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Thread: Cultural Appropriation and Celebration of Failure to Read the Screen

  1. #226
    Herder of Hamsters AW Admin's Avatar
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    The line comes down to Don't be a Jerk and Don't write crap.

    The language around cultural appropriation is "new" (c. 20 years or so, I forget), but the problem is not new, nor are the excuses around avoiding being courteous and accurate.

    No one who knows anything is saying "You can write this" unless "you're that"; but people are saying get it right.

  2. #227
    It's just a jump to the left... SWest's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cyia View Post
    ...letting the puppet dance in the way more authentic to its story.
    And the only way to get to this level of control and grace is to:

    1) Approach respectfully, and in keen awareness of one's uninformed status;

    2) Become as well-informed as possible, even to the expense of years;

    3) Be intentional in all aspects of world-building, characterization, and story arc.

    I don't see why the job of Author is somehow exempt from standards of performance. Why is it OK to tell stories poorly?
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  3. #228
    practical experience, FTW cornflake's Avatar
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    There are some cultures, like Deaf culture, that are full, rich things unto themselves, but I agree the mythos, or whatever built up by people around some things, can be so problematic, like the magical mentally ill, in which not only do they exist to enhance/catalyze someone's else's life, but heir mental illness makes them magically understanding and able to 'see' things 'regular' people can't/

  4. #229
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    Quote Originally Posted by SWest View Post
    I don't see why the job of Author is somehow exempt from standards of performance. Why is it OK to tell stories poorly?
    It isn't. But like all artists, authors have to be prepared to be told when we're doin' it rong.

    And often, we really are doin' it rong. Better to make every effort to do it right. Because we want our books to be our very best, right?

  5. #230
    It's just a jump to the left... SWest's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AW Admin View Post
    It isn't. But like all artists, authors have to be prepared to be told when we're doin' it rong.

    And often, we really are doin' it rong. Better to make every effort to do it right. Because we want our books to be our very best, right?
    Totally.

    But I kind of get a side vibe in these conversations that becoming an Author is/should be easy, or at least less hard than aspiring to Doctor, Lawyer, Personal Assistant, Exterminator, Department Manager. It's story-telling, and that's just words, sentences, as many commas as you like, etc.. And then I make a million dollars, and people all over the world love me. I live happily ever after. The End. Oh, and then the sequel is I whine about the criticism I earned with my poor efforts.

    If we spent as much time consciously worrying over details surrounding our power-marginalized characters as we do over commas...
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  6. #231
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ari Meermans View Post
    Yep, I agree. There's so much noise out there, and it's easy to get the wrong idea about subjects like this. The messages that come through that noise are just as you say—that they might not be published, that they'll make people mad and get bad reviews from "that liberal PC crowd." Noise.

    We want to reach our fellow writers who got distracted by that noise, we want them to understand what it means to earn their readers' trust, to not perpetuate misinformation—to make sure they get it right and not cause harm to people of other cultures.
    This is well said. The thing I sometimes have trouble figuring out when one of these kinds of threads comes up is whether the person in question is starting it in bad faith, as in they've already made up their mind about issues of cultural sensitivity and are essentially using this issue to troll about it, aor when they're simply an overwhelmed aspiring writer who desperately wants to be published and is trying to figure out what the "rules" are, but their frustration over all the barriers to getting traditionally published (or attracting a following if self publishing) is coming out in a way that makes concerns over cultural appropriation all about them. We certainly see plenty of posters who come at other writing/publishing issues in terms of "oppressive rules," people who are desperately trying to figure out why their manuscript isn't selling perhaps.

    I think it's important to assume good intentions in these situations, but all too often it's easy to assume that the thread was started with someone who had a more sinister agenda, or by someone who at least has their mind made up already. And even if the OP is relatively benign, or genuine in their desire to do right, it seems like these threads will attract others who have already made up their mind about these issues and think it's stupid to worry about them.

    So I ask questions to find out the depth and breadth of those wrong ideas and to solicit other voices to combat the noise . . . as I hope we're doing here.
    I think this is a good approach, though it's not one I always find easy or do as well as I should. Once I see signs of what looks like bad faith (or see a certain set of opinions I deem racist/sexist/homophobic or whatever being expressed for the hundredth time) to me, I know I tend to get mad, and when I'm mad, the last thing I want to do is ask questions or listen.

