Trump wins another term or the likelihood of Sanders and Warren joining forces—all this shows how foreign our Bible is!
Trump is on a lot of people’s minds this Super Tuesday. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren could achieve much more united than divided. They could shake the establishment by coming together to stop Donald Trump. Either could be the Presidential nominee. The other would be the VP. Together they would be a force. Joe Biden would be finished, and so too, I think, would be Trump. It would effectively shake up the oligarchs and plutocrats who run the narratives in this country. And it would be a sign of hope for tomorrow.
But it is very unlikely to happen. At the end of the day, ego-violence rules. “Why should I be the one to resign?” will help Uncle Joe, and ultimately, Donald Trump.
It could happen. It should happen. But it probably won’t.
To Trump Trump
Who should endorse who? Who should step back? And who can be metaphysically certain about such things? But certainly someone should drop out and help the other. With ghosts of the primary back in 2016, establishment Democrats rally around Uncle Joe. Amy Klobuchar is gone, endorsing Biden. Pete Buttigieg, the same. If you want more of the same, Democrats, vote for Uncle Joe. And I believe that is the way to more of the same, meaning, four more years of Donald Trump.
Again I can’t say in metaphysical certitude whether Sanders or Warren should take the backseat. But right now it appears to be Warren that should do so. Let’s face it—there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of her becoming the nominee. She simply has not achieved the votes and has not won a single state. Her polls are dismal for Super Tuesday. She is now, in effect, an obstacle to the goals she supports. And she’s betting on stealing the nomination at the contested DNC convention? If we go by the math, it is she, and not Sanders, who should drop out.
The Demands of Privilege?
But then women have had to take “the back seat” for a long time, drop out, pull back, take the sacrifice. Is it easy and convenient that yet again it is the woman who must recede into the shadow and the silence while yet another male steps forward? Is it easy for me, a male, to suggest that? Maybe.
What is the dividing line between standing for the right cause and serving one’s ego? All sorts of fascinating possibilities and disasters can happen because of individualism, something really unknown in the origins of the Body of Christ.
The World of Trump is the Most Individualistic Ever
Our society is the most individualistic culture the world has ever known. Christianity is a religion that began and flourished in the Mediterranean world of the Bible. But U.S. Christians are oblivious to just how much their take on Christianity is molded to be congenial to our Western cultural values. The Jesus we believe in is so often an identity theft of the real deal.
Every culture creates a consensus reality though which its members perceive and interpret the Real. The Real may always be the same, but our cultural interpretations of it differ wildly. The Middle Eastern, Mediterranean world of the Bible—out of which our Church sprung—is radically alien to American consensus reality. This is so to the extent that it is truly laughable whenever any American claims to be a “Bible Christian.” The culture that is the “in” of In+carnation and In+spiration could never generate a Donald Trump.
The very idea of an American “Bible Christian” is ridiculous no matter how many Americans aspire to be that. What is thought to be important by our Middle Eastern, Mediterranean Bible is deemed unimportant by American culture, and culture trumps religion. Even when both these cultures use the same word to describe the same important reality—like “love” or “hate” or “hospitality” or “father” or “faith”—the understandings differ drastically. You cannot understand this without a means to contrast how U.S. people and other Westerners and the Bible understand a given value.
Understanding Cultural Values
According to scholars Bruce Malina and John Pilch, the term “value” refers to “some general quality and direction of life that human beings are expected to embody in their behavior,” that is “a general, normative orientation of action in a social system.” Values are emotionally-anchored commitments we are socialized and conditioned to have, driving us to pursue and support specific actions and directions.
The Cultural Value of “Efficiency”
Consider efficiency and what it means. U.S. people take pride in being efficient. Americans expect each other to perform tasks with the most practical sense and the least wasted effort. We laugh at the suggestions of washing cars with toothbrushes and gardening with a teaspoon. How often we are oblivious to our constantly judging others in terms of human efficiency. We have been programmed for the dominant U.S. cultural value of “instrumental mastery”—the ability to control persons and things to maximize individualistic well-being.
The U.S. understanding of “efficiency” relates strongly to “instrumental mastery.” It is a value that inheres in and that we attribute to persons, things, and events. We Americans tend to view as “efficient” those who budget time to accomplish goals within a predetermined time period. Contrast this with the Mediterranean world of the Bible. In that culture, kinship is the dominant value. Therefore interpersonal relationships rule, not future-time or money. Jesus and other Mediterraneans don’t give a damn about how much time is spent or money is “wasted” on this aspect of life—they view the more time spent on improving relations, the more efficient it is!
So “efficient” in the Bible means something radically different than our U.S. understanding filtered through “instrumental mastery!” And, by and large, American Christians are blind to this! Even the most avowed U.S. “Bible Christian” would see biblical practices of time-consuming kinship maintenance as extravagant and foolish wastes of time! Therefore, given these different cultural consensus realities, being “efficient” is rather fluid in meaning.
Watch the campaigning for evidence of our complete espousal of the good, bad, and ugly of American individualism, instrumental mastery, and efficiency. Trump and Michael Bloomberg claim to “get things done” and “make America great.” Same with Biden, Warren, and Sanders. Do, do, do! Go, go, go! Win, win, win.
In the Bible, Kinship Rules
Economics, politics, religion, and kinship make up the four major social institutions. The Biblical world celebrated kinship as first among these, then politics, with “economics” and “religion” only embedded into these two. Because kinship was the dominant social institution it controlled how core and peripheral social values were realized. And by extension, because kinship was central, gender was the first assessment given to self, others, nature, time, place, and the All (i.e., God). Biblical human beings are therefore primarily male or female (father/mother, husband/wife, son/daughter, brother/sister = kinship) instead of rich/poor (economics) or powerful/powerless (politics).
