Ross Olson's Web Site

Social Issues: Culture

American Culture:

A Primer For Visiting Chinese Scholars

We often do not see our own culture until it is contrasted with another culture. Otherwise, it seems to be "just the way things are." For instance, Chinese come to visit people in their homes. Americans invite people to come to their own home. Things may "seem wrong" if something happens in a way that you did not expect.

When my family and I spent seven years in Hong Kong, we began to notice how Chinese culture was superior to that of America in many areas. For example, we saw the Chinese devotion to family and realized how uncommitted and individualistic many Americans are. We also noted that Chinese seem to appreciate the wisdom that has been handed down through the ages, while Americans are almost "addicted" to change.

You have probably noticed many of the key elements of American culture, but may be confused. For example, our money carries the inscription "In God We Trust," but the television and movies seem to show nothing of God, and indeed nothing much but sex and violence. Let me try to put this in perspective.

America is in the midst of a process of change. It was founded on Christian principles, but has fallen away from them. The Christian view of life and the message of the Bible are now considered strange by many Americans. Some even think it is dangerous. People defend the right of our president to live an immoral life and claim that we have gotten too advanced to worry about such things. Yet, according to the Biblical view, America is not getting better. It is in the midst of moral decay and on the brink of destruction.

America began as a Christian nation. In our Declaration of Independence, which stated that our nation was free of its colonial ruler, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." The founders of this nation not only agreed that all persons had rights, they felt also that these rights came, not from the state, but from God who created us all.

Patrick Henry, wrote the following, "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ."

The founders of America also felt that each individual was accountable to God for his own behavior and also was able to receive help from God to do what was right. This was an important part of the basis for believing that citizens would behave properly. Robert Winthrop, an early speaker of the House, said, "Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled by a power within them or by a power without them, either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man, either by the Bible or by the bayonet."

They also understood the concept of the depravity of man -- that we all tend to do wrong things. For this reason, the government was set up with a "balance of power" so that no one person could have absolute authority. They had experienced the oppression of the Kings of England and saw clearly that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Education was understood to be, at its roots, moral training, based on the Bible and Christian principles. Noah Webster wrote, "All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible." Harvard University declared to its students, "Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus which is eternal life, John 17:3, and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning."

But these principles are not being followed today. An article in the Star Tribune stated, "Scholars say the world, previously presumed advancing into an enlightened age of sheer rationalism free of religious throwbacks, has instead encountered a global storm of religious fundamentalism." Fundamentalists are those who believe in the foundations or fundamentals of their faith. In the present day it has become a dirty word, meant to indicate intolerance and closed mindedness.

In fact, the truth about the beliefs of the founders of our country has been removed from most of the textbooks used in the public schools so that students begin to think of Christianity as an alien belief with no place in public life. Prayer is not allowed in public schools and some students have been ordered to not mention God in speeches before other students. Some have been told they cannot bring Bibles to school.

What happened to America? Dr. John Warwick Montgomery has analyzed the slow slide of Western Society. In very brief summary of his views, at the time of the founding of the United States of America, Deism was capturing the minds of many. This is the idea that God created the universe but then left it alone and is not really involved any more. It is like winding up a watch and letting it run without any further assistance. This is very different from the picture of God in the Bible as One Who is constantly and actively involved in the affairs of His Creation.

Eventually, the God who does nothing that can be detected was recognized to be equivalent to a God Who is not there at all. Evolution seemed to answer the questions about the origin of life and the Universe, therefore, Atheism became intellectually respectable. "There is no God," people began to say, "but man is still important. In fact, man is the highest of all and the measure of all things." Thus Humanism was born.

If there is no God and man is the measure of all things, then people can decide for themselves what is right or wrong. Either the strong will force their views on the weak, or each person will have his own standards. This is Relativism. It sounds like complete freedom, but with it also comes despair, because there is no real meaning to life and no reason to value the individual. Also, the moral chaos is a lot like everyone driving on whichever side of the road they wish. Eventually, no one has any freedom.

How could things change so quickly? China has maintained a stable culture even in the face of powerful outside influences, Buddhism in the past and Communism in the present. Perhaps you may argue that there have been changes, but it seems that the basic outlook on life, commitment to the family and understanding of what is right and wrong have remained very much the same. If this is so, I think it is because in Chinese culture, young people do not make major decisions until they are more mature and see the wisdom of the old ways. American young people rebel against the old ways to prove that they are thinking. In the 1960's, it was said, "Don't trust anyone over 30!" Actually, it should be just the opposite (and those who said it are now either over 30 or dead).

What are the results? Most of the people of America are materially rich but spiritually poor. At the same time, there is a minority who hold to the traditions of the founders and the teaching of the Bible. (It is interesting that in China there is also a growing minority of Christians, some estimates between 50 and 100 million.)

The results in American society have been Materialism, the idea that wealth brings happiness, Hedonism, the conviction that pleasure is the most important thing and Individualism, placing myself first as most important. Is it any wonder that we have a rise of sexual promiscuity, with sexually transmitted diseases, unmarried mothers, homosexuality and sexual abuse of children? Is it really surprising that when children are told that they can decide for themselves what is right or wrong, that some of them will choose violence? And, of course, TV and movies not only show what is happening, they become models for many children who have no significant moral teaching from any other source. How can we say this is bad or wrong? I think that even the most liberal thinkers get the feeling that something is not right. Yet to judge, we must have a higher standard. That is exactly what the Bible gives us.

The message of the Bible is that we are not just accidents that happened by natural processes. Rather we are creations of a loving God Who cares for and has a great purpose for each individual. Yet, He made us with free will so that we would not be like robots saying "I love you God." Unfortunately, we have all chosen to turn away from our Creator. Because of this, evil has fallen on the world, sometimes on those who deserve it, sometimes on those who do not. Yet, God did not want to leave us alone with the consequences of our rebellion. He sent Jesus to take the punishment we deserve. To receive forgiveness and be restored to fellowship with God, we must accept what Jesus has done for us. We can then begin to change into the kind of people we were intended to be.

We work to make society better. God has made governments for the good of all people. Even bad governments serve some good. But government cannot make a perfect world. Only when Jesus returns as King will the world become what was intended to be. He is the only one who has the knowledge, the power and the righteousness to qualify as ruler of the world as well as ruler of our lives.

It is interesting that China also has Biblical roots. An analysis of Chinese written characters shows a remarkable connection with the teachings of the Bible. This would be expected as the early people carried the teachings from the time of the beginning and preserved them in calligraphy which has stayed the same for thousands of years.

I will only give two examples, but several books have been written on this topic. The character for spirit (Ling) has radicals for three mouths and two people. What is the origin of this? The God of the Bible is three persons in One God. God created and gave life to two people, Adam and Eve. The character for righteousness (Yi) has a "lamb" over "me." Is there any traditional explanation? In the Bible, lambs were sacrificed in order to "cover the sins" of the people up until the time when Jesus Himself died and has become "the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world."

Jesus Christ is the Lord of all nations, all people, all languages and all cultures. All must be judged by His standard.

Ross S. Olson MD

Revised 1/6/99

For more about the Christian heritage of America, contact the Wallbuilders website

For more on the amazing correlation between the ancient Chinese characters and the Biblical understanding of God, creation, the fall and sacrifice for sin, visit

Or look for the book "God's Promise to the Chinese" by Ethel Nelson, Richard Broadberry and Ginger Tong Chock.

Send comments to me at ross{at}

The URL for this document is