Culture

I sometimes have the oddest thoughts and, to make things worse, I can often figure out what triggers them. I have my new timetable for the year and I am registered for a seminar concerning ‘The Origins of the English’. We’ve been given a handout of extracts on identity and ethnicity to read before the first class. This of course means I’ve had ideas of Anglo-Saxon identity on my mind. So no wonder, then, that I started having the oddest thoughts when I heard a guy preaching Evangelicalism with some kind of high-tech megaphone in Pigeon Park today.

Before I go off on the tack of what those thoughts were, I’d better also mention the Freshers’ Fair. On Thursday and Friday I spent the greater part of each day handing out leaflets for the Sci-Fi and Roleplay societies. Somewhere in the middle of Friday, I had a long chat with an Evangelical guy about human nature and what constitutes Sin. My argument was that humans are more likely than not biologically wired to be serially monogamous and that marriage was a cultural construct. He argued that one of the Epistles of the Apostles described the future marriage of the Church to Jesus in terms of an Earthly marriage with Jesus as the man and the Church as the woman and their roles in that relationship. My conclusion was that said Apostle (the guy didn’t tell me who, but I’d assume Paul) was merely using the contemporary construct of marriage as a way of describing what the relationship should be between God and the Church, not saying that Earthly relationships necessarily should be like that (and I refuse to accept the idea that women should take such a passive role in a relationship). The point of this is not what God believes about Human marriage, but the fact that I’ve been thinking about cultural differences a lot lately.

And so I return to the Manic Street Preacher in Pigeon Park. He was spouting the message of the Old Testament through his little microphone system, his voice coming from a speaker somewhere around his navel, and was talking of the Promised Land and what God did for the exiled Children of Israel. And as he said this, I found myself thinking, “Descended as I am from Gaelic Celts, Saxons and Vikings, all of whom have their common origins near the Black Sea, why should I give a flying rat’s arse what God’s promised to the Children of Israel?” And I find the idea that the term ‘Children of Israel’ can be applied to all mankind a ridiculous notion given that the earliest examples of homo sapiens was a resident of central Africa. Even the most metaphorical interpreter of the Bible takes too much of it for granted. Sure, the idea of Christ as our salvation (which I don’t personally believe in) and his message of kindness to one’s fellow human beings (and you deserve a good slap if you have issues with that part of the Christian ethos) is pretty much universal, but most of the Bible is rooted in Middle Eastern culture and as such can only be regarded as a message of hope to the Jews with the authors never intending that a bunch of obscure Northern European barbarians should be laying claim to the Promised Land of Judea.

That said, I doubt Jesus thought he’d ever be taken seriously outside Palestine (the authorities nailed him to a cross for his troubles in his own homeland, so why should a bunch of polytheist gentiles listen?) and the early missionaries had our barbarian culture in mind. So many pagan rituals survived into the middle ages in the name of the Saints that Christianity could truly have been said to be a European religion. It was only that bloody Martin Luther re-evaluating the Bible and provoking the Catholic Church to do the same that kicked out the old rituals so that they could be replaced with Biblical messages of God’s promises to the Children of Israel, putting the final nail in the coffin of the old Celtic mindsets.

Yet we still owe so much in our literature to the way the Celts, Norse and Saxons thought. Literature has so many classical pretensions but if you read a Norse poem in translation, it feels so much closer in terms of drama to the way we construct modern literature. Our imaginations are still more fired by the swords and axes of the North than the spears and chariots of the East, be they wielded by Greek, Roman or Israelite. So in the name of my Celtic ancestors I propose a new look at religion: one that embraces our own culture, rather than rejecting it as heathen and barbaric, and one that makes its promises to mankind rather than forcing the whole world to hope the God of Israel won’t forget them come judgement day.

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~ by Scary Rob on 26 September, 2005.

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