My book, “Walking in Love: Why and How?” has an entire chapter devoted to the topic of Cultural Contamination. Such contamination was a dominant driving factor as to why humanity needed Jesus to appear on the scene and teach us an alternative way of for “getting right with god” that was not so completely dependent on other people telling us about God. Such contamination was having a seriously negative impact on society then and that kind of problem continues to this day.
What did I say was going on? The Hebrew people had left Egypt under Moses’ leadership. The Hebrew scriptures (Deuteronomy 5:22-27) document a debate among those people centered on their commonly-held belief that, if a person heard God, they would die. I asserted that such a cultural belief was a consequence of their long stay in Egypt. There, the common culture of that time held that Pharaoh was the God-King, and anyone who directly heard the voice of the God-King would die. Indeed scripture records Pharaoh, after the “let my people go” confrontation, telling Moses that if he saw him again, he would die.
This was a cultural thing – but it made the idea of a person having an individual relationship with God unthinkable. Moses is recorded to have been “special” and did not die, so the crowd decided to have Moses take on the role of hearing God’s self-revelation because he had already heard both Pharaoh face-to-face as well as God on Mount Sinai and lived to talk about it. Moses was then “deputized” to hear God’s self-revelation and pass that information down to the people who would listen and obey. The first five books of the Hebrew bible (the Torah) are said to contain the full self-revelation that God told to Moses. This was so strong a belief that it shaped the evolution of Judaism for many centuries. It took Jesus to change this. Until he appeared on the scene, being righteous meant obeying the words of God communicated to Moses so many centuries ago.
How was this harmful? Well. It provided no means to adjust to changes in the world that happened over the subsequent centuries. God did not change, but the world did. This presented a serious danger that living by the fixed rules would have a different result on personal righteousness now, instead of when the rules were first written down. Jesus, by preaching a personal relationship with God gave people a way to adapt to changes in the world. You could postulate a change, try it out on a limited basis, and see what the results were.
This is still an important issue. Why is America different, politically and culturally from Europe? It’s because of the English cultural concept of how the world was to be run – from the top down. God spoke to the Archbishop, who spoke to the bishops, who spoke to the priests, who spoke to the people. What did they say? Among many things they taught, an important one was that a top-down class system was divinely ordained. Individual, personal direct revelation from God was heresy – to be punished by death. The King was “divine”, and the nobility was more holy and righteous than the commoners.
Then a people called “Quakers” appeared on the scene. They openly defied the common cultural belief that the English class system was divinely ordained. Instead, they proclaimed that scripture taught that all men are created equal. Thousands of them were convicted of heresy and condemned to bondage for this belief. They (men, women, and children) were forcibly “transported” to the new colonies of Barbados and Jamaica, to have their forced labor sold on the block to the highest bidder. What courage and faith this took! To avoid such a horrible fate, all one had to do was to attend a religious service of the established church and get a certificate that you had misunderstood and now repented of your error. Few did this. Most accepted their fate to labor and die under terribly oppressive conditions in a strange land. The fact so many were faithful is a magnificent witness of the power of their faith. So was this a futile gesture by some deluded, God-intoxicated rebels? No! It had massively important consequences.
Although so many died, some did get free and became the first settlers in the new colonies of the Carolinas. Some of them were my direct forbears. So where do you think those glorious words of the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal” came from?
When the leaders of the American colonies decided to break away from England, they knew their revolt would be crushed unless they could raise an army that could stand up to British military might. They had to appeal to the common people. Hence, the “Declaration of Independence” was a recruiting poster – promising freedom to all who fought, and saying a new world would come into existence, where the government would serve the people rather than the other way around.
What were the detrimental effects of English cultural contamination of religion in this case? It prevented people from exercising their birthright of being free and independent people, equal in the eyes of God. Removing that blind spot by courageous Quaker witness gave us a new country in the world, a new concept of government –The United States of America.
Thus, detecting cultural contamination and removing it from the religion of the day produced a profound advance in government. This is why this is an important subject. It took Jesus to show the Children of Israel another way to relate to God. Later, other oppressed people read the scriptures carefully and confirmed that, according to scripture, the society that oppressed them was not divinely sanctioned. This is why, it is so important for individual human beings to develop a direct one-on-one relationship with God, so God can enlighten them directly if the current cultural system becomes corrupt.
Understand, I am no anarchist nor Anti-English. I am descended from English Aristocrats (on my dad’s side) and Quakers (on my mom’s). I am a mix of both. We all sort of came together as Americans. That’s what’s so cool! It just took a while.
I am also most certainly not urging disregard of the Ten Commandments, but if we wish to be fulfilled to our greatest potential we need to go further – we need to become better at loving one another. Jesus taught us this in the Gospel story of the rich young man (Matthew 19:16-22). The young man asked Jesus what he could do to gain life? Jesus told him to obey the commandments. The young man said he had diligently done so all his life, but wanted more. Jesus then told him if he would become “perfected”, to go and sell all his possessions and follow him. . That example and its consequences for living a righteous life are explicitly addressed in my book.
To summarize, cultural contamination was a serious problem for the Hebrew people of the Exodus. Several thousand years later, Jesus appeared on the scene to set things straight, in this regard. Freeing up religion from this cultural contamination opened up a new chapter in fruitful religious activity – the beginnings and flowering of Christianity throughout the world. Even so, as time goes on, the same problem keeps recurring, requiring us to re-examine our spiritual practices to determine is there’s some “poison” of misunderstanding that is holding back people’s spiritual growth due to cultural contamination. I just gave an example of the founding of America as one of those moments of realization and correction.
I assure you, the problem of cultural contamination hasn’t gone away and many of our current spiritual problems can benefit by being examined in this context. What are those things? That’s another story for another time but cleansing religion of cultural contamination is a never-ending task. God doesn’t change but the world does. The faster those changes occur the more important it is to keep our spirituality clean and pure. Now is one of those rapidly changing, perilous moments in time.
This is one of the “whys” of my book, “Walking in Love”. The book then presents the process of how to do this.