The first chapter is by Dr. David Eller, Professor of Anthropology at The Community College of Denver in Colorado. He is the author of six books: Cultural Anthropology: Global Forces, Local Lives ; Introducing Anthropology of Religion: Culture to the Ultimate; Violence and Culture: A Cross-Cultural and Interdisciplinary Approach; Natural Atheism; From Culture to Ethnicity to Conflict: An Anthropological Perspective on Ethnic Conflict ; and Atheism Advanced: Further Thoughts of a Freethinker.
In the chapter entitled, "The Culture of Christianities" (pp. 25-46), Eller begins by saying: One of the great mysteries is why, despite the best arguments against it, religion survives . His answer is that religions, including Christianity, survive because they are integrally interwoven into the culture. What is culture?
It is the label anthropologists give to the structured customs and underlying worldview assumptions by which people govern their lives. Culture is a people's way of life, their design for living, their way of coping with their biological, physical, and social environment. It consists of learned, patterned assumptions, concepts and behaviors, plus the resulting artifacts (Charles Kraft cited by Eller, p. 27).Eller writes:
Christianity, like any religion, is a part of culture. It is learned and shared, and it is integrated with the other systems of the culture, including its economics, its kinship, and its politics (p. 28). It organizes the lives and experiences of its followers--literally provides the terms in and through which they live and experience--and is seldom questioned by them (p. 29). He continues: the United States and the wider Western world are heavily saturated with Christianity throughout their many large and small cultural arrangements. Whether or not they know it--and it is more insidious if they do not know it--non-Christians living in Christian-dominated societies live a life permeated with Christian assumptions and premises. Christian and non-Christian alike are literally immersed in Christian cultural waters, and like fish they take for granted the water they swim in (p. 33).Eller (pp. 33-38) shows that religion, and specifically Christianity in the United States, becomes intertwined into every aspect of life--vocabulary in the language, important life events such as births, deaths, and marriages, foods, children's names, clothing, institutions, holidays, and so on. It is literally part of almost every aspect of daily life.
Eller also points out that culture is a two-way street:
culture adapts to and is suffused with religion, but religion also adapts to and is suffused with culture (emphasis his). In other words, not only does religion replicate itself through the many parts of culture, but culture replicates itself through the religion, recasting a religion like Christianity in the culture's own image. . . . Since its inception, Christianity has accommodated itself to its cultural surroundings--and necessarily so, since a religion that is incompatible with its cultural context would be unintelligible and therefore unappealing to the people of that society. The consequence is that there is no such thing as a single, unified, global Christianity but instead many, different, local "Christianities," which often do not recognize each other, accept each other, or even comprehend each other (p. 39).Christianity has been evolving from the beginning. As Eller points out, Christianity itself began as a modification and reinterpretation of Judaism. As it spread out through the Hellenistic world, it evolved further. When it became the official religion of the Roman empire more assimilations and modifications took place. As it has moved into other parts of the world, it has adapted itself to those cultures. American Christianity is thus not unique in its history of innovation, diffusion, loss, reinterpretatiion, syncretism, and schism . . . (p. 41). The freedom of religion in the United States has resulted in even greater innovation as multiple new sects of Christianity have been born (e.g., Mormonism, Seventh Day Adventism, Jehovah's Witnesses, and so on). Christianity has shown a nearly infinite capacity to multiply and morph to fit its environment, it can accommodate or integrate almost any influence (p. 42). It has manifested itself in such diverse forms as the Ku Klux Klan and the Civil Rights Movement, the Prosperity Gospel and the Amish. Eller says there as many as 38,000 sects and denominations of Christianity in the world. Thus, there is really no such thing as Christianity but rather "Christianities."
Will the Christian underpinnings ever be removed from American or Western culture? Possibly, but it will be a very long and slow process. Its more likely that Christianity will keep reinventing itself to accommodate the changes within culture.
Why can't people see the fallacies involved in their religion and forsake them? Eller's answer is that
Like a pair of glasses, humans see with culture, but they do not usually see culture. Computers do not know they are running a program, they simply follow the instructions. Seeing your glasses, recognizing your program, is a rare thing, acheived by few individuals in even fewer societies. . . . culture provides us with a set of "frames" or "scenarios" with familiar and predictable patterns and outcomes. These frames or scenarios get the average person through the average life with little uncertainty . . . (p. 44).