explains the core principles and behaviors of the Christian faith. Given that Lewis wrote Mere Christianity in 1952, it is also interesting to apply his interpretation of Christian behaviors in relation to modern Western culture.

Forgiveness

Mere Christianity was written merely seven years after World War II — the most devastating armed conflict in human history. The pain, anger, and grief were still severe, and Lewis (1952) reflected these feelings by stating that “everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive” (p. 64). As a result, forgiveness gets dangerously close to being confused with weakness. In addition, people often find an idea of forgiving particularly despicable wrongdoers difficult, like “forgiving Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew” (Lewis, 1952, p. 64). Due to these complications, one can conclude that forgiveness as a Christian behavior is susceptible to misunderstanding.

However, the book offers several solutions for understanding and embracing forgiveness as behavior. Firstly, Lewis (1952) suggests training the ability to forgive starting from one’s children or parents. Secondly, one might transfer anger and bitterness into hating the actions of their enemies instead of the enemies themselves. Overall, forgiveness has nothing to do with weakness or indifference to wrongdoers’ deeds — as such, lawful punishment for crimes does not contradict this Christian behavior.

The Great Sin

In addition to virtuous behaviors, Christianity defines cardinal sins, such as greed, lust, sloth, and wrath, which a believer should try to avoid at any cost. However, Lewis (1952) diminished the significance of any sins in comparison to Pride, “the essential vice, the utmost evil” (p.67). The logic behind calling Pride the worst out of cardinal sins is its ability to instigate other vices. According to Lewis (1952), Pride is “essentially competitive”, and “all those evils in the world which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of Pride” (p. 68). As a result, Pride breeds envy among individuals and nations since they wish to become better than their peers.

Charity

If one uses the word “charity” in the narrow sense of giving money to a good cause, one can say that Christianity is deeply rooted in modern Western culture. This perspective of charity is true but, essentially, quite limited. On the other hand, Lewis (1952) defined being “charitable” as a state of the will rather than a feeling, the will to treat others with love. Most importantly, this state of will can and should be developed, and as a Christian person acts charitably towards people, they find themselves liking more people.

In addition to a virtuous circle of charitable behavior, a vicious circle of hate exists. The crueler actions are, the more hate they breed, leading to an almost unstoppable cycle of cruelty and hatred (Lewis, 1952). Finally, Lewis (1952) left a critical note — charity must be selfless; doing it to show “what a fine forgiving chap you are” destroys the whole point of being charitable (p. 72). As such, charity should come from the love of others, not from the wish to patronize people or put them in moral debt.

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Hope

The concept of Hope is another commonly misunderstood part of the Christian paradigm. According to Lewis (1952), Hope is not a form of social escapism or wishful thinking but a vision of Heaven. Keeping Hope alive is vital for the future, as “the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next” (Lewis, 1952, p. 73). In this regard, the Christian virtue of Hope corresponds with modern-world ideas of social activism. However, it is also necessary to find the right balance between a healthy desire to bring positive changes and falling victim to ambitions and Pride.

Two Senses of Faith

Faith, the last of Christian virtues described by Lewis, had two main dimensions in his interpretation. First of all, Faith can be perceived as an individual’s ability to accept Christian beliefs and follow them consistently, regardless of one’s mood (Lewis, 1952). Having Faith does not mean that a person becomes a blind fanatic — it only means that one’s beliefs do not change without a solid reason. Such consistency can be considered laudable for everyone, not only Christians.

Secondly, Faith implies avoiding thinking of God as a teacher or a bargaining partner who must be pleased. According to Lewis (1952), such a portrayal of God leads to establishing the wrong kind of relation to Him. Instead, one should be trying to reach God naturally, without trying too hard, and anxiously tracking the progress (Lewis, 1952). Comprehending this aspect of Faith requires practice; grasping it is impossible until one goes a certain distance along the Christian road (Lewis, 1952). The only sure thing on this road – performing good actions with the right motivation is essential for a Christian.

Assessment

Firstly, after exploring the explanations of Christian virtues and behaviors presented in Mere Christianity, I have acquired several insights into the current state of Christianity and its relation to modern Western culture. Most importantly, Christianity defined various aspects of contemporary Western civilization. For example, it is possible to find the influence of Christianity in the modern legal systems of the Western world, which discourage vigilantism and directly prohibit torture and corporal punishment. While these bloodthirsty, cruel measures might bring satisfaction to victims, forgiveness — the wish of good for everyone, forbids them, leaving the criminals a chance to become better people.

The virtues of Charity and Hope are also highly evident in modern Western culture. Various organizations run charity campaigns and events, prominent business owners and celebrities donate significant sums, and these actions receive wide publicity, which is a welcoming sight. However, one vital question remains persistent for me — how to find the right balance between being hopeful, humble, charitable, and forgiving? Should one even try to find a solution to this question or just practice Christian behaviors dutifully and leave other matters to God? After all, Lewis urges to stop thinking of God as an examiner who checks people’s work and gives rewards depending on its quality.

Secondly, I would also like to agree with Lewis on his point regarding the vicious circle of hate, opposite to the virtuous circle of charity. The possible emergence of such a spiral of hatred and violence shows the importance of forgiveness. In addition, I found encouraging Lewis’s confidence that such virtues as Charity and Faith can be developed, similar to how athletes train their skills. Therefore, being relatively cold and composed in demeanor does not prevent one from living by Christian virtues. Finally, I was pleased with how consistently Lewis underscored the necessity of practicing Christian virtues with sincerity in mind.

Lastly, I found it quite ironic that Lewis strongly condemned Pride for its competitive nature, while modern Western societies are essentially based on competition. Moreover, a famous theory of Protestant ethic drew a direct connection between success in life and salvation after death (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d.). In this regard, Protestantism, a form of Christianity, had effectively promoted values founded on Pride, the worst of sins in Lewis’s interpretation. Nowadays, free market-based economies have become dominant in the world, and the political systems of most Western countries involve an element of democratic competition. In the end, Western civilization truly embraced its Christian foundation, incorporating even the parts stemming from a cardinal sin.

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References

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. (n.d.). Protestant ethic. In Economics & Economic Systems. Web.

Lewis, C. S. (1952). Mere Christianity. Macmillan Publishing Company.

Lobkowicz, N. (1991). Christianity and culture. The Review of Politics, 53(2), 373-389. Web.

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