Is Christianity a Western Religion? 13: Western Orientalism

Is Christianity a Western religion? What does it mean to have a “Western” and “Eastern” world?

Ironically, The very notion of a “Western” and “Eastern” world is itself a Western invention, a relic of colonialism, and a potentially oppressive ideology. At best, it’s a shallow and arbitrary view of the world.

There is no universal criteria for dividing the world into “East” and “West”. The idea that the world is split into two halves is a kind of geographic dualism first brought forth by the West.  Over the centuries this paradigm has furthered notions of an “Orient” and an “Occident”, a vast chasm between “us” and a “them” that could be determined by drawing a solid, polar meridian on a map. Both the “East” and “West” are east and west of each other. The globe is a circle, after all.

Orientalism is a Western discourse used to exploit the non-West for its foreignness to the West (whether to justify war, oppression, or patronizing attitudes).

Sometimes Orientalism is used to say, “these people are naturally worse than us because they are on the dark side of the world, and it is our duty to battle them.” Sometimes it is used to say, “these people are naturally weaker or worse off than us because of the side of the world they are in, and therefore need us to be in charge of their ways.” Sometimes it is merely used to say, “these people are strange, exotic and curious because they are less developed, odd, and even less rational. Let us portray this in our media, in our art and entertainment. Nevermind that we are equally strange, exotic and curious to them.”

Ironically, referring to parts of the world as the West and the East perpetuate a discourse that serves mainly the West. If you are an “Easterner” and you subscribe to this ideology, you are actually perpetuating a colonial ideology that has harmed your people and culture for 300 or more years.

Both the East and West are too complex to essentialize, not to mention draw distinct borders between. There is too much diversity, too much paradox in the midst of the cultures of both  hemispheres. This complicates any effort to define a religion such as Christianity as either Eastern or Western.

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