Western Culture vs. Jesus’ Culture


Everything on this earth has a weakness.  Politicians seem to like to be in sex scandals and do things with money that would send me to prison.  That seems to be a common weakness for that kind of personality.  We’ll get back to this.


Western culture” is a term used to describe the massive group of cultures that have shared the same influences, which generally began in Europe.  It is defined—among several other things—by individualism (individual freedom), a preference for democracy (individual political freedom), capitalism (economic freedom), and a heavy Christian influence, which includes the Enlightenment, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Reformation.


The Reformation was (in theory) also about freedom.  Religious freedom.  That, and, cleaning up a bunch of corrupt leadership.  In the end, it wasn’t really much of a “reformation” as it was a “schism”, but the idea was that no man could make or break your relationship with God.  That was between you and God, and no priests allowed!  Especially that dang pope!


(Read that last bit in an ornery voice, because most of those Reformation guys were fairly ornery—and that’s putting it uber-mildly.)


Anyhow, everything has a weakness.  Well, the weakness in our individualist Western culture is undoubtedly:




As consumers, we are used to being marketed to.  As voters, we are used to being…well…marketed to.  The political theories are all about freedom.  Heck, America was started because a bunch of wanna-be capitalists didn’t like paying some other guy’s taxes!  They wanted to have their say in the process.


Now, if you’re American, you’re probably not familiar with an unbiased look at American history, but let’s face it:  we stole our land from the Native Americans, we stole Florida from Spain, and we stole the entire western half of our nation from Mexico (who had stolen it from some other Native Americans).  Ever heard of Manifest Destiny?  It’s basically a ridiculous excuse for selfishness on a national level, that blames God for why we get to have everything our way.


In other words:  it’s all about me!  I get what I want, when I want, and everyone else should bend to accommodate my needs!


Other, non-western, cultures aren’t nearly as “me” centered.  People study this, believe it or not.  They listen to politicians in Asia, who use words like “we” and “our”.  In the west, the “you” and “I” count is through the roof compared to them.


So, let’s look at Jesus, and see how reading his teachings through the lens of Western culture might—just might—affect how you understand what he’s saying.


Read Matthew 7:3-5.  The thing about taking the plank out of your own eye.


Now, I have it on good authority (mine) that if you try to correct a westerner about something, the common response is, “Don’t you judge me!” (insert z-snap here).


Then, if you try to say, “I’m not judging you, but Jesus said we can know about other people by looking at the fruit of their lives.”, they’ll inevitably whip out Matthew 7 to prove that you shouldn’t “judge” them.


Because in the West, “it’s all about me”.  I don’t like being told what to do.  I can do whatever I want.  No man can tell me what to do.  Only God can judge me (we miss you 2-Pac!…sort of…).


Did I mention that Jesus wasn’t from America?


Obviously, Jesus wasn’t saying, “You can’t correct anyone ever for any reason, unless you’re perfect first.”  But that’s what would-be corrected people try to say if you do.  Believe me.  There’s a reason Jaime Pressley yells “Don’t you judge me!” all the time in My Name is Earl.


But Jesus clearly wasn’t saying that, because he also said things like Matthew 7:15-20—that’s right:  it’s in the same chapter!  Or Matthew 18:15-20.


Now, if you read that NON-WESTERN teaching in Matthew 7, and try to understand its NON-WESTERN context, it makes a lot more sense.


Our cultural lens is not the best one for reading the Bible, because the Bible is a collection of definitely Non-Western writings.  Not to mention their antiquity.


Once again, a reminder:   Jesus =/= an American


So, if a non-westerner were to read this, they might ask, “How can we apply this verse to ourselves?” or, “How does this teaching apply to our group?”


At that point, common sense prevails, and the obvious teaching becomes obvious once again:


You can correct people, and help them, and guide them through their problems, just as long as you don’t have the same exact problem in a massive, unrepentant, hypocritical way.


In other words:  don’t hold a lit cigarette and lecture someone about smoking.


That’s it.


My point isn’t to teach a verse though, my point is to raise awareness that our Western weakness is selfishness.  We are so self-centered, and ethno-centered, that we repeatedly have a blue-eyed Jesus…




  1. Judging is healthy. Otherwise- when you see a friend falling in some sin and you stand idly by an do nothing- you are not loving the way Jesus would love.

    But when it comes to matters of personal choices:

    That which does not kill me can only make me stronger
    and I don’t see why everybody feel as though
    that they gotta tell me how to live my life
    Let me live baby, let me live

    • Oh 2-Pac…there were people in school with me who actually got sick and cried when he died. Like they were related to him or something. My school was in Georgia, though, so I don’t really think they were…

      Correcting people takes grace all-around, and it’s probably the biggest problem in my marriage. Because nobody like to have somebody telling them they’re wrong about something, and suddenly this person–who’s already bumbled into error in some way–is supposed to handle being corrected gracefully. Whereas, the corrector is already fed up enough with the selfishness to finally say something about it, which they usually decide to do once they’ve exhausted their patience and grace on the situation.

