CHAPTER V


THE FUNCTION OF RELIGION
IN FORMING A PERSONAL MODEL OF CULTURE


ZOFIA J. ZDYBICKA


We are witnessing a dramatic struggle in the mutual relations between religion and culture. The development of a lay culture and, in certain circumstances, even the purposeful elimination of religion from culture in order that man be fully recognized converge with some of the anti-human implications of the contemporary cultural model. This calls for a reconsideration of the nature and essential contributions of both religion and culture in order to establish a proper relation between them.

CULTURE AND RELIGION:

THE DIFFERENTIATION OF TERMINOLOGY

Culture, as opposed to nature, includes all that is formed intentionally and purposely by mankind. In fact, mankind has changed its surrounding reality or world, as well as itself, according to its own concepts and plans. Culture is the process of the transformation that leaves on nature an essentially human mark.

We cannot discuss the cultural activity of a human being without taking account of his or her spiritual-material potential and its social dimension. Cultural activity is the realization of human potentiality through action adequate to achieve specific goals or values. These specific aims distinguish the fundamental cultural domains by their specific values: science by truth, morality by goodness, art by beauty, and religion by holiness. The particular cultural domains depend upon and penetrate each other. In order to guarantee harmonious human development it is necessary to establish a proper hierarchy of aims and values. Each culture is based on this principle, which requires a fully clarified concept of all reality, especially that of mankind itself.

Religion is the most distinctive domain of human cultural activity. It combines the cognitive and active spheres, focusing on the Absolute or transcendent. In its cognitive and informative function, religion broadens mankind's sources of knowledge as the dimension of understanding in personal life. The religious person experiences new elements which influence his or her outlook if accepted with confidence and faith. This act of acceptance is unique for interpersonal relations. Religion clarifies the relation of human existence to the transcendent "Thou," pointing out the way in which the fragile existence of the human person is reinforced by its relation to the everlasting personal and loving being. Only through this specific relationship does the full development of the human personality become possible.

Religion reveals the infinite dimensions of man's life. It stresses those essential goals and values which are the objects of human endeavors. Their realization is the justification of human live and its cultural activity.

In addition to the above functions, religion provides the models which are essential for the development of personal human life. They are also essential in the process of personal growth in a manner that leads to the humanization, and even the divinization, of the human being: to becoming like God.

Finally, in each religion we can find supernatural intervention through grace, prayer, sacraments and ritual. These means reinforce the human spirit in its battle to free itself from the constantly threatening evil which weakens man's creative possibilities. Hence, they are also necessary in achieving his goals and values.

CULTURAL MODELS: THE RELIGIOUS ASPECT

OF PERSONAL CULTURE

One can observe a significant crises of culture and religion in our cultural milieu. This raises a very basic question: how can one explain the phenomenon of the existence of a lay culture and consumer life style within the almost two thousand year old Christian society?

In general religions, including Christianity, emphasize some general perspectives, models, and means for personal life, but they do not solve all the problems of human life. Religion demands the contribution of human thought to clarify man's goals and values. Specifically, the contribution of philosophical thinking and scientific models are of great value.

In order to explain the phenomenon of the model of culture, which has been accepted in the developed societies and desired within underdeveloped societies, we must relate it to Descartes' dualistic philosophy of matter and spirit and to the acceptance of mathematics as the model science.

The "New science" of XVII century, that is, mathematics and the mathematical science of nature, attracted the leaders of the developing and industrializing countries, and inspired the dream of a technical utopia which would completely change the world. This model science would assign the domain and mode of cognition. Mathematics would become the bundle of impersonal relations which result from the knowledge of that aspect of the material reality which can be measured and presented in numerical relations. This very useful cognitive tool promised to transform the material universe. Knowledge founded on mathematics would create omniscient people; in turn, their technology would make humankind all-powerful. Hence, science and technological progress became leading principles in the hierarchy of values. Unlimited production, unlimited freedom, satisfaction in possessing and consuming became the most important values of human endeavors. Because, however, this attitude limited man's cognitive horizons and therefore limited human goals it differed from Christianity's hierarchy of values.

In modern society one can observe the decline of the scientific, technological and impersonal model of culture which considered man as an instrument in relation to such impersonal values as science, progress and technology. This model of culture, as well as the consumer life-style, created new and dangerous forms of alienation which limited human freedom by bureaucracy and imposed its own opinions through mass media, as well as the danger of nuclear war, air pollution, and moral and psychological deformations.

Whereas culture is essentially a humanizing of nature, and especially of mankind and interpersonal relations, the acceptance of the impersonal model of culture has changed humanism into antihumanism. That is why there is so much to be said about destruction of the human being in a consumer culture, and about his "death" being essentially connected with the "death" of God.

Contemporary philosophers of culture, sociologists and psychologists now remark the danger resulting from narrowed perspectives and limited goals, with an inadequate hierarchy of values. They call for a new model of culture which would be more humanitarian and would deal with human needs. They discuss the need for a "new science" characterized by humanistic principles, which will provide evidence and develop a "new direction" for man both in his activity and in his interpersonal relations. This would produce a model for a new man, a new society, and a renewed life-style. On the basis of existing achievements, we must create a model of culture in which the human person and the knowledge of his structure, place in society, and development would be the basic goal of human cultural activity. We need a personal model of culture in which a human being will not be used as an instrument, but will be the main purpose of all activity. Science and technology must be looked upon as an instrument in human development, and as aids in improving interpersonal relations.

