Some people think an icon is idolatrous, but they are quite happy to have Sunday school pictures of Jesus. Many cultures think parents must be honoured by elaborate funeral rites and ancestor worship. The Pharisees of Jesus' time had thirty-nine rules as to what could be done and not done on the Sabbath day.
As in many other tribes and nations, the Jews of the Old Testament assigned the death penalty for the murder of other Jews, but they agreed that people of other nations could be exterminated in war. Among Arabians it is not considered adultery for a man to have more than one wife, or keep a concubine, or have an affair with a foreign woman, but intimacy with the wife of another local Arab deserves the death penalty. In Britain witches were at one time burned for breaking the first commandment.
Each nation's culture can be distinguished by the content they give to the ten categories of moral judgment (often called the ten commandments). How then should we interpret these ten categories of right and wrong?
A good way is to ask what does it mean, as Jesus said, to love God and love my neighbour? But what does love mean? I like to define love for neighbours as a genuine concern for the freedom of the other. So for me caring about the rights and freedom of others is the heart of morality. And it shouldn't be difficult to see how those who care and love in this way slowly sweeten any nation's culture.
(This was written for The Paphos Press, Cyprus, February 1998)