Gospel & Culture blog
Every few years, a story comes out about the discovery of previously un-contacted tribes --- usually in the Amazonian jungle. A few days ago the Guardian reported that photographer Ricardo Stuckert's helicopter was diverted, and his flight took him over one such tribe. Stuckert posted his photos of the Indians (this is how they are referred to in the news story) looking up at the helicopter, bows and spears in hand. In 2014, the Guradian had a similar story about un-contacted Indians who fled their home and crossed into Peru to seek help.
I have become curious about why we are so fascinated by the notion of tribes that have little knowledge about the outside world. I have few hunches:
I think the issue warrants more of our attention than just a lookey-loo at people with brown skin, hand-fashioned weapons and loin cloths. Survival International says there are as many as 100 un-contacted tribes, whose land, way of life, and even existence are threatened. The push and pull factors of modernity and cultural preservation is a complicated issue: How do indigenous peoples balance their desires to protect the land, the need for modern medicine, their interest in modern conveniences, their need to have a political voice at the national and international level. Plus, the interests of the national government and international businesses (loggers, oil companies, etc.) are also at play.
Perhaps, without articulating all of these conflicting interests in a nano-second, it's the extremely complicated nature of all of this which catches our imagination and makes us stop to look at the stories about the discoveries of unknown tribes.
Below is the answer I give in my newest book God's Image and Global Cultures:
 See Scarborough Enough Is Enough; Starnes God Less America.
 See B. Carson America the Beautiful; Gingrich Rediscovering God in America.
 See Hedges American Fascists; Rudin The Baptizing of America; Whitten The Myth of Christian America.
 I asked five acquaintances who each had more than 2000 “friends” on Facebook to post the survey on their “wall.” Respondents answered a survey on SurveyMonkey.
 Tocqueville, Democracy in America.
 Gingrich and Gingrich. “A City upon a Hill.”
 Asmus and Grudem. The Poverty of Nations.
Globalization matters for Christians. In my newest book, God's Image and Global Cultures, I talk about a number of ways Christians must respond to the increased interconnectedness in the global marketplace. Below is an excerpt:
 B. Barber, "Jihad vs. McWorld."
 Veseth, Globaloney, 68.
 Pearse, Why the Rest Hates the West, 17.
I was moved when I heard that the Olympics has a new team this year: Ten refugees who could not compete in their own country of origin were invited to compete in the Olympic Refugee Team. Remember, these swimmers and runners (and in one case, a judo fighter) do not have "refugee" as their primary identity: They are athletes. They have back stories too-- where they have had dreams of being in the Olympics for years. They have been training for years, with the support of coaches and families. It's not like these folks were let into the Olympics just as a PR move, or simply out of sympathy- though the Olympic Committee did intend to cast a spotlight on the refugee crisis. Still, these men and women earned their spot. In that way, they're not that different from any other team in the Olympics.
Then I thought, "But is the Refugee Team really a team, if the athletes come from several different countries, including Syria, Turkey, and Iran?" And then I realized that most countries competing in the Olympics have teams that are composed of multiple ethnicities and even national origins. The Refugee has more in common with the other teams than I originally realized. The Refugee team is just a more stark example of the sort of globalization we're all experiencing.
What was your response when you learned about the Olympic Refugee team?
News organizations like NBC and Reuters reported recently on a fad sweeping through Thailand: adult women are carrying dolls sold under the moniker “child angels” for good luck. The owners talk to their dolls, feed them snacks, and tell them how much they love them. And they report that their lives are better since they have adopted the figurines.
The news reports rightly identified this activity as “animistic” in that the Thai are animating the objects as if they have a volition and efficaciousness. However, I’m surprised that reporters were willing to put an ethnocentric label like “superstitious” on the new trend.
What is notable to me about Southeast Asian women taking such an interest in the dolls is how this demonstrates culture change and the remarkable way innovations are diffused. It’s not innovative to speak to dolls or carry them with you everywhere you go- or even wishing to purchase a plane seat for them. Young girls in Western countries have patterned these behaviors for decades. This Western cultural feature is simply being adopted and modified by older women in Thailand. If young Thai girls were inseparable from their dolls- or even attributed some good luck to them- we wouldn’t have taken notice. So we don’t have a case of superstition as much as adaptation of a Western innovation, which has been reorganized somewhat.
Regarding “superstition,” the craze does exhibit what James Frazer called the “law of similarity”. I think the logic may go something like this: Young, wealthy Western girls carry dolls and are healthy and wealthy; therefore, if I carry a doll like they do, I will enjoy the same sort of fortune.” What has allowed this imitative magical thinking to spread so quickly is that it is compatible with the traditional religion in Southeast Asia.
Why Barber's Jihad vs. McWorld is a good conversation starter, but not sound economics or political theory
I wish I could assign Benjamin Barber's Jihad vs. McWorld for one of my classes on intercultural communication or culture change, but Barber's prolonged rant against Capitalism undoes any usefulness in his theory about the tension between tribalism and globalization. Barber's ground-breaking thesis (twenty years ago) was that globalization (which he calls McWorld) and tribalism (which he calls Jihad) both undermine the nation state. Modern states, in his mind, serve as the checks and balances. Unfettered globalization would undermine freedom by compelling us all to speak the same language (English), eat the same diet (McDonalds) shop in the same stores (WalMart). On the other hand, tribalism undermines the homogenizing nation state by accentuating ethnic and religious differences. "Global economic forces weaken the nation-state in developed areas where it is mos democratic and strengthen it in the Third World where it is least democratic, imperiling liberty in both cases" (56). It was a fascinating theory as globalization was just taking off in 1995.
I have, happily, just finished reading Everett Rogers' "Diffusion of Innovations." Although Rogers didn't present his research for the benefit of religious workers, I think he would agree that his theory of diffusion holds for religion every bit as much as it does for the adoption of innovations like iPods, new corn hybrids, or AIDS medicines. It seems strange to adopt so many of Rogers' terms into the discussion of missions and evangelism; on the other hand, his ideas can help us look at evangelism in a new way:
To apply Rogers' models, we'd also need to ask:
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor