Culture,  Theology

All Cultures are Not Equal

Image signifying cultures of Egypt
There is a growing belief today that all cultures are equal. In other words, no culture can claim moral superiority over another. Although this is a common idea, it has met resistance by some who have demonstrated that, on a pragmatic level, productivity and the standard of living are better in some cultures than others. However, as Christians I think it is important to be in the habit of using Scripture to inform any kind of comparison—including culture. Speaking from a biblical standpoint, there are cultures that are better than others. The cultures which are superior are the cultures which are more closely aligned with God’s standard for living, and thereby thrive and flourish.
  1. Superior Cultures Value Life
Humanity is the only part of creation that is made in God’s image (Gen 1:26-28). When the belief is that humanity is no different than animals, it leads to the deterioration of culture. Cultures that value life take precautions against the unwarranted taking of life (murder, etc.), but also safeguard against the reckless endangerment of life. Cultures which value life will sacrifice to protect and preserve it.
  1. Superior Cultures Value Family
The creation of the family is so important it is given its own detailed section in Scripture (Gen 2:18-25). The family is the core unit of governance and held as the primary place education takes place (cf. Deut 6:6-7; Eph 6:4). Cultures which devalue family and marriage have major problems. Further, Scripture teaches that father and mother have distinct roles in the family. Cultures which encourage the beautiful and God-designed distinctions between man and woman reap the benefits.
  1. Superior Cultures Promote Individual Freedom
There are a variety of ways this could be approached. One is that humanity is created to have dominion over creation and to work it (Gen 1:26; 2:15). Work involves inherently some positive benefit, either by compensation, or by the accomplishment of the task itself. Importantly, the eighth commandment (“Thou shall not steal”) forbids the usurping the natural cycle of honest work and reward by taking what is not rightfully earned. In other words, the Bible teaches there are certain material possessions and rights that belong to the individual. Cultures which respect and promote individual freedoms reap the benefit of individuals contributing to a society collectively.
  1. Superior Cultures Promote Sexual Restraint
To many, the Bible presents an antiquated view of sexuality. The Bible forbids homosexuality, incest, polygamy, marriage to unbelievers, and even divorce (with two exceptions). Cultures which understand sex as a gift within the marriage bond protect the family and marriage relationship, which in turn promotes the betterment of the culture. In summary, superior cultures follow the biblical picture—punishing iniquity and rewarding those who do good. The Bible claims to be God’s revelation for what He expects from humanity. Thereby, the cultures which are more in line with God’s revelation are superior, and we would expect more productivity and a better standard of living as natural consequences of living as God designed. It is as simple as that. photo credit: @KevinCase Sphinx of Ramasses II in the Temple of Ptah via photopin (license)

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

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