Malina and Pilch explain that because of the kinship focus, the human universe in the Bible is patterned on primarily male and female qualities. So too the Biblical world of human affairs is based on gender, as is the moral division of labor. This is normal for the Mediterranean world of the Scriptures!—but to many U.S. persons, this perspective is one of oppression and sexism.
Cultural Values and Human Behavior
Cultural values help direct human behavior. Consider three general orientations of human behavior—individualistically-oriented, group-oriented, and hierarchy-oriented. Depending on which orientation that is selected determines how the following are perceived and interpreted.
“God” Seen through Cultural Values
There are three interpretations of God that are possible. If you belong to an individualistic social system (e.g., U.S. society), you will more or less see God as a “junior partner,” just one more individual like any other individualistic self, yet way more powerful nonetheless. And “God helps those who help themselves!” Trump believes that, by God. But to be fair, Americans are conditioned to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps” and other such absurdities completely absent in Scripture.
But Biblical writers and characters were from a group-oriented social system. So Biblically speaking, God is a member of the group and is ever-present to it wherever the group is gathered. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” says the Matthean Jesus (Matthew 18:20).
But biblical culture is not only dyadic and collectivistic, it is also vertical and hierarchical. In a hierarchical social system, God is seen above everybody else in a role such as a king or a patron. The more vertical the social system, the more distant God becomes. Godfather-style Mediterranean brokerage between the patron-deity and the clients becomes an essential part to both revelation and salvation views.
“Others” Seen through Cultural Values
Watch these three general orientations of human behavior affect how “others” are perceived and interpreted. American individualism, seen in Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden, considers whether others in their society exist to facilitate their personal success. How can I learn to control persons and things in my environment so as to succeed? See this play out in our Trinity of Sports, and all our elections as well.
But Jesus and all other Biblical persons were group-oriented. Therefore they divided others into groups—those belonging to their ingroup (“us”) and those who did not belong (“them”). Everything was focused on “us” (Matthew 10:5-6; 15:21-28). “Others” maybe could join and leave “us”—and therefore their ingroup shared a nerve-racking concern whether people within their ingroup were trustworthy. Hence, biblical considerations and relationships are collateral.
What about how hierarchical orientation sees “others”? In that view, people have statuses just by being born into them. Great ones beget great ones and low life people beget low life people (Mark 6:3; Luke 4:22). The class below one’s family has always been below it, and the class above also has always been above. Slaves cannot help but to be slaves because they were born into a slave family. Birth determines everything, and everything is ascribed honor. The best behavior is minding the members of one’s group or faction.
“Nature” Seen through Cultural Values
Watch how “nature” gets viewed according to the three ways. Consider nature as a value object. Individualistic societies are post-Industrial societies. We believe we control nature. Hence, a major value we U.S. people have is ownership over the natural. This is why technologies suited to this goal constantly emerge in our world.
But biblical peoples were aware that they controlled nothing about nature. This makes Jesus’ healings and power over sea and storm even more exceptional (Luke 4:35-36; 8:24-25). The lot of Mediterranean peasants was to suffer the rages of nature, to be subject to it. So they sought to live in harmony with it. Because of realities like this, ownership in the Bible is communal. Who owns? Everyone owns everything. Everyone must fit into the pattern of nature to live in harmony with it.
But sometimes nature does harm helpless humankind. What can Mediterranean peoples do? They can appeal to the hierarchy of divinities. They can seek propitiatory relationships with these spirits who control storms and floods, rains and sun. The goal is appeasement of the sprits so lowly humans can live in peace with nature.
Do you see how different things are for Biblical peoples than for Americans of any stripe, including Christians here? If you do, you should begin to see why the idea of a 21st century Biblical Christian is absurd.
What Biblical Culture Favors
To bring this home, the Context Group of Biblical scholars offer us a sketch on the value preferences of the Mediterranean cultural world of the Bible. Biblical culture favors:
(1) being > doing
(2) collateral relations > individualism
(3) present or past time orientation > future
(4) subordination to nature > mastery of it
(5) human nature is a mix of good and bad > human nature is exclusively good or bad
What happens if someone is ignorant to this complex of values? The result is that person necessarily will be incapable of understanding the biblical world. Do you want to understand the Bible, its authors and characters? Become familiar with this complex of values and value preferences.
American Culture & Biblical Culture are Radically Different
Below you will find a chart of value preferences that are available to all human beings. However it is keyed to the Mediterranean culture of Scripture. Note well the primary choice, found on the left-hand column. In the middle you will find the secondary choice. The right-hand column represents the last choice Mediterranean peoples will make when facing problems.
All these three value preferences for each problem represents the dominant male choices. Interestingly, in every society the secondary male value preference is usually the primary female value preference. So, for example, U.S. males are expected to achieve (doing) and only secondarily allow themselves to be spontaneous (being). Generally speaking, U.S. females are primarily expected to be spontaneous, and only secondarily can be dedicated to achievement. But biblical men are primarily socialized to spontaneity while biblical women are primarily socialized to work.
Look carefully at that chart. If you were to read the solutions from right to left, you should immediately recognize the preferred order for the United States. What you read above left to right are the choices for circum-Mediterranean world either implied or explicitly stated in the Bible. To be an American Christian is to be a strange chimera indeed! How can anyone here be a “Biblical” Christian?