Hunter examines the “cultural economy of American Christianity.” He traces the obliteration of the WASP establishment in the 60’s to the current position of evangelicalism at the margins of our elite institutions. I would note here that George W. Bush was ostensibly an evangelical and he had a pretty significant position at the center of the elites! And yet he failed to do much of anything, or even try, other than to offer platitudes about “the Almighty.”
Hunter examines giving and the large foundations that support intellectual pursuits. Most Christian giving is in small amounts and to things such as para-church organizations that fail to support Christian scholarship (in his analysis).
He points out that many of the newer institutions and periodicals that have evolved are in response to or are parallel to their elite counterparts. Catholics are doing a somewhat better job with places such as Ave Maria and Christendom College (no mention of New St. Andrews here). Evangelicals have created an ecosystem of cable networks like TBN (debatably evangelical), publishing houses and music all of which apes the world and rarely if ever influences the central places of production. Our books don’t get reviewed by the New York Review of Books for instance.
Furthermore, there are Christians here and there in the main institutions of our day, but they are not connected to larger networks of influence and don’t reflect a unified Church outlook on life. Again I don’t see any reference to Opus Dei in this chapter and I’d be interested to see what Hunter thinks of their work. The bottom line to Hunter is:
In terms of the cultural economy…Christians in America today have institutional strength and vitality exactly in the lower and peripheral areas of cultural production.
He says that Christians are not present where the greatest influence over our culture exists. Now, in our age I don’t know how possible it is for believers to be present in those places of power. Someone who is really sharp and outspoken about Jesus might never get hired to review books by a magazine steeped in hostility to God and the Church. In the past, despite great evil, their was often a veneer of politeness and respect towards religion that allowed for Christians to move in certain social circles that are now closed to them. Perhaps Hunter agrees with this, but in this chapter I got the impression that it is the fault of believers for not being where they should be and being connected to networks, when in fact I think they largely cannot penetrate these places. On the “thick networks” issue he is no doubt correct, but this points to much larger issues with the church and our divisions. I don’t expect these issues to be worked out for decades or centuries as I think the Protestant age is over and now things will stay in upheaval until a new order is established, which will take time.
Rick Hogaboam, Scott Kistler and I will be reading To Change the World by James Davison Hunter and posting our thoughts about it as we go along. Hopefully we will interact with each other too. I come at Hunter’s book as a postmillenial, Magisterial Anglican and a post-Reconstructionist along the lines of Peter Leithart and James Jordan. Of course those labels may not mean much to most people, but I put them out there to say the obvious which is that I am not neutral on the subjects Hunter will discuss, I pretty much have my mind made up already.
In Chapter 1, Hunter outlines the Creation mandate of Genesis 2.15: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” He says that humans as part of our very nature are inclined to build churches, institutions, families and in short, worlds. This rings of Tolkien’s phrase that we are sub-creators. This perspective on Genesis 2.15 is indeed central to the mission and thinking of many modern Christian institutions and thinkers.
Just how central it is becomes obvious as Hunter takes a quick run through Protestant and Catholic mission statements that span groups from liberal to conservative. From the ELCA to Focus on the Family, churches and para-church ministries say that they want to “impact culture” or bring about a revolution of justice. Indeed, one has only to subscribe to certain Christian magazines engaged in the culture war (as I do) to be inundated with appeals for money in order to fund these organizations who believe that they can turn the tide in our culture.
Hunter’s quick summation concludes with this reflection:
I contend that the dominant ways of thinking about culture and cultural change are flawed, for they are based on both specious social science and problematic theology. In brief, the model on which various strategies are based not only does not work, but it cannot work.
Doug Wilson has been posting his running commentary on the book, available here.
There is an interview with Hunter here.
Coming in November, Peter Leithart’s new book:
1 Sanguinary Edicts
2 Jupiter on the Throne
3 Instinctu Divinitatus
4 By This Sign
5 Liberator Ecclesiae
6 End of Sacrifice
7 Common Bishop
8 Nicaea and After
9 Seeds of Evangelical Law
10 Justice for All
11 One God, One Emperor
12 Pacifist Church?
13 Christian Empire, Christian Mission
14 Rome Baptized
I CAN”T WAIT!!!!
Theses On Worship, James Jordan
The Best of the Public Square, Book Two, Richard John Neuhaus
The Cult of the Saints, Peter Brown
The Country Parson, George Herbert
The Reformed Pastor, Richard Baxter
On Christian Teaching, Saint Augustine
Terrorist, John Updike
Fifth Head of Cerberus, Wolfe
The Urth of the New Sun, Wolfe
A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter Miller
The Best of Jack Vance, Jack Vance
Christianity and Classical Culture, Charles Norris Cochrane
Fundamentalism and American Culture, George Marsden
American Apocrypha, Vogel and Metcalfe
The Theology of Illness, Jean-Claude Larchet
I get a kick out of the cover for this Jeeves book that my better half picked up. Check it out:
I believe it was published in 1972 or 73. Clearly graphic design was in a post-Beatles bubble at that time.
I finished reading this book today. It contains the stories:
The Last Castle
The Moon Moth
It was nice to read something of Vance that didn’t have to do with the Dying Earth. The stories mainly illustrate aspects of the human condition that are universal no matter what the setting. This includes greed, misanthropy, and following the crowd amongst other things. I particularly liked The Last Castle.
Vance always conveys a mood in his writing more than a concrete sense of place. The surreal and lonely earth of the future seems plausible, while also frightening and sad. The light he sheds on the future accurately reflects the world of our day that we think we know so well. In reality, the world is a vast and scary place at times, and no amount of technology will change that fact.
I finally finished The Fifth Head of Cerberus and The Urth of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe. Good reads. You should read them too. Wolfe is a dense writer who demands your attention and writes in puzzles. He makes your head spin trying to figure out what just happened. Most of his stories involve someone recording things in a book, so they include gaps in the action, frustrating omissions, and unreliable narrators. Glorious.