Monthly Archives: December 2012

Cultural Context and Spirituality

I realize it has been more than two weeks. I am really, really bad about staying up to date with this blog. In my defense however, it is because I have been quite busy writing another book. I have been writing, just not here, much to my dismay.

The topic of this blog is one in which I have struggled with for a long time. I think most of it is attributable to my very American upbringing. Long have I heard the “melting pot” myth, how various diverse peoples can be blended together and molded  into something greater. I cannot say that I have ever agreed fully with this idea, which is basically assimilation-esqe in nature. The idea being that foreign cultures must adapt and absorb into that of the dominant culture.

To present a different perspective, granted to me by 50 Big Ideas You Really Need to Know by Ben Dupre’. This train of thought is generally referred to as cultural pluralism or multiculturalism. To (perhaps overly) generalize, this idea runs along that lines that people should maintain their individual culture identities, and in the most ideal sense, are encouraged to do so. The idea being, that a country, state or nation is stronger for encouraging cultural diversity and maintaining a cultural pluralism.

I hope it is easy for my intelligent readers to see, how complicated these ideas can be. They quickly delve into issues in the overlapping areas of politics, religion, and a host of other social-cultural areas. These ideas become even more complicated when put into a spiritual context.

I have always had a problem with the idea of liberal eclecticism, and the same goes for conservative nationalism/racism. I do not believe ideas and heritages should be open to anyone with an interest in them, especially in the context of spiritual traditions. I do not feel it to be morally right that a person with no Native American connection to practice such a spirituality. At the same time, it is difficult to say that heritage/blood/ancestry should be the sole decider of what spiritual practice(s) one should connect with. My ideas fall somewhere in the middle. I consider myself, as in many other areas of my life, to be a moderate.

Spiritually, culturally and politically, I consider myself a “tribalist”. Let me clarify, I generally care more about local affairs than national issues, I care more about “my people” than the whole of the nation. The farther a given “sphere” is from me at the center, the less it is of interest. My close friends and family are dearest to me, the farther beyond that, the more my interest wanes.

How does this apply spiritually? My heritage, my Nordic heritage, is one of the most important factors that influences my spiritual life. Ancestors are a staple in my worship and meditations, and thus ancestry is important. At the same time, I am of mixed heritage as much as many Americans. However, I still find it morally and ethically irresponsible to practice a belief system outside of my varied and mixed heritage. It would not feel right for me to practice Egyptian or Sumerian religions. At the same time, depending on how liberal I am with interpretation, I could claim heritage with Celtic, Nordic and Greco-Roman cultures, because the truth is that no culture is ever free from the influence of those it is contact with. The deciding factor for me is, as mentioned previously, is degree of separation from myself. The Celtic parts of my ancestry are further and less directly connected with me, the Greco-Roman parts are even more so. This leaves the Norse path of my ancestors. That is what I practice.

Circling back around, eclecticism is broadly defined as “picking and choosing” cultural practices and beliefs. America is very much at a cultural crossroads, a meeting point between Eastern and Western cultures (Overly generic terms in their own right.) As such, a whole host of beliefs and ideas are in contact frequently, and this opens up a whole host a choices for spiritual practice, ranging from Native American, European, Middle and Far (Asia) Eastern. The question that arises, where to draw the line? To put this another way, what defines the practices of “my people”, and the practices of everyone else?

As often happens with such large concepts such as spirituality, there is no clear cut answer. The concepts are some mind-numbingly complicated that any attempt at a definitive answer would span generations and volumes. Indeed, with all our collected knowledge as a species, no satisfactory answer has been defined. So where does this leave this discussion?

Let me use a personal example. The people are define as my own, are those nearest to my heart, my friends and family. I tend to group up with a similar ethnic heritage as myself, generally northern European. While we are not all blood related, we all share many similar beliefs and ideals. A common culture. This is the nature of a tribe, allowing for a degree of individual variability, but generally our similarities outweigh our differences. This I think, should be the basis of spirituality. The approach should be moderate, not too liberal or too conservative. We should not “pick and choose” ideas from too far beyond our heritage (Itself a complicated idea for another post), but at the same time, there is much to be learned and explored beyond our boundaries. The moderation I speak of defines a spiritual system that at is core is true to our (however mixed) heritage as people. At the same time, it has fuzzy borders that allow useful ideas that our “nearby” our “tribe” to filter through, thus we are flexible and adaptable as cultural beings.

To conclude, all of us come from unique backgrounds and heritages. At the same time, we exist in a world alongside others. These people may be similar or different from us, but we can learn for all of them. While spirituality, in my opinion, is something that should be close to home, and at the same time allow for some (moderate) flexibility.

All this being said, we must never forget tolerance. Others may be different than us, but that does not make them better or worse.