A Mess of Cultures…
a brief essay by Joe Boudreault
Some nations are defined by a single culture and some nations are made up of several cultures. If the nation is small, like Italy or Greece, it is a single idea of a nation. But if it is very large, like Russia or Canada, it is a spread of many cultures. But there are those who would marry many cultures together into a sort of super-culture or mosaic and believe that it will work.
This idea may be born from sensitivity to the differences of one culture to another, and it may be a wishful way of accommodating them all together without losing the identity of each one, but it does not work. A culture, after all, is a distinct portion of a society in which the language, food, arts, and religion etcetera are basically the unifying ingredients. The manners, ethics and intellectual development of a culture are unique to that culture. In a society which attempts to mingle the diversities of cultures, many things get lost. One who loves bread and only bread will not harmonize with one who loves meat and only meat, though they do not have to go to war with each other. Languages divide but do not destroy.
In a big country like Canada, the noble attempt of bureaucrats to make allowances for diversities of cultures side by side is commonly called multiculturalism. It is sometimes referred to as ethnic diversity or ethnic pluralism. It is not enough that Canada had (and still has) separate cultures, but they were in different areas and separate from each other, for this is a very large country. However, the attempt to make it possible to have one culture live on top of, or entwined with, another culture just does not work. You cannot mix red and green paint and still come out with the colors of red and green. If there is a common language and similar arts and binding laws and regulations that apply equally to everybody, then chances are that one culture survives. It may be composed of originating peoples from other cultures but it is unique to itself, a melting pot of many societies into one society and not a mosaic. But when the diversities are allowed to exist side by side, above and below, in and out of, the rural fabric of one society, it destroys the original texture and also fails to create anything recognizably new. A culture is a culture because of its separateness. A jigsaw puzzle of mixed cultures is neither a culture nor a distinct society, though it nevertheless is a viable society. However, the tensions of close proximity of these separate cultures will only cause problems. Racism and gang wars result. A mosaic looks good in art but it doesn’t work in life.
If birds of a feather flock together it is because of the harmony of the feathers, and not because they may agree that they are just birds after all. Empires survive as empires because they do not divide the cultures. Countries cannot survive with multiculturalism because it destroys any opportunity for national harmony. Canada is dying because it is eating away from the inside in part to a lack of any cultural unity. It has not fallen apart so far (though it has come politically close to doing just that) primarily because it is such a big geographic entity.
I said that to strive for multiculturalism is a noble thing, provided that each culture can be reasonably preserved and peacefully practiced. In a way, Canada constitutes a small empire within its own borders, much like the Roman Empire, because it is made up of a scattering of different cultures, or semblances of cultures, dwelling next door to each other. Here, you can find vestiges of Celtic, Scottish and German in the east, French alongside English in the center, Oriental and Asian in the west, and a representation of aboriginal mixes throughout. But none are as pure as the mother cultures from which they sprang, and they have lasted this way only because of the size of the living quarters they exist in. Canada is a nice ideal, but when you look closer, it isn’t idealistic.
Cultures themselves are distinct because they are different from others. And don’t talk about equality among cultures – it doesn’t exist and can’t be made. You have heard the common saying, “We don’t do that in our culture, like you do” or “We do it differently.” Cultures are very different because they use different measuring sticks. They cannot be compared for a basis of equality so long as they remain distinct. Quebec lifestyles cannot be compared to the lifestyles of the rest of Canada so long as French remains different from English, and it is different. Philosopher John Gray said, “There is no impartial or universal viewpoint from which the claims of all particular cultures can be rationally assessed.” He is wrong (the Christian viewpoint can do just that) but his conclusion is accepted by most cultures. They believe they have the right stuff and nobody else does – it is why they exist. The multicultural pundits believe that cohesion and harmony can be established, but they forget that their belief is in itself a viewpoint which either the culture in question will reject or, if accepted, will nullify that very culture.
But when a culture loses its identity it doesn’t cease to exist, it simply becomes another culture. The Quebecois culture is a mixture of France (and other Europeans) and aboriginal, and the Métis of Manitoba and Saskatchewan is a mixture of French and plains aboriginals. Yet they are not the same. The marriage of Scots, Irish, Dutch and English in eastern Canada produced a distinct society. Yet none of these (Quebecois, Métis, Maritime) is conclusively a Canadian culture. Canada is really a mosaic, not a melting pot. If its national institutions and laws were more central and binding, we would have a true Canadian identity by way of a genuine Canadian culture from coast to coast, but we don’t, and probably never will. The federal government’s intent of guaranteeing each culture a solidarity within our borders is only successful in the way that religions and languages and cultural aspects have survived within past empires. Only the lack of population density in Canada has prevented conflict such as has occurred in the much more densely populated nation of India, for example, where two distinct societies (Muslim and Hindu) have always waged war of some sort against each other. If we had a billion people from different cultures, we would have the same fate.
