Archive for December, 2011


Blog Carnival: Subconscious Cultural Assumption

December 15, 2011

Language is a strange thing. One can assume they understand what someone is saying, yet still miss the point the other is making. I was aware of the issue of language before I had children, however, I became more away of the intrinsic nuances of language when my children began to start reading and spelling. 

“Dad, how to do you spell red?” (It is easy to see this in writing) I responded, “R-E-A-D.”

“No, dad that is read. You read books you don’t red them.”

“Oh, I thought you meant read as in ‘you read a book’.”

“No, like the color!”

At this point my kids usually either assume I am joking with them or just a little touched in the head… which I am these days.

Now if those of us who speak English can get confused, imagine those learning our language or trying to translate from their language into English (or visa-versa).

Here is one example:

I believe this is Japanese, though since I don’t read or speak Japanese that is my best guess. I would have no idea what they are saying without the translation. However, I am a bit concerned that they seem to want me to slip and fall, but am thankful they want me to be careful as I do!

Here is another example:

I wonder if this is Chinese? More, I wonder if ever I go to China, will I be abducted!?! But it does sound like those abductors in China will give you at least one phone call! I guess in that case it would be good advice to call the police. However, I am not really sure that is what they mean.

Now, imagine trying to understand a translation (even if it is much better than these) that also holds historical contexts and idioms that are culturally specific. Once again it would come into play that at times words may not mean or be understood as they were originally intended.

Jesus spoke in parables, and His words about “eat my flesh” gave way to the thought from many non-Christians that those who believed in Jesus were—cannibals! Halsal (1998), points out just a part of an accusation that was raised against Christians. Just so you know, this was describing the Eucharist/Communion.

Now the story about the initiation of young novices is as much to be detested as it is well known. An infant covered over with meal, that it may deceive the unwary, is placed before him who is to be stained with their rites: this infant is slain by the young pupil, who has been urged on as if to harmless blows on the surface of the meal, with dark and secret wounds. Thirstily – O horror! they lick up its blood; eagerly they divide its limbs. By this victim they are pledged together; with this consciousness of wickedness they are covenanted to mutual silence. (para. 3).

Now imagine what we may be missing when we try to assume we know what the Bible is saying about Camels going through eyes of needles! We try to see it as a sewing needle, but what was being spoken about was in Jerusalem there was a doorway into the city that was called the “Eye of the Needle”. When someone entered that entrance with a loaded camel, they would first have to remove all the baggage from the camel, then the camel would have to kneel low and crawl through the door way. Thus, Jesus meant that it was easier for a loaded camel to enter the city than a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Not impossible, but with difficulty.

O’Grady, & Lane, (1996) speak of a phenomenon in business called “THE PSYCHIC DISTANCE PARADOX” which happens when businesses see similarities in companies in other countries but miss the dissimilarities that may harm their relationship. It is sort of a spot blindness concerning cultural blindness that as O’Grady, & Lane, (1996) mention, “factors preventing or disturbing firms learning about and understanding a foreign environment”. In other words meaning, while one can see that Canada and the USA are similar in many ways, there are major differences in how we may see the world, especially concerning business.

We must take into account that the teachings in the bible may not be as we see them in our own culture. We must realize we are talking about at least 4000 years of historical context and 100’s of perspectives when we read the bible. To assume that when Jesus spoke of “the poor will be with us always” does not mean that we can use that for our own political position and develop policies to not take care of the poor in our cities. Remember, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for lack of hospitality and in how they treated visitors (the homosexual aspect was not about orientation but about rape and other violence against those who came to those cities). Here is a verse to show what I mean:

Ezekiel 16:48. As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, your sister Sodom and her daughters never did what you and your daughters have done. 49. “`Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. 50. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. (NIV)

The main point I am trying to make in this post is, don’t just assume. Don’t just assume what you were taught is what the bible is saying. Don’t just assume that you get it without digging deeper. I will also add, don’t assume you can understand the bible without help from the Holy Spirit. Also, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that the bible is not clear on many things that can be easily understood today. I am admonishing all to look deeper into what you think you know.

Be sure to visit my friends who are taking part in this Blog Carnival.

How to Change Subconscious Cultural Assumptions

Oh, here is one more for laughs: 

Halsal, P. (1998). Ancient History Sourcebook: . Retrieved from
O’Grady, S., & Lane, H. W. (1996). THE PSYCHIC DISTANCE PARADOX. Journal Of International Business Studies27(2), 309-333.