    This appears to be a common human failing, but I shall try to be better.
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  7. #232
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post

    So I ask questions to find out the depth and breadth of those wrong ideas and to solicit other voices to combat the noise . . . as I hope we're doing here.
    I think this is a good approach, though it's not one I always find easy or do as well as I should. Once I see signs of what looks like bad faith (or see a certain set of opinions I deem racist/sexist/homophobic or whatever being expressed for the hundredth time) to me, I know I tend to get mad, and when I'm mad, the last thing I want to do is ask questions or listen.

    This appears to be a common human failing, but I shall try to be better.
    It is a good approach in a general sort of way. It's very, very hard to do for me. I don't think there's anyone on the planet quicker to anger or impatience with others than I am. I probably work harder at this approach here on AW than anywhere else because I already know what I think and I'm not all that enamored with seeing my own words on the screen*. And when I am able summon at least a modicum of patience to ask questions it's much easier to try to delve into other people's thinking.


    ETA: *And I tend to worry about treating AW as my personal blog when I climb up on that there soapbox.
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  8. #233
    Because I just swallowed a feather. SwallowFeather's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RichardGarfinkle View Post
    This word usage showed me that SwallowFeather had likely not delved as deeply into the religion as might be necessary for the books under consideration.

    One may think that one is appropriating respectfully (I thought the same for some of my early novels), but upon reflection one discovers all sorts of cultural biases that make the act itself difficult unless one has had others not from one's culture examine one's biases and offer suggestions for how to overcome them.
    I'll be honest: I would LOVE to be able to discuss this stuff at length with someone Jewish. It hasn't happened for me yet (to the extent that I'd like), but I will continue seeing what I can do. The book isn't in its final edit yet. If anyone who sees this has any interest at all in a conversation, at whatever level, from brief exchange to sensitivity reader (if qualified), please PM me.

    What you're saying about the difference between faith and observance actually does sound familiar to me (I recall my mom referring to my character as "really convinced about Judaism" and I had to tell her I didn't really think that was how it worked), but I did not realize it was to the point that "faith" was an off-key or jarring word in regard to Judaism. (If it's any comfort, it isn't used in the book. In the one place that kind of word might have been used, we get a character saying "She's very religious," instead. I'll re-read with an eye to this, though.) I expect I used it because I keep hearing the term "people of faith"--seems to be the new trendy term. Ironic, really, because it probably reflects a very modern Christian tendency--disclaiming the words "religion" and "religious" as being somehow negative. I actually personally feel like it might be time to reclaim them. (Mostly because come on, how stupid would I look if I wasn't willing to cop to being a religious person.)

    Sorry for the digression from the main topic.

    I guess on the main topic I will just say that it's a good point that we are often unaware of our biases. Or--to offer a little further insight into my own journey--some of our biases. One of the most basic Christian biases toward Judaism is the notion of "legalism"--the idea that obeying all the laws (I am using Christian-biased terminology in this whole sentence btw) is intended to make you acceptable to God and get you into heaven. I went in very aware of that one and it was clear to me just from the whole atmosphere of what I was reading (among other things!) how wrong it was. But there are layers, and it's good not to assume you've made it to the bottom.

  9. #234
    Mankind is my Business AW Moderator RichardGarfinkle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SwallowFeather View Post
    I'll be honest: I would LOVE to be able to discuss this stuff at length with someone Jewish. It hasn't happened for me yet (to the extent that I'd like), but I will continue seeing what I can do. The book isn't in its final edit yet. If anyone who sees this has any interest at all in a conversation, at whatever level, from brief exchange to sensitivity reader (if qualified), please PM me.

    What you're saying about the difference between faith and observance actually does sound familiar to me (I recall my mom referring to my character as "really convinced about Judaism" and I had to tell her I didn't really think that was how it worked), but I did not realize it was to the point that "faith" was an off-key or jarring word in regard to Judaism. (If it's any comfort, it isn't used in the book. In the one place that kind of word might have been used, we get a character saying "She's very religious," instead. I'll re-read with an eye to this, though.) I expect I used it because I keep hearing the term "people of faith"--seems to be the new trendy term. Ironic, really, because it probably reflects a very modern Christian tendency--disclaiming the words "religion" and "religious" as being somehow negative. I actually personally feel like it might be time to reclaim them. (Mostly because come on, how stupid would I look if I wasn't willing to cop to being a religious person.)

