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What Racism, Human Trafficking, and Abortion All Have in Common

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Creation of Adam, Michelangelo, Sistene Chapel

Racism, human trafficking, and abortion all share a common source to their evil – the fundamental denial of human dignity – more specifically the creator endowed dignity of being made in the image of God.  This is unilaterally accomplished by carving out groups of people (by ethnicity, gender, vulnerability, or age) who are classified as sub-human and therefore not treated as equal human beings.

Racism
Racism denies the image of God in a particular ethnicity, people group, or tribal affiliation.  It seeks to make the persons of such groups or affiliations lesser than your group or affiliation. In doing so it assails the inherent worth endowed by God.  There are several idols at work in racism – power, control, pride, and ironically likely both self-love and self-hatred.

Human Trafficking
Human trafficking denies the image of God in humanity by treating certain humans as not being human at all, but rather property.  All sense of dignity and worth must be deconstructed in order to justify the human as property.  There are several idols at work in human trafficking, most notably, greed, power, control, and lust.

Abortion
Abortion denies the image of God in those of a certain size, age, gestation, or relative level of “wantedness.”  The human is made to be sub-human because it is small, young, not yet viable, and has not travelled the magical 6″ journey down the birth canal that suddenly and mysteriously imbues it with life, human rights, and legal status.  Their are several idols at work here, most notably, lust, selfishness, comfort, and escape.

While perhaps difficult to personally engage heavily on all three fronts, I find it ironic that my own age demographic seem inclined to care about the first 2 of these 3 and not the third.  I don’t know if this is for reasons of ignorance, idolatry, apathy, or all of the above.  It will be interesting how history plays itself out on this particular issue… but I am willing to wager that our grand children will think of abortion with a similar disdain that our generation holds toward the Holocaust.  

The Banality of Evil and Our Cultural Morass

I hope we would see ourselves as being more dignified than to cut up our children for the pursuit of the ideal body, the next ladder rung of the career, or the perfect orgasm.  I hope we would see ourselves as being more dignified than to allow persons to be treated as property for sex or for unpaid work for the pursuit of cheaper goods, uncommitted and intimacy-less sex (rape).  I hope we would see ourselves as being more dignified than to allow other ethnicities to be treated as less worthwhile, less valuable, and sub-human for the pursuit of feeling good about one’s own tribe at the expense of another tribe.

There is a certain banality to evil that lulls us into going along and getting along. It was the same banality that anesthetized the very bright German people into the wholesale slaughter of persons categorized as sub-human.

What we want is what we worship and what we worship controls us.  This is true if we are pagans, atheists, agnostics, or Christians. We are all slaves to our wants.  Those wants drive our ideas… And ideas have consequences… Often dire ones.  

What the heart loves, the will chooses, the mind justifies – Thomas Cranmer

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An Attempt at How Cultural Orthodoxies (Dogmas) Form

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Cogs and Gears

I’ve been pretty surprised at the rate at which new cultural orthodoxies have been formed over the course of my lifetime but particularly the last decade.  This post serves as an attempt at dissecting how cultural orthodoxies form and serves to appreciate the complexity of their genesis.  There is too much reductionistic thought out there about how cultural shifts occur and most of it centers on just one or two cultural factors and fails to take into account the massive web of multiple reciprocities that is this thing we call culture. Most of the current cultural commentary picks two or three sources as the root causes.  Typically the cited sources are institutional – the (liberal) media, corporations, the current political milieu, or highly organized elite power brokers.  I think these things have certainly played a role, even key roles, into the cultural shifts that we have seen.  That said, I think these views are pretty reductionistic and fail to understand the complexities the constitute culture.  As Justin Holcomb has said, “The most powerful aspect of culture is that which we do not think or reason about.” My main point in this piece is that the forces, elements, and ingredients that cause cultural change are very complicated and cannot be boiled down to just a few people, tribes, or institutions.

 First, we need to understand what elements of culture are at work, both conscious and unconscious:

 There is a constellation of at least 8 things that add to the formulation of cultural dogma – NOTE:  5 of these 8 are directly taken from a presentation delivered by Justin Holcomb and represent heavily thoughts from UVA’s department of Sociology (particularly that of James Davison Hunter) and also that of Christian Smith (Notre Dame)).

1.  Artifacts:  iPhones, iPads, or other iDevices that unconsciously reorder how we interact with stimuli or information.  Artifacts can also be cultural icons such as the Cowboy, Bald Eagle, or Coca-Cola.  Artifacts unconsciously impact how we think and interact about our world.

2.  Language:  Language is the carrier of culture… this is why terminology, accents, vocabularies, technical terms, pronunciations, and word meanings can very heavily geographically even within the same linguistic system.  The use of the various aspects of language heavily determines tribal identity.

3.  Beliefs, Symbols, or Ideas:  these comprise some of the commonly held notions, brand identities, or thoughts of a people group or tribal faction.

