CULTURE AND RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE: The religion is the “soul of the culture”

* Indication of books about this matter for personal deepening:

. CONCÍLIO ECUMÊNICO VATICANO II, 1962-1965, Cidade do Vaticano. Gaudium et Spes. In: VIER, Frederico (Coord. Geral). Compêndio do Concílio Vaticano II. 22. ed. Petrópolis: Vozes, 1991, p. 141-256.

. DURKHEIM, Émile. As formas elementares da vida religiosa. 2. ed. São Paulo: Paulus, 1989.

. GONZALEZ, Carlos Ignázio. Ele é a nossa salvação. São Paulo: Loyola, 1992.

. IMBAMBA, José Manuel. Uma nova cultura para mulheres e homens novos. Luanda: Paulinas, 2003.

. LANGA, Adriano. A oração cristã e exigências da inculturação. Maputo: Ed Paulistas, 1993.

. NUNES, José. Didaskalia. Dezembro 2008, p. 3. Disponível em: Acesso em: 03 de abril de 2012.

. RÉVILLE, A. Prolégomènes à histoire des religions.

. SCHREITER, Robert J. A nova catolicidade: a teologia entre o global e o local. São Paulo: Loyola, 1998.

. SUSIN, Luiz Carlos. Os salmos na vida cristã. Porto Alegre: ESTEF São Lourenço de Brindes, 1976.

. TILLICH, Paul. Symbol und Wirklichkeit. Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1966.

. TILLICH, Paul. Théologie de la culture. Paris: Ed. Planète, Paris 1968.

. ___________. Teologia da cultura. São Paulo: Fonte Editorial, 2009.

. ZILLES, Urbano. Significação dos símbolos cristãos. 6. ed. Porto Alegre: EDIPUCRS, 2006.

Culture is revealing of the identity of the human being. It is a characteristic, which is fundamental to him. It is inconceivable to the human being outside the culture, because this is a specific way of being of man and woman. Culture is embedded in their being. There are strong characteristics of the culture, “the communion, the unity, the diversity, the intersubjectivity and the social character of the human existence” (IMBAMBA, José Manuel. Op. cit., p. 27s ). In a more concrete way, it can be defined as “the way of thinking, the mentality of a human group that explains the ways of proceeding (way of life) of that group” (LANGA, Adriano. Op. cit., p. 78). It is there that one understands the richness of diversity and how much is acquired when this diversity is valued and promoted.

Beyond identity and mentality, culture has much to do with task, mission, responsibility and perpetuity. When the human being creates and reveals the overflow of his creative interior, he aims to offer a contribution - as a legacy - for future generations (cf. GS 34). We understand this creative and inexhaustible inner richness in relation to the Creator Himself, who endowed the human being with the necessary faculties for this purpose. In this sense, He is culture and does culture. According to J. M. Imbamba, culture is not the work of God nor of nature, much less of chance; it is the work of the human being; it is fruit of his genius, his fantasy and creativity, his intelligence and will; it is everything that the human being creates because of the privileged faculties that he possesses (Cf. IMBAMBA, José Manuel. Op. cit., p. 32). This in no way should lead us to “think that the works of human inventiveness and power are opposed to the power of God, or to consider the rational creature as a rival of the Creator” (GS 34). However,

“When we affirm that the human being is the creator of culture, we do not mean to say that he creates from nothing (exclusive activity of God, therefore, is the Supreme Being), because in this case, the human being is nothing more than a ‘free instrumental cause’ with The divine command to dominate and administer the things of this world. This is why culture is the response of the human being to the divine (providential) will; This is why, in beyond to humanize, the human being, through culture, should also glorify his creator” (IMBAMBA, José Manuel. Op. cit., p. 33).

It is, therefore, divine will that the human being be culturally creative and this is how he defines himself among other created beings. But, according to J. M. Imbamba, the process is not automatic, because, in order the human beings can produce culture, it requires learning, education, and constant commitment. Still it will be subject to contradictions because of the limitations of being a man and a woman (cf. IMBAMBA, José Manuel. Op. cit., p. 33). This does not stop the insistent and persevering journey aiming the extension and development of the work of its Creator (cf. GS 34).