    Sorry for the digression from the main topic.

    I guess on the main topic I will just say that it's a good point that we are often unaware of our biases. Or--to offer a little further insight into my own journey--some of our biases. One of the most basic Christian biases toward Judaism is the notion of "legalism"--the idea that obeying all the laws (I am using Christian-biased terminology in this whole sentence btw) is intended to make you acceptable to God and get you into heaven. I went in very aware of that one and it was clear to me just from the whole atmosphere of what I was reading (among other things!) how wrong it was. But there are layers, and it's good not to assume you've made it to the bottom.
    Not everyone finds the word "faith" off-putting as applied to Judaism. Many people have simply gotten used to it. It stands out more strongly to me from a combination of cultural and writing perspective.

    I'm always uncomfortable discussing Judaism because I am not an observant Jew. I'm also an atheist, but that's less important.

    There is a great deal of mythologizing of Judaism and Jewish people that is deep within Western culture. Legalism is the least of it.

    Christian teachings on Judaism have contained such charming ideas as the monstrous assertion that Jews are deicides and the condescending idea that they are ignorant forbears of the followers of the true religion who don't know that their Law has been superseded.

    But there are deeper issues of ignorance than that. Take this well-intended sentence:

    One of the most basic Christian biases toward Judaism is the notion of "legalism"--the idea that obeying all the laws (I am using Christian-biased terminology in this whole sentence btw) is intended to make you acceptable to God and get you into heaven.
    Implicit in this is the idea that Jews are like Christians in seeking a reward in the afterlife.

    The afterlife is part of Jewish folklore, but is not inherent to the religion. There is no question of reward or punishment in this life or any other. It's a matter of living a proper life according to the way of the people. Judaic teaching is of having a covenant with God. The people's responsibility in that covenant is to live up to the taught precepts and live in observance of the laws.

    It's not a matter of being rewarded. It's a responsibility for each person and the people collectively. As the situations Jews have lived in have evolved, the interpretations of those responsibilities have evolved with them.

    Note that the plural is used in "interpretations". Judaism does not presume that humanity can ever have a single final right answer. Argument is a virtue in Judaism.

    I'm elaborating this not as a derail, but to show how much the basic assumptions of the cultural observer affect the ability to understand and write from the culture being observed. It's why if one is going to write from another culture one should talk to the people of it, and more importantly listen to them, and not try to slot what they say into one's preconceptions of what a culture must be about.

    I'm going to bring up a fighting word: privilege. I'm doing so because cultural appropriation arguments show one of the basic ways to tell if one is in a privileged position on a particular matter.

    The non-privileged have to understand the privileged, but the privileged don't have to understand the non-privileged, because the culture pushes the privileged view on everyone.

    In Western culture, Christianity is a privileged religion. Everyone in the culture needs to know something about Christianity because it's pervasive. But Christians in Western societies don't have to know anything about any other religion. Christians living in majority Muslim countries are in a non-privileged position and need to know something about Islam. Christians living in Israel need to know something about Judaism. Christians in America don't.

    This produces the peculiar situation that the privileged in a society have fewer cultural examples to draw upon than the non-privileged. It's easier to learn a third cultural view than a second, just as it's easier to learn a third language than a second. Privilege damages perceptions.

    The solution is to ask questions and to listen to answers, especially the answer "that question makes no sense."
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  10. #235
    practical experience, FTW cornflake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SwallowFeather View Post
    I'll be honest: I would LOVE to be able to discuss this stuff at length with someone Jewish. It hasn't happened for me yet (to the extent that I'd like), but I will continue seeing what I can do. The book isn't in its final edit yet. If anyone who sees this has any interest at all in a conversation, at whatever level, from brief exchange to sensitivity reader (if qualified), please PM me.

    What you're saying about the difference between faith and observance actually does sound familiar to me (I recall my mom referring to my character as "really convinced about Judaism" and I had to tell her I didn't really think that was how it worked), but I did not realize it was to the point that "faith" was an off-key or jarring word in regard to Judaism. (If it's any comfort, it isn't used in the book. In the one place that kind of word might have been used, we get a character saying "She's very religious," instead. I'll re-read with an eye to this, though.) I expect I used it because I keep hearing the term "people of faith"--seems to be the new trendy term. Ironic, really, because it probably reflects a very modern Christian tendency--disclaiming the words "religion" and "religious" as being somehow negative. I actually personally feel like it might be time to reclaim them. (Mostly because come on, how stupid would I look if I wasn't willing to cop to being a religious person.)

