Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Culture and Morality

The weekend paper carried a story by Karin Brulliard of the Washington Post titled: Zulus torn over virginity tests. It seems to me that this article illustrates a sort of cultural shift that threatens traditional morals and values in such areas as sexuality. Basically, according to the article, the tradition involves young girls undergoing an inspection by a woman elder of the tribe to determine if the girl is a virgin or not. Now of course there are lots of potential problems with this tradition - the most obvious one being that the responsibility for chastity is placed only on the females of the community. According to the article the opponents of this tradition argued that the procedure was degrading; it was emotionally scarring for girls who did not pass; it subjected girls who did pass to the possibility that they would be raped in a culture where some men believe that intercourse with a virgin can cure aids. Finally, the opponents argue that the tradition, as important as it may have been in the past no longer serves the needs of the society.

What seems to be said here is that "traditional" morality is offensive to individual rights and "old fashioned." Of course there are good reasons for "old fashioned" morality. South Africa, where the Zulus live, is a nation facing a catastrophic aids crisis. One very simple way of partly dealing with the spread of this disease is to encourage the citizens to practice traditional sexual morality. By the way, the article makes clear that this tradition has nothing to do with the practice of female genital mutilation found in some African cultures. The controversy over this traditional practice is seen in the article as a conflict between "modern" ideas of individual rights and tradition and tribal culture.

I seem to recall evidence of a similar attitude a while back when the host of an awards show on television publicly criticized some teens present (I think it was the Jonas brothers) who were wearing "purity rings" as a sign of their commitment to chastity until marriage. So, in this culture, as in South Africa, the traditional value placed on chastity has been replaced and the traditional value is seen as weird or strange or old fashioned. I think that you see something similar in action when a while back an American paper editorialized that Sarah Palin (Republican nominee for Vice President) did society a disservice when she chose to give birth to a child with Down's Syndrome. Her choice, the paper said, might encourage other mothers (who might not have the same emotional and physical resources as Palin) to choose to give birth to Down's Syndrome babies rather than aborting them (which apparently is now the "normal" thing to do)

So it seems to me that globally we are living in an age of individualism that has a profound impact on traditional morality. In this respect we no longer live in a Christian culture. We are back to an earlier time when we as Christians were called to be counter-cultural. Only by proclaiming and holding firm to important values can we have a chance at preserving what is important from our past.

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