10 July 2010

Recursion and belief

It's interesting to me the parallels between Chomsky's view of language and the Christian view of the world. For Chomsky, he has very little trouble arguing that something is universal, even when it isn't evident in part of his data set. Like he says, it doesn't matter if you use the capacity of recursion in your language, it doesn't mean it's not there. He has the enviable position of presenting case after case of languages that use recursion and when presented with one that doesn't, all he has to say is that the speakers have a capacity for it, they just don't do it. How does he know they have a capacity for it? Well, there's no evidence that they don't have a capacity for it (except, most obviously, their language).

The Christian argues the need of a saviour to save you from your sins. This is something that fits well in Western culture grown out of a judeo-Christian worldview with well-defined concepts of and words for sin, salvation, etc. We needn't see these concerns as constructs of culture because everyone we see and encounter understands them. As far as we know, they are innate in the human experience.

Well, they are innate until you discover a tribe like this. The Christian must say, They don't have a concept of God, but that doesn't mean that God's laws aren't written on their hearts. When there is evidence that they hold a belief that is similar to some judeo-Christian understanding of the world, the Christian can argue it as evidence of the judeo-Christian creator. When they don't have evidence of what Christians believe, they can simply argue that sin has blinded the tribe and as we are all fallen people, everyone's view of the world has been distorted, the West's, of course, being less distorted and closer to the truth. It's a very clever way of never allowing any evidence against your worldview. I'd like to put that argument aside, however, as I know it is not winnable, given the way faith works.

What is most troubling, most indefensible, is the belief that whatever people group you can think of would necessarily benefit from Christianity. Doesn't matter who they are, what they are, where they are. Doesn't matter if they are completely content in their life in the middle of the jungle. The Christian believes that they would benefit from conversion, and with it, the acceptance of Western cultural norms such as individual agency and fixed (ie, decontextualised) moral law.

I held this position before I went to Japan: that the Japanese, whoever they were, needed Jesus. Didn't matter that I had never met a Japanese person before. Didn't matter that I didn't know anything about their language or their culture. They needed Jesus. And when I got there, I saw all the gymnastics people need to do to make the Christian worldview fit in the Japanese culture. I remember a missionary telling me how the Japanese people he knew faced death with such austerity. He described it as without hope, but what he went on to describe was acceptance of death as an ending to life. It was only hopeless in his paradigm. He was entering the other's point of view from his own paradigm, not entering the other's point of view from the other's paradigm.

Campus Crusade had this problem, I have heard, in doing outreach on university campuses in Japan. They ask, 'What will happen to you when you die?' This works very well in the States where we are primed to worry about this. The Japanese students, however, weren't bothered by it. Hadn't occurred to them.

Why must the cultures that don't have an afterlife myth, that accept death as an ending, be seen as inferior to those that do. How dark the Japanese culture is! the missionary exclaims. They don't even worry about death!

How unfortunate to live an unexamined life! I say, To let your paradigm rule you without critical examination!