    Sorry for the digression from the main topic.

    I guess on the main topic I will just say that it's a good point that we are often unaware of our biases. Or--to offer a little further insight into my own journey--some of our biases. One of the most basic Christian biases toward Judaism is the notion of "legalism"--the idea that obeying all the laws (I am using Christian-biased terminology in this whole sentence btw) is intended to make you acceptable to God and get you into heaven. I went in very aware of that one and it was clear to me just from the whole atmosphere of what I was reading (among other things!) how wrong it was. But there are layers, and it's good not to assume you've made it to the bottom.
    I'm not sure if I understand what you mean exactly, but you know Jews don't so much believe in Heaven or Hell or anything like that, right? Also, not for nothing, but I thought the idea of relying on works was verboten.

  11. #236
    Because I just swallowed a feather. SwallowFeather's Avatar
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    Of course Christianity is privileged in the West, and in the United States especially. It would be plain stupid to deny it. And those who do deny it, and sniff for "persecution" everywhere they are not privileged, are plain stupid.

    And privilege doesn't look good on Christians. Not good at all. Where Christians are a minority they tend to be pretty decent people. Not so much where we're in power. (I know that's not considered an evangelical stance. I'm no longer exactly evangelical, you might say.) That's a whole nother can of worms. You've noticed the state of the world I'm sure.

    Anyway, I'm really sorry I was unclear... the sentence you quoted was intended to describe a Christian prejudice--the whole sentence, including the part about the afterlife. None of it was intended to describe my current understanding of Judaism, which would be poor indeed if I still thought it was about getting to heaven or was in any way centered on the afterlife.

    A theme in your post, carried from the mention of Christian teachings about Judaism to the privilege section at the end, stands out to me: the privileged/majority culture are likelier to hear their own culture's interpretation of a non-privileged culture, than they are to hear the voices of people who belong to the non-privileged culture. Sometimes the interpretation is clearly suspect because it's so negative (anti-Semitic tropes of all kinds) but sometimes it's easier to believe. There's a lot of fetishization of Judaism from American evangelicals: using a sort of pseudo-Seder to celebrate Easter, for example. (There was an article against the practice in a Christian magazine recently, written by two rabbis.) People walk away from these events with notions about Judaism that are positive but incomplete, inaccurate or just seen through the wrong lens, because no actual Jews were even involved. (Not to mention the appropriative aspect.) That is one of the ways privilege damages perceptions. You exist in an echo chamber, and fail to ask questions because they've been answered--wrongly--already.

    And yes, "that question makes no sense" is indeed one of the most valuable answers there is!
    Last edited by SwallowFeather; Today at 04:01 AM. Reason: trying to be extra clear

  12. #237
    Because I just swallowed a feather. SwallowFeather's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cornflake View Post
    I'm not sure if I understand what you mean exactly, but you know Jews don't so much believe in Heaven or Hell or anything like that, right? Also, not for nothing, but I thought the idea of relying on works was verboten.
    Yeah, that's the idea, it's "the Jews rely on works but we're supposed to rely on grace."

    Wow, I really was unclear, wasn't I? Sorry. No, I don't think Jews are trying to get to Heaven. I was trying to say that Christians often think that.

  13. #238
    I'm in the "write whatever you want" camp. Though, personally, I stick to my own (Puerto Rican) culture. Even then, I focus on areas I'm familiar with. For example, I wouldn't write about a dark skinned Puerto Rican with coarse hair struggling to overcome prejudice within and outside the community because my experience in this world is different than hers.

    There are nuances I'll never fully understand and it's those subtleties that make a good story great. I think of the reader. Am I doing right by them? How the minority group feels doesn't come into the equation.
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    But seriously, never ask permission to write something. Don't be a wimp.

