Culture, revisiting a place to start

What is the relationship between culture (as I am using it) and psychology?  To what extent is culture within the person, and to what extent is it without?  This seems to be where the culture/schema distinction ultimately leads us.  As I mentioned in the comment section, if possible I want to avoid using the word “schema” both because it is jargon, and because it imports Kantian baggage that I find misleading and (for a Christian) un-Incarnational.

We could say that schema is psychological – that is to say, it is a certain sense of what could be understood when I spoke of “a way of seeing the world”.   Schema however, is not in the world, but in us, and the world can become more or less the servant of “our way of seeing it” depending on our previous philosophical and personal tastes.  This leads me to a major objection to using the word: the locus of power can become completely the individual human being.  This  leads us to the typical nature/ nurture whirlpool, and epistemological skepticism.  Sure we could talk about it, but the more that discussion happens, the less removed it is from reality.  Also, I simply don’t care much for it.  Largely it is unhelpful.

What is more important is to keep Truth on the table.  This means, allowing for the common understanding of the world being at least part of reality.  We, schemas included, are subject to the “tribunal of experience”.  Moreover – and this is complex philosophical position worthy of rigorous attention – I believe that experience is conceptually laden.  It is the case that ideas enter into us experientially, even in a certain sense physically.  Epistemologically speaking, man is opened up to the world when he experiences the world.  Experience is not streams of data, but of actual things in an actual world.  (This, as I have noted before, gives an interesting perspective on physical sin, which allows concepts to harm the νούς as well as the body.) Thus I prefer to talk of concepts and experience instead of schema, because I believe it maintains the proper authoritative relationship between the person and the world.

Where is culture in all of this?  I mentioned in the comment box my heritage from Aristotle who continually speaks of the man who is μουσικός , which is either “musical” or “cultured” in most translations.  It comports well with our idea of culture here, though mostly because it signals an initiation into a particular practice of the polis, like music or reading/writing.  There are, of course, other words that also refer to culture in Greek: Plato talks of “education” or “training” (παιδεια), and of course Aristotle’s ethics (from ἐθός ) are all about forming man into true man, the good man.

The multiplicity of words doesn’t detract from my understanding of culture, but further points to what it is I claim we are missing: formation towards an end.  When sociologists talk of “schema” there is not much of an inherent  developmental sense, only a pragmatic one.  Being cultured in this sense would mean learning how to cope with the world, not about how to become most truly and beautifully who you are.

This sense of culture opens the human being up into the world and lifts his face to God, for it is Christ who is the Truth and the example of the Good man.  It is in Him that we can live with each other and the world in Beauty.  Christian culture is that which develops us into persons who can see the world rightly, who can affirm that the heavens declare the glory of God, and the image of God in our neighbor.

Development means change, and change means the death and passing away of somethings.  Being a Christian means being cultured and leaving behind the dead old man we once were.  Does it mean leaving behind our heritage?  Well yes and no.  The Irish were still Irish after St. Patty, but they were no longer Druids. (Apparently that task now falls upon one of my high school students.)  A friend of mine was reaffirming for me the completeness of change in Christ, but even this is not clear.  Is it I who persist through the change, or is it I that am the subject of change; and if the latter, how is it still me?  This question can quickly become mostly fruitless like epistemological skepticism, but it highlights one of the main fears when we talk about culture and “the Good”: namely, how do we judge what stays and goes?  Who are we to be the judge?  I cannot answer that question, but I can tell you part of how we should approach the issue: humbly.


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