In part one of this series on counter-cultural Christianity, I claimed that how we define our culture is the starting point in any attempt to live counter-culturally. I also mentioned that culture is nebulous and not easily categorized. In the melting pot of cultures that make up the United States, is it even possible to identify an overarching American culture? Are there any values or parts of our lifestyles that cross racial, ethnic, and economic barriers? I think so. So, here are five characteristics that I believe define American culture*.
1. Americans are extremely independent, individualistic, and like to be different from each other.
Individualism is number one on my list because it is the most defining characteristic of American culture in my book. I submit that there are very few of us that want to be "just like everyone else." From a very early age, we are taught that being like everyone else is some kind of failure. As a youngster growing up, I started viewing people more as objects and tools to be used in my quest to be unique. Why should I have cared about them? I needed to be different, so what did it matter to me what they thought or needed?
2. Americans believe in freedom of choice.
Oh boy! Almost equal to our need to be individuals is our need to choose. In fact, they play off of each other a bit. It is my ability to choose what I want to my life that allows me to be the individual I wish to become. No one can tell me what to do. I choose for me. I say what goes in my life. Don't get me wrong. I am not saying the freedom to choose is bad. I would hate to live in a place that did not allow choices. That said, we Americans also tend to think that our freedom of choice somehow comes with freedom from consequences.
3. Americans like personal space around them.
I know this to be true of myself and just about every person I know. In fact, my wife and I just bought a house because we couldn't possibly have raised three children in a house with only 1000 square feet. Every one of our kids needs his own room. When I stand in line, I make sure there is at LEAST a foot of space between the next person and me. I hate people being all up on me. When sitting at a red light, I get irritated when the car behind me creeps ever closer in an effort to gain a little extra time. In short, I like my personal space. I know you do too. Americans love things to be as big and spacious as possible.
4. While we like to carve out our path and make our unique mark on the world, Americans often get offended when asked direct questions about those points of divergence.
Think about this. Most of us at least partially define ourselves by the money we make, the clothes we wear, how we look, and our religion (or lack thereof). But, when was the last time I felt overjoyed when someone commented on or directly asked me about my religion, age, money, salary, weight, or clothing choice?
5. As a result of being fiercely independent, most of us do not like to be thought of as needing to be helped.
So, Be careful when you offer your seat on the bus to an older or a physically challenged person. Oddly enough, what might seem like an honest to goodness act of kindness in your mind might be seen as degrading or offensive to the intended recipient.
I want to be clear here. These are elements of American culture that I believe transcend race and economics. My language above may sound a bit cynical at times. That is only because I find these traits to be growing areas within myself. It is with that mindset that I will close out this series in the next post. In that post, I will detail what I believe being a counter-cultural Christian is really all about.
Do you agree or disagree with this list? Do you think something is missing? Leave a comment below!