4.  Social Forces (aka Deep Structures) – Note the first 6 are from Justin Holcomb:

  • Individualism
  • The Therapeutic – the making of everything as not anyone’s own ultimate responsibility and the centrality of personal happiness of the goal of the individual
  • Consumerism – the commodification of things that should not be commodified
  • Pluralism – the acceptance of mutually exclusive systems of thought as being equally valued and/or true
  • Secularism – the intentional lessening of religious authority in a culture
  • Technology
  • Democritization of knowledge – consensus is king and if the consensus doesn’t agree with you, bludgeon them until they do
  • Post-Modern-Pragmatism – this is my own personal soap box on the mis-labeling of all things post-modern and what we really mean when we say the term “post-modernism”
  • Globalism/Mobility – this also relates closely to the rapid rise of urbanization, the velocity of ideas, the fluidity with which people change geographic location, and the role of the worldwide marketplace and supply chain

5.  Institutions:  politics, education, economic, spiritual, media… etc.

6.  Practices or Rituals:  these are the conscious (places of worship) or unconscious (shopping, sports, entertainment) liturgies of a culture – more on that here, and here.

7.  Elites:  these can be media, political, athletic, celebrity, or other cultural curators and definers.  One could categorize these as being the heads of various institutions (#5 above), but elites are more individuals than groups and seem to transcend even the institutions that gave them their platforms.

8.  The Marketplace:  dollars (or perceived dollars) can be the most significant voters of cultural change and this can happen on both the macro (Mozilla) and micro levels (Worldvision).

 Second, we need to understand what some of our cultural orthodoxies (dogmas) happen to be:

(Note – I have in view here principally the West and specifically the American cultural context)

-“The highest moral good lay[s] in personal self-fulfillment” – see George Marsden’s book, The Twilight of the American Enlightenment:  the 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal BeliefWSJ review here

-Public conversation (or dialogue or discourse) is only to be about facts and not beliefs – in other words it is taboo to talk about God

-Marriage is fundamentally about (romantic) love

-Homosexual behavior is to be accepted at least as non-abnormal and in some instances as normative

-What doesn’t hurt other people is morally permissible

Authenticity to self and personal happiness are very important virtues and perhaps the highest of all the virtues

-Personal happiness is ultimate

-Sex is principally intended for pleasure

-Be good (in your own eyes) in order to be self-actualized (happy)

-The subjective individual self, in combination with the herd (read: democritization of knowledge), is the greatest interpreter, curator, and judge of what is true, good, and beautiful (over against history, data, or external authority)

Third, we need to understand the interplay of the cultural elements with the culture, our tribal faction, and ourselves

Velocity of ideas:  

Before movable typeset, ideas and culture were principally only shared along trade routes.   Those trade routes which were often roads or nautical routes were the only means by which one culture (or tribe) might cross-polinate another group.  This made the velocity of ideas was much slower than in post-industrial and pre-internet age.  Another complexity to the transmission of ideas dealt with low levels of literacy and significant linguistic barriers that existed for millennia.  Oral traditions can travel remarkably quick yet must gain certain thresholds of cultural penetration in order to take route and multiple through generations.  The paradigm shifts in the transmission of ideas were principally the Gutenberg printing press, transportation advances (cars, planes… etc.), and communication revolutions (radio, television, satellite, internet, web 2.0).  These paradigm shifts in transmission of ideas has radically increased the velocity of ideas.  In the modern era, ideas can travel at nearly limitless speed, spread through thousands of seemingly disparate and unconnected networks or tribes, and reach saturation levels significant enough to change public opinion, shape political policy, or even to overthrow governments (ie. Twitter and the Arab Spring).

Cultural Interaction is Determinative of Belief:

Humans naturally gravitate toward like kind and like minded.  That said, there is significant interplay between what we believe and how you come up with what you believe.  Orthodoxy (right beliefs) affects orthopathos, (right emotions) affects orthopraxis (right practice), affect orthodoxy, affects orthopraxis, affects orthodoxy… ad infinitum.  So how we interact with culture – whether we engage it, critique it, or embrace it will impact consciously or unconsciously what we believe.  You can evidence this very clearly with radically undercontextualized and/or cultish groups like the FLDS or the Westboro Baptist folks.

Unconscious Cultural Elements:

The seven cultural elements listed above are constantly influencing our lives in good ways, bad ways, and every shade of grey in-between.  Most of this influence is unconscious, subconscious, selectively ignored, or down played as not playing a role in what we believe.  I have had several hundred conversations with people about what they believe.  In an overwhelming number of such instances, people believe the set of ideas that justify their wants, desires, and passions.  In these instances the horse was the wants, desires, and passions of the heart that drove the cart of the justifications, rationalizations, and knowledge of the head.  In other words, people seek evidence, truth, arguments, facts, and knowledge about their beliefs after those beliefs are formed by their belief system (secular, religious, philosophical, or other).  There are notable exceptions, but this seems to be more normative than not.  Most folks could not even name a single thinker, writer, philosopher, sacred text, or cultural element that was the genesis of their most central tenets, dogmas, orthodoxies, or beliefs.

