Collectivism and Individualism: East, meet West.
1 A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.
We Westerners, who live in Western Europe, North America, and Canada, have a culture built on individualism. “Be true to yourself,” “I just have to be me,” and other phrases like these pretty much tell the tale. Our choices are our own, and we live and die by them. The problem is that the Eastern part of the world and South America live collective lives. Their culture is built around family, clan, and nation. Honor and shame are built-in to their lives. Why does this difference even matter? Let’s look at Luke 12:51-53,
51 Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; 52 for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
We Westerners see this passage as logical and we don’t see a problem; Easterners are shocked and appalled by it. What Jesus was saying was inconceivable to most people of His day. Family, tribe and nation were everything. Yet, Jesus calls everyone to make his own decision to follow Him. He was beginning a new code of honor: Loyalty to Him. He was also inaugurating a new family: His family, the Church.
In the book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, page 118, they explain the difference between the two ways of thinking:
“To summarize, in an innocence/guilt culture (which includes most Western societies), the laws of society, the rules of the church, local mores (pronounced, “mahrez,” and means, “colloquial perspective) and code of the home are all internalized in the person. The goal is that when a person breaks one of these, her or his conscience will be pricked. In fact, it is hoped that the conscience will discourage the person from breaking the rule in the first place. The battle is fought inside.
In the honor/shame society, such as that of the Bible and much of the non-Western world today, the driving force is to not bring shame upon yourself, your family, your church, your village, your tribe or even your faith. The determining force is the expectations of your significant others (primarily your family). Their expectations don’t override morals or right/wrong; they actually are the ethical standards. In these cultures, you are shamed when you disappoint those whose expectations matter.”
So, when Jesus made this statement, He was going against the culture of society. It’s just another layer of the New Covenant, one that we Westerners can’t see because we don’t think like that. Easterners, on the other hand, have to transfer their loyalty to Christ and His family. In their minds, they are having to turn their backs on the family, clan, nation, and even ancestors. It was–and is–a much bigger deal to them than it is to us.
If we were to implement anything into the Gospel from the Collective way of thinking, it would be that Christ comes first, then His Church, and then our society, which includes our families, clans, and nation. We are not to play the Shame Game, but we are to stir each other up to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). We must remember that “No man is an island.” Our decisions affect those around us in ever-increasing concentric circles, much like the waves created by a rock thrown into a pond.
Let’s not judge our Eastern neighbors too harshly. There’s a reason they think the way they do.
Abba, may You guide us into Your ever-increasing truth. Open our eyes and minds to new truths in Your Word. It’s like a bottomless treasure chest! We’ll keep digging; please keep speaking. Amen.