Even if the human being is capable of creating, nothing would be possible if a greater force did not motivate him. Then, he becomes aware that there is an omnipotent force that makes him creative and, at the same time, overcomes him (Cf. DURKHEIM, Émile. Op. cit., p. 55). To reach this awareness, the religions have played a key role. They seek to respond to the deepest questions of the human being in his aspiration to the infinite, putting him in communion with the one he conceives as his Creator and fellowshipping with the others. That is why some authors affirm that the “religion is the soul of culture” (DURKHEIM, Émile. Op. cit., p. 75). The author P. Tillich uses a corresponding expression in saying that the “religion is the substance that gives meaning to the culture” (TILLICH, Paul. Op cit., p. 83). The author J. Nunes also agrees with this truth by recalling situations that reinforce even more the understanding of religion as the soul of culture. According to him, the religion

"(...) was almost always a factor of social cohesion (visible in public manifestations or communal celebrations, for example, those of popular religiosity here in our country), it was the matrix of most cultural elements (in the case of Christianity, see as it taught how to write to think, to express oneself aesthetically and architecturally), it was, in some cases, a factor of scientific development (...), it is able to offer a sense and a 'sanction' to human effort (note that Christianity, as well as other religions, carry with them an ethic and a response to the anxieties of salvation, allowing even to integrate the experiences of failure and limits typical of the human experience. Religion, after all, and ultimately, offers a pattern of humanization to culture, to any culture" (NUNES, José. Op. cit., p. 3).

This makes us to understand that every cultural group has its religious experience, which guarantees the cohesion of the group, motivating a way of being, of thinking and acting. On this important work of the religion in the core of culture, the author É. Durkheim also adds more,

"The individuals who compose it feel connected to one another simply because they have a common faith. A society whose members are united by the fact of conceiving in the same way the sacred world and its relations with the profane world, and of translating this common conception into identical practices" (DURKHEIM, Émile. Op. cit., p. 75).

Indeed these practices rescue the meaning of the sacred in the world. This sacralisation happens through celebrations, in which the human being seeks communion with the deity, making his presence visible. The symbols, in this sense, representative or cultic, play a fundamental role, being the central element of the diverse conceptions of salvation (cf. GONZALEZ, Carlos Ignázio. Op. cit., p. 35). They are part of the inner richness of the human being, which is communicated as cultural expression and production. The symbol is not worth for what it is in itself, but for what it means. Thus, a hug, a gesture, a movement, or an action bring a meaning that surpasses them as visible situations.

When we refer to religious symbols, this truth seems even more remarkable. About this, U. Zilles, quoting Paul Tillich, states that the meaning of religious symbols “consists in being the language of religion, the only language through which the religion can express itself immediately”. However, the symbols diverge greatly from one culture to another and from one religion to another. A symbol that in one religion or culture is full of meaning, has no meaning for another culture or religion. According to L. C. Susin, “the symbols have a common note, but they gain multi-purpose directions. To know the strength of the symbol and its direction, it is necessary to know what experience one has of this symbol within the culture in which it is” (SUSIN, Luiz Carlos. Op. cit., p. 18).

The religion is not opposed to culture; on the contrary, it is the source of its vitality and its sacred sense. It is in the use of symbols that the religion allows the human being to see beyond and the hidden. That is why it is said that the symbol has something mysterious and fascinating. If we take Sacred Scripture, we see the creation as a particular symbol of the goodness, generosity, and greatness of its Creator. If we take Afro-Brazilian cultures, we realize how much the religious experience is expressed in everything they do and how much this experience becomes a factor of identity and survival.

Author: Josuel Degaaxé dos Santos Boaventura PSDP - Fr Ndega

Theological review: ThD Fr Luis Carlos Susin

English review: EdM Mary Kung'u

Author: Josuel Degaaxé dos Santos Boaventura PSDP - Fr Ndega

Theological review: ThD Fr Luis Carlos Susin

English review: EdM Mary Kung'u

  • JOSUEL DOS SANTOS BOAVENTURA Ministro de Culto Religioso
  • Sou um sacerdote catolico, membro do Instituto Pobres Servos da Divina Providencia. Minha área de pesquisa é Teologia e cultura


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