The higher forms of religion, specifically of Christianity, suggest a personal vision of human life and humanistic culture. The God of Christianity is a community of Persons relating to each other by love and possessing individual personality. The Holy Trinity in Its personal, intrinsic life establishes the ideal model of interpersonal human relations, and is, at the same time, the unique internal force and final destination of human life. God in the Holy Trinity assists humankind in its life and continues to help it in the realization of its human and superhuman possibilities. Christ, as a perfect unity of the divine and the human, is the concrete example who points out the direction, goal, and style of human development: "I am the way, the Truth, and the Life." It is necessary to emphasize this essential purpose and personal model in the Christian religion.

This implies an important role for philosophy. While religion receives from above the supernatural inspiration which reveals its eternal perspectives, it is connected to the temporal and changing existence of earthly reality. Therefore man's efforts to gain knowledge of the whole reality, especially of the human person, is very necessary. Existentialism, by stressing personal human life, the dialogic character of human existence, and the uniqueness and importance of personal feelings, opposes the instrumentalization of the human person. However, because it possesses only a subjective perspective which excludes the eternal aspects of the human life, it is not able to provide a realistic place for the human being in the whole universe.

The anthropology based on a philosophy of being fills this gap. The person as such is the highest form of being. As persons we are able to discover our unique self ("I") which is essentially different from our acts. At the same time, we realize not merely the self but our unique self ("I"). There are other personal beings with whom we establish interpersonal relations. We experience the limitations and weaknesses of our existence, and at the same time feel the need for overcoming these. While we are "beings in ourselves" and "for ourselves", we tend constantly to achieve fullness through other persons, and finally through the transcendent "Thou."

Accepting this primary human experience, we must realize that a human person is not an absolutely autonomous and metaphysically independent. A human being is a person among other persons who form the natural proximate context of human life. The person is concerned also to be united with God, who is the perfect Person. The human person exists through participation in God's existence, with whom he is able to communicate freely and consciously.

Though this human person is the real goal and destination of all cultural functions, he is not their final goal. The final goal, the principle of human existence and dignity, is the Transcendent person. The affirmation of a human person in relation to a transcendent "Thou" is itself a realization of a personal model of culture. The most humane experience which completes human nature thoroughly is love. It embraces both the Absolute person and other human persons. Therefore, a full affirmation of a person guarantees an attitude of love and leads to a "civilization of love" (Paul VI): that love which is the realization of Christianity.

It is difficult to comprehend an affirmation of a human person which is not also an affirmation of a personal Absolute. No other ideals can satisfy human nature; they are subhuman and their acceptance as primary goals degrades a person to an instrumental role. In contrast, the recognition of God as the fullness of good and the highest ideal, goal and model of human activity, guarantees the full development of the human person. The affirmation of God guarantees a proper hierarchy of goals and the "ordo caritatis" mentioned by St. Thomas.(51) A culture whose final goal is impersonal is an inhuman culture. It threatens man because it does not make him a better being.

THE MOTIVATIONAL AND CAUSAL FUNCTION OF RELIGION

AS A MODEL FOR A PERSONALIST CULTURE

The correct understanding of human development is that of a human being in dialogue with God and with other human persons. This is possible only through a dialogue with God and others in time or history and in earthly reality. Only then can the most significant cultural goal, the "cultivation" of man, be realized and completed. This locates the real place and direction for science, technology, economics and politics, which by nature have an instrumental character and should be subordinated to the real needs of man. This implies an affirmation and great respect for life in all its aspects, and an equality of human rights. It also defines a life style which is a realization of love as an attitude of mutual giving or of service, rather than of domination.

The most important aspect of religion, especially of Christianity, is a personal union with a personal God through love. This gives us the necessary motivation in forming a human attitude in dialogue with others. It also provides the motivation, model and spiritual energy to move a human being, to change a heart, to be open to others, to be flexible as concerns social changes which are necessary and in accord with a religion of love.

Taking into consideration the dignity of a human being, religion fulfills the following functions:

a) motivation: it identifies the final goal and sense of human life;

b) model: as example, it models a life-style; and

c) support: it provides supernatural help by means of grace, sacraments, prayer and rituals.

These ideas and norms, as well as the help needed for their realization, are so significant that without them man would not be able to fulfill his goals. This gives man his real value and dignity as a "child of God": throughout we are given the greatest and most valuable promise of being participants of the divine nature.

The relation between religion and culture is not one sided or static. A human person has the capacity to grow and develop through action. This development and growth takes place in time and history, both present and future. It is only the most general perspective, the highest and non-instrumental value of the human person, and its ultimate foundations and principles which are stable. In order to comprehend this and find concrete forms for the realization of those values, we must make great efforts in every dimension of knowledge and of life. Therefore, the acceptance of a religious idea and model does not diminish the effort to gain knowledge about man. On the contrary, because philosophy has the most proper view of a person and of human values it provides the basic stimulus and authentic orientation for their fruitful development.

The Catholic University of Lublin, Poland