We are not our societies

A Christian Science perspective: Ideas on the truth of who we are.

I was once asked whether it was hard for me to know which mannerisms and behaviors were linked to my husband and which were linked to his upbringing in another country. After a moment, I realized that such a question defined him more as a nondescript member of an “other” society, irrevocably controlled by the influences of his birth culture, than as a unique individual.

This culture-oriented characterization was later reiterated in an article I read in the Monitor that pointed to one of the reasons why some, particularly ex-communist, countries are against Europe’s migration plan. A university sociologist interviewed from the Czech Republic, Michal Vasecka, put it this way: “We are deeply un-inclusive societies. Migration reveals this unpleasant truth about ourselves” (“With one photo, Europe’s refugee debate changes almost overnight,” CSMonitor.com).

Whether we’re battling with old schools of thought or going along with cultural norms, to resign oneself to the belief that we are merely products of our societies is to believe that we have very little control over how we think and act; it is to say that we are destined to behave a certain way and that our material environment and culture define who we are as people. But a hard look at our true identity reveals that we are not limited by society to think a certain way, nor are we defined by our countries or places of habitation.

In the Bible, the Apostle Paul speaks of our true nature as not being tied to our culture or material circumstance, but to the Christ, Truth, which defines our nature as the expression of God. Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Speaking of Christ Jesus’ teachings, the founder of the Monitor and discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote, “Jesus taught but one God, one Spirit, who makes man in the image and likeness of Himself, – of Spirit, not of matter” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 94). This is to say that our true identity is actually spiritual. No matter where we live or what our upbringing is, our true identity rests in Spirit, which is eternal and ever present – forever untouched by the material.

Defining ourselves as spiritual, I realized that I couldn’t relegate my husband – or anyone – to a set of societal assumptions. Understanding something of the nature of Spirit and man, I was able to recognize the spiritual qualities my husband exhibited, which truly defined who he was. His integrity, vigilance, love, and worth were forever defining his character, unencumbered by material limitations or expectations. He had the authority to think and act freely – to reflect the infinite nature of eternal Spirit.

It was this understanding that elevated my view not only of him but of others around the globe. It helped me break through the suggestion that we are what our cultures dictate. No matter what society we live in, and however different cultures come together – through migration or any other circumstance – this is the healing truth about ourselves: that we are empowered to think and act as unique individuals – as the infinite expression of Spirit.

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About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

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But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

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