  14. #239
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    Quote Originally Posted by cornflake View Post
    I'm not sure if I understand what you mean exactly, but you know Jews don't so much believe in Heaven or Hell or anything like that, right? Also, not for nothing, but I thought the idea of relying on works was verboten.
    Gah. The works (James in James 2:14-26) vs faith (grace; Paul in Romans, 5:1-2) is one of the distinctions between Protestants and Catholics, directly tied to the Protestant Reformation. And it's actually kinda complicated. Paul emphasized faith; James emphasized works. They both cite Abraham to support their arguments, and it's much clearer in the Greek than it is in translation.
    Last edited by AW Admin; Today at 03:48 AM.

  15. #240
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    Quote Originally Posted by AW Admin View Post
    Gah. The works (James in James 2:14-26) vs faith (grace; Paul in Romans, 5:1-2) is one of the distinctions between Protestants and Catholics, directly tied to the Protestant Reformation. And it's actually kinda complicated. Paul emphasized faith; James emphasized works. They both cite Abraham to support their arguments, and it's much clearer in the Greek than it is in translation.
    This reminds me of a question I've always had about the beliefs of different Christian religions, one the internet hasn't really been able to answer for me. I was taught way back in school that this was a distinction--Catholics believe both works and faith are needed for salvation (necessary works being active participation in the Church and its rituals, which would explain why some of my Catholic friends, or their parents at least, felt that missing Church voluntarily was a huge sin), while Protestants believe that faith and one's personal relationship with Jesus alone is what counts.

    How do Calvinism and some other protestant belief systems (that often have very strict codes of conduct) fit into this, though? I know that one early criticism of Catholicism was that it emphasizes grace via faith and passive participation in the Church. But then why would Protestants today worry about charity and doing good deeds in the name of their faith if their core belief is that faith is enough to attain salvation? And why do Protestants have rituals or think it's important to go to church at all, let alone have religious rules governing conduct? As someone of roughly Protestant background (culturally and ancestrally) who was raised without going to church or any emphasis on religion, this has always puzzled me.

    Christianity, especially Protestant Christianity, is the dominant religion in America, but even so, there are so many conflicting ideas, social memes, and conventional wisdoms surrounding it, that I don't always understand it as someone who doesn't partake (another is how can dead people all be spirits up in Heaven looking down at us from clouds and sending the living signs from Heaven if everyone is actually sleeping in the ground until judgement day and awaiting an actual physical resurrection).

    I know this is straying ever further off topic, though, so maybe it would be better in another thread, or someone can pm me with answers.

    In light of relevance to this thread, though, this is an example of something I'd have to research pretty carefully if I wanted to write a character who was deeply religious and who consciously adhered to a particular interpretation of scriptures. Even dominant cultures and beliefs can be misrepresented or misunderstood, though the harm done would likely be less.
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; Today at 04:36 AM.
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  16. #241
    Rewriting My Destiny Cyia's Avatar
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    Works imply that a person on their own is capable of achieving righteousness.

    Grace relies on the righteousness of Jesus to make up for where the person falls short. (Why he's referred to as a sacrificial lamb.)

    (This is so hard to explain in a few lines.)

    God can't co-exist with sin, as sin is destroyed in God's presence. Blood / death is the price for sin (sin dies in the presence of God), so the idea of grace is that the price has been paid. Being "covered" in the blood of Jesus, like the doorposts were covered in lamb's blood before the Exodus to keep death from taking the first born in the house.

    (Basically one man - Adam - made by God, condemned the world in the Garden of Eden. One man, Abraham, was willing to sacrifice his son because he thought it was what God wanted. In reciprocity, one man - Jesus, the "2nd Adam" saved the world by his sacrifice. God was willing to make that sacrifice because of the one man who was willing to sacrifice his own son. Everything runs parallel.)

    Now, when you get into the "works of the righteous," they basically do it because they believed that God said so. It's an identifier of who is and isn't a follower / believer. If the Bible says the righteous do X, then you should be out there doing X or don't expect us to think you're righteous, etc.
    Last edited by Cyia; Today at 04:28 AM.




  17. #242
    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post
    This reminds me of a question I've always had about the beliefs of different Christian religions, one the internet hasn't really been able to answer for me. I was taught way back in school that this was a distinction--Catholics believe both works and faith are needed for salvation (necessary works being active participation in the Church and its rituals, which would explain why some of my Catholic friends, or their parents at least, felt that missing Church voluntarily was a huge sin), while Protestants believe that faith and one's personal relationship with Jesus alone is what counts.

