By Fr George Adimike
Man as a work in progress is both a subject and object of cultivation. There is no culture without cultivation both in its figurative and literal senses. As habitual beings, our repeated actions create a pattern that influences and informs our default perspective to reality. This disposition comes by the cultivation of one’s life and its ramifications. As I wrote elsewhere, without the cultivation of virtues, there cannot be a culture of freedom, which provides the environment for growth. No civilisation without a city, no culture without cultivation! “There is no culture without agriculture,” says Baba Tarik Oduno.
Given that our metaphysical deprivation impacts our freedom and our sociological milieu constraints its exercise, no one can become a better person living his or her freedom responsibly without proper cultivation of the self. Cultivation of nature positively impacts the individual and promotes the common good. The observance of the law of nature generates a dividend of wellness for the ecosystem, the individuals and the community. Similarly, the observance of the law of nurture unleashes on the society a set of well-formed citizens who maintain a healthy relationship with self, society and the Supreme Being.
In processing the data of daily occurrences, in making choices and executing resolutions, man cultivates his values and constructs his life. Culture is the aggregation of these facts in a mélange that informs and reinforces further similar acts. It is in these daily experiences that one cultivates his culture as such. While culture has an overarching impact on the individual and community, it is not a prefabricated, factory-fitted infallible norm. In actuality, culture is an imperfect milieu in which everyone lives and tries to meliorate his appropriation of values to respond better to the community’s needs. No epoch is denied of the creative perfective presence of the Spirit that feeds her march to progress and humanisation.
Precisely because faith is a project in progress, it needs nurture; it needs cultivation. Paul planted, Apollos watered, and Christ gave the increase. Faith is nothing without works, and indeed, without works, faith is dead. Cultivation is the receptive mode of appreciating faith as a treasure to be nurtured. Cultivation means that one consciously exposes self to circumstances and things that promote the object of his/her interest. In this case, faith needs cultivation to grow and flourish. Cultivation is a structure of grace economy because it reaches the depths of ‘what it was to be’ human. Though grace is the act of divine irruption in human affairs, it builds on nature such that the cultivation of self approximates to the cultivation of culture. Arguably, the ethos of grace frees ego and informs both ecology and economy and produces a healthy culture.
This cultivation of culture draws from the principles and praxes of agriculture, which integrate three critical elements, namely soil, self and society. By cultivating the soil, one is imperceptibly cultivating the self and society. The quality of the soil, soul and society measures the quality of life, and the integration of these three launches humanity into its fullest expression. In cultivating the soil, humans enrich their souls and construct society. Through work, he explores the meaning of his existence as a soul interacting with others in society. The cultivation of the soil engenders the cultivation of the self, which leads to the cultivation of society. Through this cultivation, virtues are developed; thus, superior qualities and skills are domesticated. The practice of exerting one’s energies and creativities feeds healthy customs and traditions that promote the interest of all.
Constant domestication and cultivation of virtues make the culture better. Work, which is the instrument of mending the brokenness of the human person and human family, typifies cultivation. In other words, work drives civilisation by participating in the cultivation of men and women. Just like culture, a faith that is not adequately cultivated, by consciously searching for its best understanding, expression and value, degenerates into a monster. Through such a monster, the worst elements in humans are accepted and celebrated under the guise of worshipping God. Cultures need to be constantly purified, and faith needs to be always interrogated. Once the quaerrere of faith (the quest for understanding) stops, the possibility of abuse and corruption increases!
Whereas culture is dynamic, growing at the pace of the people’s consciousness of their environment and their interaction with other societies in responding to vital existential questions, some persons consider it a static and ready-made reality from the past. This mentality treats culture as a fossilized artefact located in historical mining sites. In other words, many people treat culture with an archaeological mindset, which limits the possibilities of new answers to old or not-so-old questions. Since solutions are often sourced by flight in time to past decades or centuries, old answers are recycled with utter forgetfulness that the Spirit who spoke and inspired people in the days of old is the same Spirit who does so today. The severance of the Spirit of yesterday from the Spirit of today wallows in the ignorance of the divine dynamism. For the Spirit, yesterday, today and tomorrow are integrated and never delinked.
Culture―the shared societal memory that connects her past with the present and influences the future―is the sum of humans’ meaning-making efforts in a given place and time. It is one of the most evident manifestations of humans’ possession of reason, meaning and logic. Precisely, it is the intercourse of the rational and sensible in men and women relative to the environment that informs ethos and norms societal existence. Together with religion, culture tethers relationships between peoples together. Both culture and religion share affinity. In their intercourse, culture conditions religion while faith informs culture and shapes it. Religion swims and drowns with culture.
Therefore, culture is an evidence of growth, of thought-making engagement with the existential questions of metaphysics, ethics and techniques, which possesses an epistemic normativity. It is about the development of ideas and responses; hence culture is dynamic. As society grows in their questioning and responding, they grow in their culture. The interactions of their reasoning and feeling faculties with the environment, geography and history, produce a set of responses that aid them to adapt. Culture involves the engagement of the three dimensions of man and society: intellective, affective and operative dimensions.
In consequence, culture is not static; it grows or degenerates. It is the development of both individuals and society. It is neither fetishism nor idolatry. Culture does not entail a rearward flight to a given time in history; otherwise, it becomes a mere archaeologism. Relative to the society and the supernatural, culture falters when it considers reality within a limited prism. The problem is always that of adequate cultivation of both culture and religion.
While culture is about cultivation, religion needs proper agriculture of faith to avoid presenting humanity’s unhealthy desires as the imperatives of faith. Indeed, on account of these interplays of elements and human faculties such as intellect and will, the Holy Spirit plays a role in human operations. Since naturally, human knowing is mediated in time and space by various intervening variables and historical enablers, people of faith should appreciate the need to properly understand their belief in its virginity and freshness devoid of baneful human interferences. Since Jesus is a subject of historicity by the Spirit, Christians need the Spirit who is the motor of civilisation to drive their search for God and in the celebration of the faith, which informs culture. In doing this, we remember that there is no faith without culture and no culture without agriculture.
•Fr George ADIMIKE