Saturday, April 5, 2014

Reflections: Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture

One of my favorite quotes regarding culture comes from an ecclesiastical leader named David R. Stone.  He said:

"Our culture tends to determine what foods we like, how we dress, what constitutes polite behavior, what sports we should follow, what our taste in music should be, the importance of education, and our attitudes toward honesty. It also influences men as to the importance of recreation or religion, influences women about the priority of career or childbearing, and has a powerful effect on how we approach procreation and moral issues. All too often, we are like puppets on a string, as our culture determines what is 'cool.'"

I am fascinated by culture, the own I am a part of and the various ones around the world and throughout history.  Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches by Marvin Harris is a book written just for me.  All of the books I have read that have dealt with culture in one way or another, whether that be The Hero with a Thousand Faces or People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture, has had enough interesting things to say that I felt they were worth reading, even if I didn't agree with some portions of them.  Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches falls in that same category--interesting, thoughtful, sometimes right, and sometimes wrong, in my opinion.

 Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches selectively explains, but the author purposefully mentions his intent is not to explain everything, a few cultural attributes that existed in the world at different periods of time and attempts to give a reasonable and rational reason for their being a part of the culture.  Harris does this with a fine academic mind and from a secular perspective.  More often than thought, I was able to follow the author's reasoning and understand, at least, the conclusions he came to and how he got there.  At other times, such as his explanation of the true character and history of Jesus Christ, left me scratching my head.  I have read the New Testament four times, and I was highly skeptical of some of Harris's interpretations and conjectures.  There is plenty here to discuss and debate.

The book ends with a commentary on the culture of Harris's time, which was several decades ago, that took some of the momentum away from the book since it was so topical for the time it was written but no so much today.  I enjoyed Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches because it gave me plenty to think about.  It also proved to me, once again, how much we don't know as opposed to how much we do.  Culture is deviously complicated, but Marvin Harris's attempt to explain it is interesting enough to be read.

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