    How do Calvinism and some other protestant belief systems (that often have very strict codes of conduct) fit into this, though? I know that one early criticism of Catholicism was that it emphasizes grace via faith and passive participation in the Church. But then why would Protestants today worry about charity and doing good deeds in the name of their faith if their core belief is that faith is enough to attain salvation? And why do Protestants have rituals or think it's important to go to church at all, let alone have religious rules governing conduct? As someone of roughly Protestant background (culturally and ancestrally) who was raised without going to church or any emphasis on religion, this has always puzzled me.

    Christianity, especially Protestant Christianity, is the dominant religion in America, but even so, there are so many conflicting ideas, social memes, and conventional wisdoms surrounding it, that I don't always understand it as someone who doesn't partake (another is how can dead people all be spirits up in Heaven looking down at us from clouds and sending the living signs from Heaven if everyone is actually sleeping in the ground until judgement day and awaiting an actual physical resurrection).

    I know this is straying ever further off topic, though, so maybe it would be better in another thread, or someone can pm me with answers.

    In light of relevance to this thread, though, this is an example of something I'd have to research pretty carefully if I wanted to write a character who was deeply religious and who consciously adhered to a particular interpretation of scriptures. Even dominant cultures and beliefs can be misrepresented or misunderstood, though the harm done would likely be less.
    [Emphasis mine.]

    A caution:

    I'm okay with this part of the discussion thus far. It's illustrative of how easy it is to get things wrong even on topics we're pretty sure we know well, much less cultures and religions we haven't bothered to research or learn. The prevalence of bad information is often the foundation for assumptive reasoning and confirmation bias. Howsomever, if this discussion becomes a comparison of specific religions, I'll prune and port.

    Let's keep to the overall topic.
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  18. #243
    Beastly Fido Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cyia View Post
    Works imply that a person on their own is capable of achieving righteousness.
    But the Catholic Church definitely doesn't believe this. As I understand it, they feel that a person achieves salvation through the agency of the Church itself as well as via their faith--the works in question being active participation in the sacraments of Catholicism.

    Now, when you get into the "works of the righteous," they basically do it because they believed that God said so. It's an identifier of who is and isn't a follower / believer. If the Bible says the righteous do X, then you should be out there doing X or don't expect us to think you're righteous, etc.
    But if faith alone is enough for grace, why bother with being righteous (engaging in righteous acts would be works, wouldn't they) at all? It sounds like participation in works is more of a social thing in Protestantism, a desire to be a part of a community and be held in regard by others within it and to prove to others (and maybe oneself too) that one has faith in God.

    I know that there are a lot of different religions, though. Then there are some popular memes associated with a more secularized version of Christianity as the dominant culture in the US and most of Europe, and those aren't always very scriptural.

    I guess that another aspect of privilege (when one's own background is from the dominant culture or religion in a society) is not having to think about the particulars of that background very often, or of having it be a very academic thing to discuss. Christianity, and its status as a sort of secularized dominant culture in the US, is in no danger of disappearing any time soon (though some forms of it might well be), so many individuals from that background feel pretty free to take or leave it, or even to approach it from a sort of "cafeteria" angle--only integrating the bits that make sense to them or work for them in their lives.

    I'm thinking that when one's culture and religion are in danger of being wiped out or assimilated, maintaining those traditions more faithfully would likely be much more important.
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; Today at 05:06 AM.
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    Herder of Hamsters AW Admin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post
    I'm thinking that when one's culture and religion are in danger of being wiped out or assimilated, maintaining those traditions more faithfully would likely be much more important.
    There's a thing that happens when the ur-text for religions of the book are translated and presented through a lens; the text is transformed, no matter how carefully the translator tries not to (though often, the intention to transform is deliberate).

    Judaism still uses Hebrew. It's a cultural value as well as a religious value. Even if you're not observant there are Hebrew things you know because they're culturally embedded.

    Muslims still learn and use Classical Arabic. They quote, even if the only Arabic they know is the Quaran. Muslims often know large chunks of it by heart.

    Many Hindus (not all) still learn Sanskrit to read scripture in the original.

    There are solid reasons that Armenian, Russian and Greek Orthodox churches (splinters from Rome, or the other way around, depending on personal views) still use Armenian, Russian and Greek in services.

    When we take cultural practices, whether religious or social or literary/mythological out of their context, we can't help but change them. There's a somewhat troubling essay by an anthropologist named Laura Bohannon in Natural History magazine, 1966 called "Shakespeare in the Bush." It's about her efforts to translate/explain Hamlet to a group of Bushmen.

