In New Zealand, Feb. 6 is celebrated as Waitangi Day. In 1840, a treaty was signed between the British crown and several indigenous Maori chiefs. This Treaty of Waitangi began the development of New Zealand as a nation. In recent years, Waitangi Day has been a political touchstone for those who want the Maori to regain sovereignty and reinvent the country anew, using the name Aotearoa.
A desire for freedom from foreign domination is not unique to the Maori of New Zealand. Around the world, indigenous peoples are seeking to reestablish sovereignty and be governed by their own laws and cultural standards. The struggle is more than political. It is also theological.
Historically, European conquerors not only prescribed laws but also imposed Christian theology. There is a strong movement worldwide to return to traditional religious beliefs and reject Christianity as simply foreign theology. And there is some validity to this view where human doctrines and rituals have defined religion.
But original Christianity transcends culture. And it is the Christ that lifts worship above human practices, to a higher, universal applicability. Christ can be called the spiritual idea of God. What is spiritual is of divine Spirit, and not merely the human spirit. True, the human spirit may seek higher concepts than materialism, greed, and desire for power; the human spirit may rise far above material limitations. But ultimately, the human spirit remains human - until it is transformed by Christ, the divine idea of God.
As the founder of this newspaper put it, "Christ is the true idea voicing good, the divine message from God to men speaking to the human consciousness" (Mary Baker Eddy, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 332). Christ is divine, not human. It is divinity communing with humanity, lifting humanity above matter into the realm of divine Spirit. Every revelation pointing humanity to the Divine, to the power of good as real and substantial, is the activity of Christ. And such revelations are glimpsed in so many cultures. Christ is not denominational. Christ is the divine idea that saves all humanity from sin, sickness, and death.
Christ was revealed in the man Jesus. Born of a virgin, Jesus embodied Christ and revealed to humanity the divine power of God to heal. But as the divine idea of God, Christ must be universal. It is the divine message that we're each made in the image and likeness of God, are spiritual and not merely material.
In this sense, Christ reveals a universal, divine culture higher than human cultures and traditions. It is the enlightenment of divine Spirit cultivated and expressed in infinite variety.
This certainly doesn't mean that human traditions are inherently bad, or that one culture is superior to another. Spiritual culture refines and uplifts all human expression. The divine culture includes all that is good in human experience, while at the same time uplifting and perfecting it.
Each individual should have the right of conscience to discover and worship God in accordance with his or her highest spiritual ideal. Any compulsory adherence to or avoidance of religious belief or practice is therefore incorrect. Freedom and self-rule for indigenous peoples surely doesn't mean that Christ, the divine idea, should be excluded as simply colonial imposition.
Original Christianity does clash with some cultural beliefs. It has crossed swords with various religious traditions, with Roman ideas of sovereignty, with Greek concepts of multiple deities. It challenges hatred, the lust for power, greed, and fear. In the quest for cultural identity, indigenous peoples might well discover that the Christ message of the supremacy of divine Spirit enhances their independence and their individuality, instead of inhibiting it.
Let us appreciate the desire of each culture to find and retain what is good. For what is good in human experience should be restored. We can also support the divine right of all individuals to seek a higher spiritual expression than even their ancestors found. The divinity of Christ can be found in all cultures and nationalities.