Faith, personality and culture

This is just a rudimentary link I’ve thought of recently…isn’t it strange how Eastern philosophies and Western philosophies differ? Eastern philosophy tends to emphasise the nature of humans as being part of something larger, and something greater. We aren’t just one human, we are components of different aspects of the Universe(cells, atoms) and we make up components of larger systems(humans are part of nature and life, and nature is part of the Earth and so on and so forth). What is interesting is how this spiritual doctrine translates into society, especially in Eastern societies where the sense of ‘one’s self being a part of something larger’ translates into society, where every person has to be aware of how their actions affects others, not because it is bad, but because it causes some form of spiritual imbalance. What is interesting here is that spirituality has a sense of some form of scientific method, doing bad things to other people isn’t bad because of freedom or arguments of liberty(which emphasise the self) but the sense that it is actually disturbing the natural gears of the Universe, as though our actions are as relevant to the Universe as the laws of physics themselves. I think nothing encapsulates this more effectively than the idea of karma. Karma is given based on whether you do something good or bad, but it isn’t humans outlining for other people what is good or bad Perhaps this is why despite the different politics of every Asian country(India is capitalist, China is communist, Singapore is capitalist), there is the overwhelming presumption by people that everyone is a part of society, and not merely that they are ‘obliged’ to contribute as individual people with individual responsibilities, but that we simply will contribute because it is a much as part of our nature, as we are a part of nature itself. Some might even claim that a lot of Asian countries  tend towards communist thinking, not in how economic production is arranged, but more so in everyday social processes and rituals.

Contrast that with the West, where there is a much greater emphasis on people, not as a mass, but as individual units, endowed with their own individual rights from other people interfering with them. These faiths might encourage us to engage with other people, and to form the foundations of a society, either through charity, through doing good things onto our neighbours, or even through judging people harshly if they do something immoral like adultery or murder, but ultimately, these are duties which presuppose we are individual units endowed with our own autonomy and our own free will. By doing something good or evil, we make our own judgment as our own selves to do something, doing something isn’t part of some natural process where everything is working in harmony and you are doing something which you should naturally do, you are doing something because it has been highlighted by other individuals of much greater wisdom that this is the right thing or wrong thing to do. The Universe doesn’t really care what we do because the Universe is almost a separate entity to ourselves. Certainly, these Western faiths might highlight entities as having created the Universe and then created us humans within the Universe, but even here, we get the impression that the entity creates the Universe from outside the Universe, then creates us within the Universe, unlike an Eastern faith which might suppose that divine entities both help create the world, but are also begotten out of that same world, and that humans are not a part of the divine order by the fact that an individual high being grants them love, but rather, that a respect exists due to the fact that the human is a part of the divine essence of the higher being itself, not only physically but also in their shared aspects and characteristics.

The interesting thing to note though, is that whilst the outcome of Eastern and Western philosophies tend to diverge, the actual inception is fairly similar, and I think faith is the natural conscience of a large group of people, which manifests into something more concrete and communicable to others, but also which is heavily moulded by the personalities and ideologies of certain individuals. In a strange sense, we can almost argue that both Western and Eastern faiths synthesize the process of ‘individual thought’ and ‘communal inclination’ in order to produce polarised ideologies. The ‘individual thought’ is pioneered by either ‘saints’ in the West, or ‘gurus’ and ‘wise men’ in the East, whilst the ‘communal inclination’ is just the universal trait of culture. The saints/gurus act to magnify latent, undefined ideas and beliefs found in cultures, and refine them for the culture to analyse, deconstruct, reform and finally assimilate back into that culture in a more sophisticated form, which perhaps translates the idea from a general understanding of the Universe into some specific analysis of the Universe or rules to be followed. Some people might say that faith is being effaced from the cultural narrative quite rapidly as science, arguably one of the most effective explanatory models of our Universe, increasingly encroaches upon areas which faith and philosophy once held dear. In a sense, technology comprises the ‘relics’ of the new faith of science, every time we send a rocket to the moon and back again, that attests to the power of science, every time a nuclear warhead obliterates vast swathes of land, that is a tribute to science. In the end though, to deny the overwhelming accuracy and predictive potential of science I think is a futile feat, but so to is writing off the relationship between faith and our cultures.


Faith still revels in its relevance to social affairs, perhaps because social affairs have the advantage of having no true ‘right’ model as to how a society should be structured, which can be objectively deduced, so faith, maintaining the guise of a scientific method seems as applicable to some societies as economics does to our financial systems. In my opinion though, this misses the point that faith is both a product of culture and individuals, it is an expression of what we hold in common with other people, and the convincing arguments which certain prominent personalities can frame these beliefs and ideas within, which either help our society function, or explain certain elements of human existence.



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