    It's . . . complicated. Cultural interaction, explanation and annotation change things.
    Last edited by AW Admin; Today at 07:41 AM.

  20. #245
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    I think a short answer to your question, Roxxsmom, would be that just as Judaism isn't about getting to Heaven, Protestantism isn't only about getting to Heaven. We too have responsibilities to God and each other even when rewards and punishments are not attached to them. And we are supposed to recognize God's authority in telling us to live right and love our neighbor, etc. One of the things I was taught is that we engage in good works, not to gain salvation, but in gratitude for being given it.

    There is definitely a social aspect like you describe, as well. The details vary greatly by denomination and church. But it's not the only thing.

    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post
    I guess that another aspect of privilege (when one's own background is from the dominant culture or religion in a society) is not having to think about the particulars of that background very often, or of having it be a very academic thing to discuss. Christianity, and its status as a sort of secularized dominant culture in the US, is in no danger of disappearing any time soon (though some forms of it might well be), so many individuals from that background feel pretty free to take or leave it, or even to approach it from a sort of "cafeteria" angle--only integrating the bits that make sense to them or work for them in their lives.

    I'm thinking that when one's culture and religion are in danger of being wiped out or assimilated, maintaining those traditions more faithfully would likely be much more important.
    I think this is true. Like so much else in life, we take things more casually when they are not under threat.

  21. #246
    It's just a jump to the left... SWest's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AW Admin View Post
    ... Cultural interaction, explanation and annotation change things.
    We come by these errors naturally. We, in fact, change our own personal stories each time we remember them.

    Someone else's stories should be approached with at least the humble understanding that we might inadvertently, unconsciously alter them. Diligent research combined with openness to no-holds-barred critique are the best tools we have...but we have to have the courage to use them (versus the arrogance to insist they are unnecessary in my work).

    Maybe our research reveals too many holes in a story idea best abandoned. Maybe a gracious critique means a completed manuscript has to be entirely rewritten. These things happen, and there's no point being precious about our feelings. Do better next time.
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  22. #247
    Beastly Fido Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AW Admin View Post

    When we take cultural practices, whether religious or social or literary/mythological out of their context, we can't help but change them. There's a somewhat troubling essay by an anthropologist name Laura Bohannon from Natural History magazine, 1966 called "Shakespeare in the Bush." It's about her efforts to translate/explain Hamlet to a group of Bushmen.

    It's . . . complicated. Cultural interaction, explanation and annotation change things.
    This is indeed very interesting, and a good example of how some ideas really don't translate.

    One question I've had for a long time is whether or not change, or the loss or erosion of some cultural elements, is always a bad thing. Western-European-derived culture, even within America, has changed greatly over the centuris and decades, as have most others. Many changes have been for the better, imo, like the expanding role of women in society. There are some things from my own cultural roots I'm very happy to be free of (compulsory religion being one of them). I'll admit that it does puzzle me sometimes when people want to cling to beliefs and traditions that seem to be holding them, or some members of their community (like women) back, for instance. Some of the justifications for some pretty horrible and repressive practices many different cultures lie in tradition and religion.

    When I lived in Northern NY, I attended a talk by a man of Mohawk heritage who was also in the space shuttle program with NASA, and he talked about his struggle to be a scientist, who has to learn to question everything, and retaining his own cultural identity, which believes that one must accept conventional wisdom and the edicts of one's elders without question.

    This led me to wonder: if science is a good thing overall, a tool that improves the quality of life and the standards of living for people, and if questioning everything has led some who are oppressed to question the status quo and has even led some of us in the currently dominant culture to question our own beliefs and our "right" to push everyone else around (after centuries of using their scientific accomplishments as a justification for dominating, of course), then aren't cultures that encourage inquisitiveness and questioning better off overall and more likely to survive, even if they evolve and change and eventually forget much of their old ways?

    I don't really have a good answer to this uncomfortable question, except that it's not my place to tell people from other cultures how to answer it for themselves (or that they have to ask the question or answer it at all). There's a difference between a culture abandoning some things that were once dear to them but don't work for them anymore on their own and being forced to by another culture that wants their stuff or gets an ego trip out of making everyone more like them.
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; Today at 07:50 AM.
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