Home > Cultural Musings > taboo: a national geographic series

taboo: a national geographic series

I love compelling television.

I love shows that attempt to peel back the edges of complicated world and help us to see the world.  

We are prone to think that the world, as it really is, and the world, as we have experienced it, are the same thing.  But, even in our increasingly global world, we walk through life with blinders, unable to see so much of the reality of the world around us.

In the past, I have written about Current_TV.  Someday I may write about Last One Standing, one of my favorite reality television shows of all time.  

Today, I came across a show on National Geographic Television: Taboo.

I am in the middle of watching the hour long show for the first time, the topic of this particular episode – ‘Gender Bending’.

The fine folks over at National Geographic have decided that it is time to peel back the edges of the Western worldview, marked by its unfortunate allegiances to a Christian God who became a man, Jesus Christ.

Taboo has journeyed to India, Southeast Asia, and Albania, to introduce the viewer to people and places who have rejected the “rigid gender definitions” that are so deeply entrenched in Western culture.  The stories of these people are absolutely fascinating, and the reveal a great deal about the cultural reality of people around this world.

In India, we are introduced to the hijra (click for wiki link), men who have surgically removed their sexual organs and chosen to live their lives as women.  A group of people who make and annual journey to marry their God, only to symbolically mourn their God’s death and become widows the next day.  The story of the hijra, the five gender system, and gender-bending senior women in Algeria are really interesting, truly fascinating studies of how people have chosen to define masculinity and femininity apart from biological sex.

All the more fascinating is the light that Taboo shines on our own culture.

The writers and producers of Taboo have a clear agenda in exposing an American audience to these gender bending peoples, they explicitly argue that gender is an invention of our culture, a cultural construct.  In the West, our idea of gender is tied to our broad allegiance to Christian theism (the default, gut reaction to the word “God” is, generally speaking, the God of the Bible).

To the folks over at National Geographic, the purpose of peeling back the edges of the American understanding of the world is really to pull back the blindfold that keeps us from seeing our own culture properly.  

Why do we think in a rigid two gender system? Because we have a rigid understanding of God revealing himself as a man – we have blinders on.  If only we could see our own narrow view of the world, we would realize how desperately we need to grow, adapt, and mature.

We would see that it is time to reject our taboos and become accepting of a greater diversity of gender identity.  Until that day, National Geographic reassures us that “there will always be people who will reject the two gender system – and remain … taboo”.

Wait. There’s a problem.  

National Geographic makes a really dangerous assumption in trying to unveil the eyes of Americans who have been blinded by their own preconceived cultural notions.  They make a number of assumptions, in fact, but there is one that stands out as more egregious than the others.

They assume they can see.

What arrogance!

But wait, here I am pointing my little finger – what hypocrisy! Is there a massive log jam in my eye that is making me blind? Am I thumbing their speck and overlooking my plank?  No.  Because I don’t make the same assumption that they make.

Here’s my assumption.  

Here is what I believe about them. About me. About you. About us: “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4)

Bad news. We are all blind.  We are all blinded by the gods of our age.  We are all unable to see the world as it really is, transcending ourselves to see past our tiny experiences, thoughts, and interpretations.  

We are all in the same boat and we can all spend the rest of our lives pointing fingers at television shows, our religious background (be it Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheistic, whatever), our childhood, lost tribes, genetics, science, psychology, and the countless other factors that shape our sight.

But the bottom line is simple.

We. Are. All. Blind. Every. Single. One. Of. Us.

So do we abandon all hope? No, we abandon all pride, accept our blindness, and read this:

We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.  And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor 4:3-6)

When we get done reading, we simply say “yes”.

Yes. I am blinded and the world around me is pitch black. Unless God turns the light on.

How do I know that God has turned the light on?  When everything that we see can be summarized in one central phrase…

“the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”


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