One of the most interesting things about my time in China has been the experience of living in a culture that has – in marked comparison to my home country, Northern Ireland – no pronounced or discernible cultural Christian references.
This ranges from cultural and individual presuppositions to communal rituals and practices. It’s a weird thing, when you have grown up every week of your life with the knowledge that you or others will go to church on Sundays, to have that practice absent. (Of course, I haven’t been to church in a rather long time, and this isn’t something that is unprecedented in the West, just that it is new to me.) Even more pronounced, for example, was the Christmas period, during which many of the aesthetics are in place but the stories and practices are almost fully absent. Neither are a complaint – as I hope is clear – it is simply that both are bizarrely decentring experiences.
More peculiarly, and sometimes humorously, are the times when I find myself exposed to my more specifically Christian assumptions and biases. On occasion I have been in conversations with Chinese friends discussing religion, philosophy, and so on, and discovered myself beginning a statement with something like, “Now, imagine God doesn’t exist…” and the response is usually something like, “That is rather easy for me.”
The latter typically serves to surprise me because it underlines some pronounced differences in presuppositions on individual and cultural levels, and how generally my own ignorance of those differences can lead to funny interactions but also serve to be subtly hegemonic in regards what I expect people to understand or engage.
To risk a statement, it could be that this is more pronounced in China where it can often seem like there is a dearth when it comes to narratives or traditions that engage or inspire certain forms of “ultimate” living. It is not that these narratives and traditions are inexistent, simply that – as far interactions I have had go – they go largely unpractised and poorly understood. Or, more, have been, not unlike the traditions of the West, been subsumed or interpolated within neoliberal capitalist economics and trajectories.
All in all, these interactions and discussions are an interesting thing for me to personally reflect upon, as they reveal how embedded I am within a Christian culture and history, even when I no longer really consider myself a part of it. Thus concludes this bit part blog post.