In the more densely populated United States the conflicts of civil war and racial struggle is more noticeable simply because of that density of cultures. Unlike parties, when confined in close quarters, will surely be a cause of great tensions. Racial battles are already more commonplace in Canada’s biggest urban centers. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Humans are by far the most adaptable and progressive of all species of life on this planet. In fact, we are the only species that can survive successfully in any part of the world, no matter where we originate. Immigration and acculturalization is one of our strong points. It is in fact the very way that new cultures come about.
Language is the primal force behind the formation of a distinct culture. Secondary to this is geography. Add to that the isolation that both of these cause, and you have something distinct for that group or society. It will usually be reflected in attitudes toward religious thought, gender, place of birth and ski color. There can be cross-cultural influences and trade but a mountain dweller will always have so many different ways of life from a sea dweller, a Chinese peasant will be dramatically different from an Amazonian tribesman. Yet there is in fact one true form of pure multiculturalism that can work, because it contains a world viewpoint unlike any other. That is Christianity.
If a culture is defined by place and language, then a variation of those features may either create a new culture or perpetuate something of the old culture. Societies never remain exactly the same, in spite of total isolation or imposed rigidity. Cultures evolve over time and should only be seen as distinct if viewed at any one point in time. If there is such a thing as a universal that can be accommodated into any culture without truly changing its society at large, it is the viewpoint of the Christian. This is possible because Christianity has a singular and unique viewpoint on the world, yet it does not destroy cultures. It is the coat of many colors that fits everyone. And it is possible because the progenitor of all cultures, no matter where they are, is the Creator of Christianity itself.
Since culture is deeply race-based, the aim of multiculturalism is to avoid racism. But this could only be possible if it slowly eliminated all traces of cultures and created a single super-culture. The defining ingredient of each and every culture is different, and because of that, acceptance of anything outside is counter-productive to the culture. If languages blend, a new dialect is born; if colors mix in marriage, a new mulatto race is brought about; if geographically opposed groups come together permanently (ie French and aboriginal in the Métis) then a new culture has its beginning. But in the case of the intervention of Christianity, none of these defining ingredients are lost. Rather, they are integrated into the unique viewpoint of the Christian world but remain culturally distinct.
Think of it this way: if a Russian and a Canadian come together, they become Russian-Canadian, a mixture of the two. If an African and Canadian come together, they become Afro-Canadian. If Chinese marries Canadian, it is Chinese-Canadian. Each is in a real sense a new culture coming out of the previous two cultures (other cultural differences of the parent groups aside). But when any member of any culture accepts the Christian viewpoint, the culture does not suffer occlusion or elimination, it simply continues as a distinct society, but with a new worldview in spite of those previous cultural ingredients. And the reason for this is because those ingredients are physical, while the viewpoint of Christianity is spiritual. Furthermore, it should be pointed out here that no other spiritual viewpoint is quite like the Christian one. A Russian remains a Russian even when accepting Christianity, and so does a Canadian.
Why then is this so, and why can’t the same claim be made for other spiritual viewpoints when they enter into a particular culture? Because all religions (excluding Christianity, which is not a religion per se) tend to fail miserably in addressing the real spiritual thirsts of mankind everywhere. It is helpful to remember a simple definition of the two viewpoints in question here: Religion is a striving upward of man toward God, whereas Christianity is a reaching downward to man by God. All religions are works-based or human-merit based; all of Christianity is faith-based in the founder alone, who is Christ. That’s what makes it singularly unique in this world. So if, as I contend here, all religions are a struggle for man to please and communicate with God on his (man’s) terms, then Christianity is unique in that it offers God’s singular revelation to man on God’s terms. A million Wrongs (world religions) cannot make a Right, but the one true Right can never be wrong. This may sound preposterous on the surface, but think about it: God did not create a multitude of ways to know Him, but rather one truth and one Way, and it is applicable to everyone. Christianity fits every believer because it surpasses race and language and color and geography, unlike any of the religions out there.
If multiculturalism is to see its glory day and if it is to bind humanity as one entity, it is in the coat of Christianity, not in the smock of Hinduism or the robe of Catholicism or the beads of Buddhism, and surely not in the quagmire of Islam or animism. Take your pick – if the Creator of all of these cultures and societies wants peace and harmony amongst them all, He would have His way and His plan, and it would not be to eliminate cultures or differences but rather it would be to create a whole new “culture” out of the mixture of humanity. Mankind’s cultures always fail because he is a rebellious creature; God’s way is perfect because He is perfect.