Clash of Cultures

Night after night, the television screen brings the war in Bosnia into our living rooms. Wounded children. Weeping mothers. The boom of artillery. Many Americans used to think the threat of war was concentrated in the superpower confrontation-and if that threat were defused, the world would live in peace. But instead, the world has broken into a multitude of fighting factions. Why is this happening? In a recent issue of Foreign Affairs, Samuel Huntington explains that the world is facing a new kind of conflict. From the time of the Russian revolution to the fall of the Berlin Wall, most conflicts centered around ideology-communism versus democracy. But today the great divisions are cultural. A culture consists of things like language, traditions, and ethnic background. But at the heart of culture is religion. Consider Bosnia: The Serbs, the Croatians, and the Muslims all live in the same country and speak the same language. The only real difference between them is their religious heritage. Bosnia is a place where three ancient religious cultures meet. The Muslim Bosnians are heirs of the old Turkish empire; the Croatians are heirs of Western Catholic Christianity; the Serbs represent Slavic Orthodox Christianity. This is not to say every individual is personally devout. But even when religion erodes into nothing more than a cultural identity, it still remains a powerful influence. In fact, responses to the conflict by outside nations are also influenced by culture and religion. When Yugoslavia first began to fracture, Western nations rushed to extend recognition to Croatia and Slovenia-the Western Catholic regions. When fighting erupted, Russians supplied troops to the Serbs-who are Eastern Orthodox. Islamic countries have been funding-you guessed it-the Bosnian Muslims. In each case, outsiders rallied to those who share their religious and cultural heritage. No one can understand world affairs today unless they recognize the enduring power of religion. Ever since the Enlightenment, our intellectual elites have promoted the ideal of secularism. Every nation-state was to be grounded in a rational contract-ratified by the will of the people. The bonds of religion were dismissed as trappings of the past, easily shaken off. But current events have shattered the secular view of human nature-and reinforced once again the biblical teaching. The Bible teaches that the defining feature of human nature is religion. Whether we worship the true God or an idol, humans are fundamentally religious. Religion is at the heart of any culture. This is not to say that the war in Bosnia is a religious war. No one is fighting over the doctrine of the sacraments or the deity of Christ. Religions give rise to cultures, and cultures to political and economic forces. What we’re seeing in Bosnia is a competition for political power and economic gain. Yet as secular nations dissolve, the far deeper dividing lines of culture are reappearing-debunking once and for all the secular view of the nation-state. In foreign policy, and in every area of life, the biblical world view gives us the truths we need to understand the world we live in. A world where the deepest motivations of the human heart are ultimately religious.


Chuck Colson


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