Faith too often stands on its own in our current world. People are separated by it, define themselves by it, live their lives based on its principals. Yet, despite its completely interwoven nature with life, it is so infrequently discussed in the context of cultural development. The truth is, Faith is a fundamental part of all human existence, and how we approach it directly correlates to what our culture considers socially acceptable.
This entire process is visible in all corners of the planet. We will start with one end of the extreme, the cultural melting pots of the western world. Take, for example, the United States. Here you have a land full of different beliefs, a country founded on the principal belief of freedom. This freedom extends to all forms of life, from the right to speech to the right to practice, or not practice, the religion of your choosing. However, this once-radical structure of individual freedom was created due to radical believers being oppressed in a less radical society. So they left, traveled across the ocean, and created a colony of free beliefs where it didn’t matter how outside of the realm of normality you sat, you were welcome to be as radical or neutral as you saw fit.
This created a hodgepodge of faiths, faiths that all believed that they were right and the others were wrong, but faiths that existed in a world where all faiths were welcome. Here, society created two separate cultures, the Culture of Law and the Culture of Belief.
The Culture of Law stated that regardless of who you were, regardless of what you wanted to do, and regardless of your background, you were entitled to the same basic rights as everyone else who lived within the borders of this land. You, like everyone else, are granted freedoms to do as you please with your faith, making that faith an individual decision that can be made by you and you alone. In exchange for that freedom, you are to accept that other faiths will be doing the same, and that they are granted the same rights and freedoms as yourself. This is a large part of being American, and it is an element of immense patriotic pride across the nation.
The Culture of Faith, however, subscribes to a different mentality. Many faiths, excluding a select few, believe that their faith is the only way to advance to a higher state of being. Your birth culture can throw you headfirst into your Culture of Faith, your parents raising you a Lutheran, taking you to a Lutheran church, spending time with Lutheran friends, teaching you Lutheran morals and religious laws. But your neighbor may be something completely different, a Buddhist or a Taoist, existing within the same parameters of their own unique Culture of Faith.
So where the Culture of Law grants freedom and rights, the Culture of Faith requires conflict. If your faith states that only your religion will grant you access to the life beyond, then you are constantly attempting to pull people into that faith to essentially “save” them. And the two cultures will conflict, the Culture of Law saying that you have the right to believe what you want, and the Culture of Faith saying you believe what we believe. And though these two bump together, you are trapped in a perpetual stalemate where each different faith is operating under exactly the same rules, separated only by a baseline religious structure of their particular cultural faith.
Of course, this is not the only extreme, nor is it the most extreme on this side of the spectrum. Take, for example, the Rwanda Genocide. Their Culture of Law and their Culture of Faith bumped heads until the tension became so strong that there was no room for the Culture of Law in the minds of the people. The Tutsi, the Culture of Law majority but the Culture of Faith minority, were systematically slaughtered by the Hutu, the Culture of Law minority but the Culture of Faith majority. In a single night, Hutu neighbors of Tutsi individuals walked next door to the homes of people they had lived beside for years, dragged them out of their houses, and murdered them, creating a total body count of an estimated 100,000 people in a single night. Then, with the Culture of Faith driven to exterminate the Culture of Law, the Hutu continued their slaughter bringing the total death tole to an estimated 800,000-1,000,000 people, or roughly 20% of the population of Rwanda.
Our cultures define us. For the people in Rwanda, just like the people in America, the lack of agreement between the Culture of Law and the Culture of Faith were simply strong enough to produce unspeakable horrors. In the United States, excluding a few radical groups, the Culture of Law and the Cultures of Faith allows for enough symbiosis to survive simultaneously. However, whenever a political leader takes the stage and claims himself to be one thing, claims the country to be a country of only one particular faith (Christian being the front-runner in the early days of the 21st century), that separation begins to grow. The Cultures that support the Culture of Law are slowly pushed away from it by their Culture of Faith.
Regardless of who you are, you are driven by many different cultures. These cultures help define you, to create the person you will become and the reasons you decide to do or not do certain things. The problem for many First Culture Kids is that they have existed within such a tight set of cultures that they fail to see the harmony and uniformity that exists between them all. To them, their culture is the single way of thought. They don’t easily understand that others may not think the way they do, or believe the things they believe. They fail to see the differences because they have been brought up confined to the parameters of their birth cultures, just like the people they cannot relate with were brought up confined to their particular culture as well.
For a Third Culture Kid, however, we have the gift and curse of seeing past those borders. We gave up a birth culture long ago, so where everyone else is confined, we are constantly adapting and absorbing. The TCK mentality of survival through adaptation forces us to see the lines that connect every single culture all across the world. We understand, completely on impulse, that the Taoist and the Muslim neighbors really aren’t that different at all. They developed into two separate cultures and two separate faiths for exactly the same reasons. The problem is, they are so blinded by that Culture of Faith that they can never see their similarity.
It’s a benefit to us, being TCKs. We are universal acceptors. We can relate and understand regardless of what you believe. But we do that because we lack the cultural exclusivity that a First Culture Kid possesses. Where we fall short is in understanding why you cannot see just how similar you are to the man you consider to be so fundamentally different. This could be the reason why the TCK community is, predominantly, an atheist one. It could also be why the faith-based TCKs I’ve met in my life are the most laid back and understanding members of the religious population I have had the pleasure of discussing God with. It could also be that, like everyone else, we are part of the same broken system. Our culture, be it a Third Culture, doesn’t allow us to understand what it means to be so strictly First Culture.
Whatever it may be, I am glad to know the truth; It doesn’t matter what your Culture of Faith may be, your atheist, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, etc. brothers and sisters are no different to you at all. You just need to look past your Culture of Faith to see it. And that alone, at least to me, makes it worth all the hassle of growing up a TCK.
Post by: James R. Mitchener