Culture Peace

Of a commonwealth, whose subjects are but hindered by terror from taking arms, it should rather be said, that it is free from war, than that it has peace. For peace is not mere absence of war, but is a virtue that springs from force of character….

Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus V.4, 1670, trans. A. H. Gosset 1883

I’m a natural-born culture warrior: I really hear that siren song of tribal affiliation, ever since listening to the Micheal Reagan Show in the family van growing up.

And yet, one plank of Mormon theology that resonated deeply with me was the idea that we are all children of God. Like, literally—in a non-physical, spirit-y kind of way. It’s complicated, but the gist is that every human being has infinite worth, just like you.

I may not buy into the historical or metaphysical foundations of Mormonism anymore but that egalitarian impulse remains with me. I figure we all had equally zero choice in appearing on the scene of life, zero choice in our circumstances, in our genetic makeup, in all of the starting conditions. Yet we all seek our interests (as we perceive them) in a broadly similar way, all face the fundamental limitations that come with humanity. Everybody poops, ya know?

So that’s a tension: sensing the rewards of tribal identity, if only I would toe the line; yet believing that those outside are just as real and valuable of human beings as those within the so-called tribe.

We don’t really control what we feel, or the groups we identify with. But we can choose to encounter what feels other until it, too, feels like home.

What is the opposite of culture war?

Culture peace.

And who wages culture peace?

The culture pacifist.

Not some weird activist – just anyone who declines to fight a destructive fight that isn’t theirs.

It doesn’t mean you have to abandon the reality of your beliefs or thoughts or feelings or who feels safe to you. It doesn’t mean you cease to advocate (and exemplify) the things you think will make the world a better place.

It just means being open to the beliefs and thoughts and feelings of others, even and especially when they seem misguided or offensive. It means engaging where it’s most uncomfortable for you to engage.

If you’ve tended to be ensconced in a narrow enclave of like-minded and like-backgrounded people as I have been, then this practice can be very difficult. It may force reevaluation of who you even are and what kind of life you’ve lived. There’s nothing like fresh perspective to change your view of the world, and that’s exactly, beautifully, bracingly what you get when you encounter the ‘other’ that offends you.

But trust your own capacity to grow and to love, because you will, when you take this on.

Culture is not a territory to be won or lost but a resource we are called to steward with care. Culture is a garden to be cultivated.

Makoto Fujimura, Culture Care, 2017






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