Culture, cultivation and christianity

By Fr George Adimike

As a work in progress, man is both a subject and an object of cultivation. No culture is without cultivation, both in its figurative and literal senses. As habitual beings, our repeated actions create a pattern that influences and informs our default perspective of reality. This disposition comes from the cultivation of one’s life and its ramifications. Indeed, without the cultivation of virtues, there cannot be a culture of freedom, which provides the environment for growth. No civilisation without a city, no culture without cultivation! “There is no culture without agriculture,” says Baba Tarik Oduno. Similarly, authentic Christianity involves an adequate cultivation of personal culture, character.

Given that our metaphysical deprivation impacts our freedom and our sociological milieu constrains its exercise, no one can become a better person living their freedom responsibly without properly cultivating the self. Positive cultivation of nature impacts the individual and promotes the common good. The observance of the law of nature generates a dividend of wellness for the ecosystem, the individuals, and the community. Similarly, the observance of the law of nurture unleashes on society a set of well-formed citizens who maintain a healthy relationship with self, society, and the Supreme Being.

Man cultivates his values and constructs his life by processing the data of human daily experiences, making choices and executing resolutions. Culture is the aggregation of these facts in a mélange that informs and reinforces further similar acts. It is in these daily experiences that one cultivates one›s culture as such. While culture has an overarching impact on the individual and community, it is not a prefabricated, factory-fitted, infallible norm. In actuality, culture is an imperfect milieu in which everyone lives and tries to improve his appropriation of values to respond better to the community’s needs. No epoch is denied the creative, perfective presence of the Spirit that feeds its march to progress and humanisation.

Because faith is a project in progress, it needs nurture and cultivation. Paul planted, Apollos watered, and Christ gave the increase. Faith is nothing without works, and indeed, without works, faith is dead. Cultivation is the receptive mode of appreciating faith as a treasure to be nurtured. It requires one to consciously expose oneself to circumstances and things that promote the object of one’s interest. In this case, faith needs cultivation to grow and flourish. Cultivation is a structure of the grace economy because it reaches the depths of what it was to be human. Though grace is the act of divine irruption in human affairs, it builds on nature such that the cultivation of self approximates the cultivation of culture.

Arguably, the ethos of grace frees the ego, informs ecology and economy, and produces a healthy culture.

This cultivation of culture draws from the principles and practices of agriculture, which integrate three critical elements: soil, self, and society. By cultivating the soil, one is imperceptibly cultivating the self and society. The quality of the soil, soul and society measures the quality of life, and the integration of these three launches humanity into its fullest expression. In cultivating the soil, humans enrich their souls and construct society. Through work, they explore the meaning of their existence as souls interacting with others in society. The cultivation of the soil engenders the cultivation of the self, which leads to the cultivation of society.

Through this cultivation, virtues are developed; thus, superior qualities and skills are domesticated. The practice of exerting one’s energies and creativities feeds healthy customs and traditions that promote the interest of all.

Constant domestication and cultivation of virtues make the culture better. Work, the instrument of mending the brokenness of the human person and family, typifies cultivation. In other words, work drives civilisation by participating in the cultivation of men and women. Like culture, a faith not adequately cultivated by consciously searching for its best understanding, expression, and value degenerates into a monster. Through such a monster, the worst elements in humans are accepted and celebrated under the guise of worshipping God.  Cultures must be constantly purified, and faith must continuously be interrogated. Once the quaerrere of faith (the quest for understanding) stops, the possibility of abuse and corruption increases!

Whereas culture is dynamic, growing at the pace of people’s consciousness of their environment and their interaction with other societies in responding to vital existential questions, some people consider it a static and ready-made reality from the past. This mentality treats culture as a fossilised artefact located in historical mining sites. In other words, many people treat culture with an archaeological mindset, which limits the possibilities of new answers to old or not-so-old questions.  Since solutions are often sourced by flight in time to past decades or centuries, old answers are recycled with utter forgetfulness that the Spirit who spoke and inspired people in the days of old is the same Spirit who does so today. The severance of the Spirit of yesterday from the Spirit of today wallows in the ignorance of the divine dynamism. For the Spirit, yesterday, today and tomorrow are integrated and never delinked.

Culture―the shared societal memory that connects her past with the present and influences the future―is the sum of humans’ meaning-making efforts in a given place and time. It is one of the most evident manifestations of humans’ possession of reason, meaning and logic. Precisely, it is the intercourse of the rational and sensible in men and women relative to the environment that informs ethos, and norms societal existence. Together with religion, culture tethers relationships between people together. Both culture and religion share an affinity. In their intercourse, culture conditions religion, while faith informs culture and shapes it. Religion swims and drowns with culture.

Therefore, culture is evidence of growth and thought-making engagement with the existential questions of metaphysics, ethics, and techniques, which possess epistemic normativity. It is about the development of ideas and responses; hence, culture is dynamic. As societies grow in their questioning and responding, they grow in their culture. The interactions of their reasoning and feeling faculties with the environment, geography, and history produce responses that aid them in adapting. Culture involves the engagement of the three dimensions of man and society: intellective, affective and operative.

In consequence, culture is not static; it grows or degenerates. It is the development of both individuals and society. It is neither fetishism nor idolatry. Culture does not entail a rearward flight to a given time in history; otherwise, it becomes a mere archaeologism. Relative to society and the supernatural, culture falters when it considers reality within a limited prism. The problem is always the adequate cultivation of both culture and religion.

While culture is about cultivation, religion needs proper agriculture of faith to avoid presenting humanity’s unhealthy desires as the imperatives of faith. Indeed, the Holy Spirit plays a role in human operations, mainly through the interplay of elements and human faculties such as intellect and will. Since naturally, human knowing is mediated in time and space by various intervening variables and historical enablers, people of faith should appreciate the need to properly understand their belief in its virginity and freshness devoid of baneful human interferences. Since Jesus is a subject of historicity by the Spirit, Christians need the Spirit, the motor of civilisation, to drive their search for God and celebrate the faith, which informs culture. In doing this, we remember that there is no faith without culture and no good culture without cultivation.

*Fr Adimike writes via [email protected]

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