      But if they’re too preemptive about it (like addressing the issue before they’re fed up), they just seem like they’re nagging or nit-picking. And of course, they also get to hear the classic, “No, I was not about to head down that road I’ve been down 1000 times before! How dare you judge me!”

      • I didn’t cry- because he was supposed to come back in 7 years right? Wait. . . 8-{

        I agree- it can be like walking on a tightrope, that judging thing. Praise God that he gives us grace. There have been times when I was corrected and I realized my error and felt thankful for the friend’s care. Then there are other times when I am painfully aware of my faults and the “correction” just irritates me more. And I want to just scream “don’t judge me!” Argh.

  2. This is so true, my friend! Selfishness is a huge problem in our culture, and though I see it around me and disdain it, I keep seeing it within me too. So yes, I try not to judge others for being selfish because of that big ol’ selfish plank in my own eye, yet at the same time, I’m not afraid to speak the truth in love because the truth will set ya free, and selfishness is bondage. I have now come to see selfishness as being tied up in fear and a sense of scarcity, rather than trust in God and a recognition of the amazing abundance we have, which is namely life itself in His grace. Hanging on to selfishness in the face of all that God has graciously blessed us with is just foolishness.

    • It is a lack of trust in others, and a lack of trust in God, and a lack of trust in God in others. And, as if being selfish wasn’t bad enough, once you’ve managed to “not need anyone else” long enough, pride usually starts to kick in.

      I used to judge church people for being judgmental hypocrites. Then I realized how slippery of a slope that was. But I do think that we’ve misunderstood judgment fairly often too. Judgment in the Bible usually involved actual punishment, and not just “having a poor opinion of someone”.

      I like to look at it like this: If I walk by a lid in the street that says “sewer” on it, I don’t have to give it the benefit of the doubt every time I walk by, then lift the lid and sniff, and then determine that the thing actually does, once again, stink. We have to find a balance, a practical balance. And, I’ve figured out that if you ever do find a balance, neither side will like you very much. The 2-Pac’s will tell you to quit judging them, and the Judgers will tell you to quit being so nice to people who don’t deserve it. We seem to thrive on overreactions, one way or the other.

  3. I’ve been reflecting on the idea of selfishness in myself and in our culture just this morning – but in a different context.

    Thanks for adding to my thoughts.

    • Selfishness is the original sin. Putting our own desires over God’s desires, demoting God’s status and putting ourselves on top. That was what led, and still does lead, to all the other evil in the world.

  4. Selfishness, more, more, more, more….

    I was just “dealing with” this in my own house today.

    Us, United States residents, want more, want bigger, want best, want now.

  5. It’s my first visit to your site. Love it. Great thoughts!

    • Thanks! I’m not really the brains of this operation, but I’ll say thanks anyway! This whole place is pretty much my wife’s idea. I just get to use her audience sometimes :)

  6. Josh Smith says:

    This was a really good one, Jeremy. In general, we all need to learn better communication skills, specifically, in this regard, how to gracefully accept help from those who obviously care enough to speak to us, and how to approach others without putting them on the defensive.

    I was taught long ago that it is in everyone’s best interest that corrective action/discussion should happen early rather than late. A common analogy of this is the way that alcohol and cigarettes are called “starter drugs:” since action happens without reproach, things continue to get worse before they get better. The same happens with all sins; if we aren’t “called out” for the small stuff, we’re gonna continue down those roads, making things worse, until it happens.

    And yeah, I remember that 2pac stuff… :/

    • Can you imagine if parents taught their kids to actually attempt to follow Jesus from early on? Can you imagine how different those children’s worldview would be from the average American? They wouldn’t feel like pursuing the American Dream was somehow a part (or the whole) of following Jesus. They wouldn’t feel like every one of their actions were instantly justified just because they wanted them to be. They might even be reflective, and take time to consider their motivations for doing things.

      Now, let people pursue that for a generation, until you have an entire community of people living like that. Can you imagine those people? Whenever I try to, I can’t help but imagine people dressed like the Zionists in the Matrix, living in some sort of hippie-esque colony, welcoming in hurting people and blowing their minds with some sort of zen peace thing.

      I do not, however, imagine it being led by an aggressive, yelling man wearing a suit who gets paid to talk for an hour or two each week and then eat too much the rest of the time while he steals quotes off the internet for his next speech. That’s not the right kind of correction, I don’t think.