Relationship between religion and culture
Every one of us is born in a peculiar environment, which makes us a part of the content filling the enormous vessel called culture. Like any other container, this vessel has its own shape, allowing it to differ from all other vessels. Anyway, they have something in common: each one has its own place in the planet, and if one tool existed to measure this, we could attribute it a latitude and a longitude – that is, specific numbers that would allow it to be identified, and found, in one single spot of ground in Planet Earth. But although lacking coordinates, these vessels are, in fact, like countries, with their own borders marking the limits within which a specific identity has managed to settle itself throughout the centuries. And as no container was made to be left empty, so these vessels have their own content – a content that, as is usually the case, adopts the container’s shape. The content is regularly emptied, at the same time that it is filled regularly: everyday people die and everyday babies are born to keep the vessel alive. Like any vessel, culture embraces every single creature that is born in every single spot in the planet, no creature being allowed to be left out of this tightly closed system. Human creatures are the ones that need to be taken care of longer before they actually start to live on their own. During that period, they are in general part of the vessel’s content, and after that period, some manage to leave the vessel; and the fact that they’re at the outside allows them to more clearly identify some of the characteristic features of the vessel’s shape – and this is when questions arise; or, to say it in a better way, that is when questions are made possible to arise.
The detachment from one’s own culture is essential to being able to question it. This detachment is dependent on the existence of something that I think is of great importance: humbleness. Are ourselves, as individuals, immune to error? Are ourselves, as individuals, capable of analyzing and qualifying our own conduct, thoughts, and so on? If no individual is immune to error, then no human aggregate whatsoever is immune to error, then no culture is perfect, then every culture is susceptible of being questioned.
Culture and religion
As far as my cultural background is concerned, one of the things I question is the logic behind some automated behaviors that I find in Portugal. The Portuguese cultural background, to which all Portuguese are exposed – the vessel, that is - is closely interconnected with Christian religion since the early beginnings of Portuguese history, which means that it’s entangled with the country’s own identity. And this explains why the Christian religion is still part of Portuguese culture in the 21st century – and when I say that “Christian religion is part of Portuguese culture” I want to emphasize that it permeates several aspects of peoples’ lives, aspects that because of being deemed as part of, lead to some common, unquestioned automated behaviors. Nowadays, priests are worried because church attendance is declining, but this does not seem to be an indicator that Christian religion set of ritualized formalities is being abandoned. In fact, although not considering themselves believers, young people still like to get married in churches, and when they have children, most of them are still baptized. So, basically, despite being inspired by Christian religion these behaviors don’t have anything to do with religious belief. Maybe what I’ve just described is not happening only in Portugal; perhaps it’s present in every culture, in one way or another.
In the first paragraph, I’ve used the large vessel as a metaphor to help me share with you my perspective on culture, but I’ll now put the metaphor apart to try an define the noun culture as the term used to denote distinct manners of doing things that allows for distinction between social groups, large or small. So, if culture is a means of creating – thus distinguishing – social groups, does this mean that culture separates? And if individuals are part of strictly limited geographical groups, does this mean that culture unites?
[to be continued]