To Change the World, 4

I really liked this chapter. It presents “an alternative view of culture and cultural change in eleven propositions.” Scott already posted them, and since I am short on time tonight, I will copy and paste Scott’s list in an abbreviated form. The 11 propositions are:

  1. Culture is a system of truth claims and moral obligations.
  2. Culture is a product of history: The fact that culture has been built over centuries also helps to give culture its staying power.
  3. Culture is intrinsically dialectical: Culture is not only symbolic, it is also made.
  4. Culture is a resource and, as such, a form of power: Certain people and things in cultures have more cultural power than others.
  5. Cultural production and symbolic capital are stratified in a fairly rigid structure of “center” and “periphery.”
  6. Culture is generated within networks.
  7. Culture is neither autonomous nor fully coherent: Culture is not independent from other factors in a society, but rather is bound together with institutions like the economy and the state.
  8. Cultures change from the top down, rarely if ever from the bottom up.
  9. Change is typically initiated by elites who are outside of the centermost positions of prestige.
  10. World-changing is most concentrated when the networks of elites and the institutions they lead overlap.
  11. Cultures change, but rarely if ever without a fight.
I wish I had time to expand on all these points, but let me instead riff on them a bit. I find the views put forward in this chapter to be very in line with how Biblical culture seems to operate and with my own experience in life. I have a largely Norwegian heritage and I grew up in Minnesota. These cultural markers stay with me wherever I go (it’s why I love Garrison Keillor so much)! My family jokes about these things, but they are real. Our reticence to confront people publicly, our suspicion of those who are noisy or draw attention to themselves, our point of view on just about everything is real, and yet hard to define or articulate. It’s the same with everyone, although American life is a jumble of ethnic heritages and Church histories, these things still impact us. I hate being told to clap or repeat something a pastor says, not for any identifiable propositional reason, but due to cultural sensibilities that have been caught, not taught.

I am deeply influenced by marketing and by the corporate culture I exist in. Corporations seem to be only the people that make them up, and yet they are so much more. Ideas and sensibilities carry on through time and are greater than any individual. IBM meant a man in a grey suit with a short haircut. Apple means design principles inherited from Dieter Rams and a certain devotion to elegance and secrecy. Adidas (to me) meant East Coast kids at raves who drive BMW’s and play soccer. This list could be multiplied infinitely. Things press down on us in an unconscious way and stamp their impress on us, and yet we think we are making independent choices. Read Marsden or Noll about the history of American Evangelicals and see how captive we are to notions of freedom and liberty from Common Sense Realism and the American Revolution, and yet all the while thinking these notion are gleaned directly from the Bible. So I agree with Hunter that institutions matter, corporations matter, states matter, and individuals matter.

To his point about the elites being crucial to change, I again agree. This is why Opus Dei is important and successful in Catholic evangelism. Read about Opus Dei and see how they operate: they target educated, elite and rich people who then spread the work to others. They are probably responsible for the conversion of Sam Brownback, Clarence Thomas and others and members that I know of include Roberts, Alito, Louis Freeh and many others. They have powerful ideas and powerful devotional practices that make evangelicals look shallow and tawdry and so they make converts. I think Protestants need an answer to them or we will have a totally Catholic Christian elite in our nation quite soon (we seem to be trending that way on an intellectual level already).

Calvinists today are largely unaware that their movement was at one time the progressive wave and the new thing that took the young intellectuals by storm centuries ago. It was not old men in studies who caught fire and spread Calvinism, it was the same people who a few decades ago would be Marxists and today would be into whatever is coming after post-modernism. C.S. Lewis captures this marvellously in his book English Literature in the Sixteenth Century. Listen to him:

This will at least serve to eliminate the absurd idea that Elizabethan Calvinists were somehow grotesque, elderly people, standing outside the main forward current of life. In their own day they were, of course, the very latest thing. Unless we can imagine the freshness, the audacity, and (soon) the fashionableness of Calvinism, we shall get our whole picture wrong. It was the creed of progressives, even of revolutionaries. It appealed strongly to those tempers that would have been Marxist in the nineteen-thirties. The fierce young don, the learned lady, the courtier with intellectual leanings, were likely to be Calvinists. (43)
Calvinism caught the wave and came to power as the leading edge of revolution. So many waves have followed: Transcendentalism, Deism, Communism and so forth. But my point is that Calvinism will not triumph by 25 people in an OPC somewhere clinging to the faith of their fathers, it will have to change and catch a future wave into the center in order to influence the culture truly again.

This also jives with what James Jordan has frequently said about most of the Biblical characters: they were rich or leading men in their day. We are trained that they were all poor and bedraggled, and some where. But Abraham had hundreds of servants and riches, David and Solomon were probably the equivalent of billionaires in our day. Many of the Apostles were probably at least Middle Class businessmen and Paul did not get his education at public school! The Bible itself was preserved by a hieratic caste of priests and scribes who had access to ancient languages and learning stretching back to Egypt and beyond. The Biblical culture was alien even to Israel itself! A small core of godly men preserved rich knowledge in the midst of a completely idolatrous culture around them where idols were in the very Temple of the Living God. In short, elites made the Bible and preserved it. Ministry to elites is vital, not at the expense of the poor, but certainly in tandem with it. The history of missionary efforts in Europe and other countries shows elites converting and mass populations following their lead. But contemporary evangelicalism exalts the masses and thinks that catering to them will produce cultural change – it has not happened. I am aligned with Hunter on these points and strongly encourage you to read this chapter, if nothing else in the book.

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