The Cultural Historian investigates the culture of life (institutions, languages, attitudes, ideas) and the practices of culture (architecture, art, literature, commodities, inventions, mass-media).
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Living in an urban area one finds different cultures intertwined every day. Albany, a college town as well as the capital of New York, has various provincial and world cultures walking its streets. It is a city that has earnestly tried to integrate the various races that live within its borders. In fact the whole capital region emulates this scenario. I live in Troy. RPI is five blocks away and down the street is a mosque. A few blocks away from there is a synagogue and in the other direction a Fundamentalist Christian church and school. The capital region is an area where many different cultures interact in relative peace and harmony even when some of the cultures are not tolerant of the others. An intolerant culture can hold on to their beliefs but not act out on them. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are mutually exclusive religions where identification with one excludes you from belonging to the other two and yet these groups come together secularly to work on community problems.
During the week of September 21, 2009 a beautiful 150 foot Barquentine rigged Schooner, the Peacemaker, was docked in Albany. A sign was put out front that free tours were offered. Many felt it was connected with the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson sailing up the Muhheakantuck, now the Hudson, in his honor. Apparently once inside you not only received a tour and story about the ship but you were also proselytized into a different culture. The owners of the ship are known as the Twelve Tribes (www.twelvetribes.com). The Twelve Tribes origins are connected to the Jesus Movement of the 1970s. It is composed of a number of self-proclaimed primitive Christian communities that renounce denominationally organized religion. Many called them a cult that convinces their members through religious writings and persuasion to give all their possessions to the community and live communally and in submission. Overall this may not appeal to everyone but it does not seem to be especially sinister in light of cults such as Jim Jones or David Koresh of the Branch Davidians.
When you read their religious writings you start to see a picture of a culture that is the antithesis to the cultures around them. Using the Bible as the basis of their teachings women are told be submissive and not to be logical. The Twelve Tribes’ anti-Semitic doctrine speaks to the Jews as being hostile to all men and that the Jews “inherent double fallen nature is a reproach to the Gentiles.” (www.twelvetribesteachings.com/index.html)
In dealing with children their writings detail how discipline is necessary and obedience mandatory. Naturally spare the rod and spoil the child is part of the instruction manual. Interestingly enough within their belief system they feel Abraham Lincoln went against the will of God when he freed the slaves and that slavery was God’s place for the black man in His ordered universe. Of course gays and lesbians are seen as the pariah of God (Ibid.).
Although there is a natural abhorrence to the doctrines and beliefs of the Twelve Tribes one of the interesting aspects is the selectively retrograde culture they have adopted. The group is modern in many ways and yet very fundamental in their beliefs and 19th century in their attitudes and morals. This is different from the Amish who have willingly refused to modernize since the late 1800s and who are typically tolerant of other peoples and cultures. Even they have made some exceptions in the use of modern equipment. They will not drive a car in favor of a horse and buggy but they will use large diesel motors to run their sawmills. The Twelve Tribes pulled themselves out of a modern society and selectively returned to an earlier cultural period. Interestingly one marked with servitude of fellow humans and with an anti-Semitic air.
The presence of the Peacemaker docked in Albany demonstrates just how different cultures can be from each other and still interact in a peaceful albeit flirtatiously antagonistic way. Strangely enough this shows hope in the ability of different cultures surviving and tolerating each other regardless of the variance in their belief systems. If the Twelve Tribes can exist and find safe harbor in Albany with cultures they are not naturally tolerant of then there is hope with other countries and cultures. The different cultures of the Middle East such as Israel and the Palestinians may eventually find tolerance if not peace with each other. There is evidence that it at least could happen. This gives hope to the cultural interaction of the Turks, Kurds, Armenians and others in the area.
Although the name Peacemaker may seem a non sequitur with the doctrines of the Twelve Tribes it may be a foreknowledge of what can occur with the peaceful tolerance of different cultures.
Professor Rugenstein received his Ph.D. in Cultural History from The Union Institute & University. He is published and teaches in post-secondary education. His fields include Indigenous, American, and European cultures.