Thursday, October 03, 2019

An Examination of the Body Ritual of the Nacirema

Anthropologist Horace Miner wrote an essay many years ago entitled "The Body Ritual of the Nacirema."

It's a fascinating account of a tribe of people who practice private rituals to sustain their physical beauty and prolong their lives.

Read The Body Ritual of the Nacirema for yourself.

Miner's description of the people group called the Nacirema seemingly portrays a primitive, highly ritualized people addicted to the most bizarre behaviors. The Nacirema come across as the most superstitious people in the world.

The Nacirema culture seems extremely primitive at best or bizarrely neurotic at worst. .

Anthropologist Horace Miner wrote his essay on the Nacriema people to prove a point. 

His essay is a spoof.

Nacirema is American spelled backwards.

Miner writes about the American people.

Once you get it, you'll laugh.

The point being made by Miner?

He wrote the essay to prove that interpretations of new information are based on preexisting suppositions.

If the reader of The Body Ritual of the Nacirema knows that he is reading a spoof about Americans, the essay will be deemed funny, even enjoyable and witty. But if the reader has no idea that the article is a spoof of the American people, then the essay will be mildly interesting, possibly even boring.

Presuppositions are everything.

The decisions we make about the main characters of any story (i.e. "the Nacirema") largely depends upon our biases toward the main characters as we read about them.

In our day of political intrigue, conspiracy theories, and 24/7 news stories about national politics, we most likely interpret what we hear based upon our presuppositions and preconceived biases of the main characters.

It is truly the advanced intellectual who is able to lay down any presuppositions and listen with an intention to learn.

Bias burns.

Openness learns.


RB Kuter said...

Great point, Wade. This notion of conclusions being biased by presupposition certainly applies to Scripture interpretation and application doesn't it. It is difficult to be objective and productively dialogue with someone of an opposing/different view than yours when you have wrestled with Passages for years and then begin to "own" your conclusion.

I certainly have difficulty in objectively considering another person's view when I already have made my conclusions. I guess it's possible for us to "change" our conclusion about doctrine, politics, cultural trends, etc., but I seldom do and seldom witnessing anyone else "changing".

Wade Burleson said...



Christiane said...

"re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book,
and dismiss whatever insults your own soul"

(Walt Whitman, 'Leaves of Grass')

We have an internal 'guidance' of discernment, some of my faith call it the God-given moral conscience, and, because this discernment God calls 'choice' was given to all mankind, it has been celebrated for a very long time back into antiquity, even among the pagans:

"'For there is a true law: right reason. It is in conformity with nature, is diffused among all men, and is immutable and eternal; its orders summon to duty; its prohibitions turn away from offense . . . . To replace it with a contrary law is a sacrilege; failure to apply even one of its provisions is forbidden; no one can abrogate it entirely.'

I think that when we see and hear people suffering and say nothing, we are complicit in their suffering, and we ourselves are wounded by our own silence in our souls.

The sacred Scriptures of our faith speak to us, this:

""Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;
ensure justice for those being crushed." (Proverbs 31:8)

And in another age when a dark tyranny was harming innocent children, this Christian martyr spoke up and paid for it with his life:

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless.
Not to speak is to speak.
Not to act is to act.”
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

I know that speaking today is costly. For so many, it would mean the end of a career or perhaps even something more precious to them and to those who need them. So I cannot judge all who are silent. Only God sees our hearts. We can still love people for themselves, regardless of their 'stands' or situations where we might want them to do differently, because the person is dearer to us than any political or religious difference. The person is more important and we do not throw the ones we care about away or we condemn ourselves in the process.

And yet, in the end, we are who we stand up for.
That is a soul-searing reality.
Only we can 'choose' our path after considering all before us, and hopefully our decision is in the end, for the best.
Sometimes in the face of tyranny and fear, due to our choices, we may perish, but our soul remains intact. Selflessness these days must not be without consideration for others we are responsible for. This is a strange and difficult time. God have mercy on us all.

Anonymous said...

In light of Romans 14:5-6 should we even attempt to change another person's deeply held convictions?


Ken F said...

Hi Linda,
I understood the article to mean we should examine our own "presuppositions and preconceived biases." I did not see any direction to "attempt to change another person's deeply held convictions." But that could be because my biases are different from yours.

Christiane said...

there's 'opinion', and there's 'facts'
sometimes we get confused :)

"The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it." (Flannery O'Connor)
Our 'perceptions' will necessarily vary, because we are looking at the world from different perspectives and experiencing the world in different ways. The more FEARFUL people are, the more they need the insular, closed, 'protected', 'our kind', atmosphere where all think the same and everyone re-assures everyone else that 'we are right';

but is living in 'fear' a good thing for Christian people? I think that God's answer to this question was 'Pentecost', and my goodness, what a remedy for fearfulness was the Holy Spirit.

One big problem these days among good people is given meaning by Flannery O'Connor's remark on how many readers could not grasp what WAS the 'horror' she was writing about in her stories:

"The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism. I believe that there are many rough beasts now slouching toward Bethlehem to be born and that I have reported the progress of a few of them, and when I see these stories described as horror stories I am always amused because the reviewer always has hold of the wrong horror." (Flannery O'Connor)

that we today cannot see the 'problem beneath the problem'?

Are we focusing on 'the wrong horror' and overlooking the over-all picture, by cleaving to our tribal pundits who re-assure us that 'the others' are evil? And IF people really are fearful, why? Why now? What do they stand to lose that has driven them to accept the unthinkable as a solution?

Our human nature desperately needs 'patience' and 'kindness' and the ability to 'listen' so we don't react too quickly without comprehending what is really wrong and why people are re-acting as they are in ways that do not make sense to us.

Come Holy Spirit.