Conscious Elements:  

That said, some of these cultural elements above are very conscious.  These elements are the ones that tend to get the most ink spilled about them.  It is usually institutions and elites that get the most attention and the usual scapegoats for when their is some rising cultural dogma that is contrary to our own tribal orthodoxy.  I do not wish to downplay the role of celebrity, elites, the marketplace, and institutions of all kinds in the formulation of new cultural dogmas.  The role of these conscious elements has been well noted in the sexual revolution, the rise of feminism, the rise of fundamentalism and evangelicalism, and have shaped the battle lines on other issues like abortion, gender, and sexuality.

Concluding thoughts:  If you have bought into the idea that the contours of the cultural landscape are complex and inter-related, then I hope that you might be willing to think and interact on those contours with more deftness and in a manner than is more winsome.  I would hope that you would be able to identify more readily some of unconscious elements that comprise the invisible hand of culture.  Be patient with people who do not understand or do not care that they hold numerous mutually exclusive ideas in their worldview.  Have compassion on the culture for it is harassed and helpless:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Matthew 9:36

 

For further reading:

Culture Wars, James Davison Hunter

Intellectuals, Paul Johnson

Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey

The Twilight of the American Enlightenment:  the 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief, George Marsden

Social and Cultural Dynamics, Pitirim Sorokin

To Change the World, James Davison Hunter

Desiring the Kingdom, James K. A. Smith

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, John Frame

Best Links of the Week

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The End of Church Planting?  Interesting article that isn’t as provocative as the title.  Definitely worth a read and a place at the table for missiological theory of church planting, challenging the dominant paradigm of the entrepreneurial paid pastor/planter.

How to use rewards/frequent-flyer credit cards to create a self-fulfilling profit loop (buy certain gold coins, get rewards/miles, deposit gold in bank, pay off credit card with gold deposited into bank).

Third Millennium Ministries has its own iPhone and Android apps.  The content of ThirdMill is truly top shelf.  I am of the opinion that Third Mill is probably one of the most important ministries of our time and all on a shoestring budget.  If you care at all about the Gospel and the future of the church you ought to donate to them.  I am thankful that there are actually some forward thinking strategists that are creating excellent scalable content capable of penetrating that glaring lack of theological training of pastors worldwide.

The Decline of the Nuclear Family.  Some pretty staggering statistics and commentary on the status of family in the U.S.

Mayim Bialik (Blossom, Amy Farrah Fowler) of Big Bang Theory is actually a PhD and published in Neuroscience (HT: BL)

Mortgage companies are still ‘robo-signing’

Centrist Tom Coburn has an interesting debt proposal – I was definitely not expecting a proposal from one of the ‘Gang of Six’

77 year old Congressman confronts gun wielding intruder

An interesting piece giving some provocative thoughts regarding the Cosmological Argument

There are several layers of awesome to this Pepsi ad (coming from a staunch Coca-Cola fan):

Best Links of the Week

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Apparently Nancy Pelosi makes all of her public policy decisions based on “The Word.”  One of my pet peeves is politicians isogeting Scripture, it is almost sure to be a disaster.  I am wondering what part of the “The Word” encourages abortion.  Do yourself a favor and watch the incoherent trainwreck that was her speech.

Interesting article on the massive contraction of the U.S. Money Supply.

David Byrne, of Talking Heads fame, is suing Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for unauthorized use of his music.

Apparently Michelangelo sketched a human brain into the head of God in the Sistene Chapel.

On Monks and Capitalism.

Some interesting analysis of the sociology of Facebook.

For all you GUT folks:  Neutrinos have mass.

Hillary Clinton thinks ‘the rich aren’t paying their fair share’ of taxes.  I guess $.40 on the dollar isn’t enough for the sticky fingers of Uncle Sam.

Some in-depth analysis of the “New Calvinism.”  Don’t agree with all the conclusions from the article, but a worthwhile read.  On a sidenote, people need to more properly delineate the terms “Neo-Calvinism” and “new calvinism.”  Neo-Calvinism is Dutch Reformed thinking from mainly Abraham Kuyper and also Herman Bavinck.  New Calvinism is a term associated with the surging sub-group of Reformed Evangelicals who have some small distinctives from the traditional arc of Calvinists.

Burk Parsons also offers some thoughts on the New Calvinism.

I am so glad I don’t have to do this for salvation and blessing.

All you caffeine addicts… recent science shows your morning coffee doesn’t give you any real perk, rather it merely gets you to your baseline productivity.  On a sidenote, why do so many evangelical ministers seem to be okay (and some even proud) of their coffee/caffeine addiction?  Am I the only one that thinks this is odd?

Here is a pretty incredible action (and quite violent) sequence from a 1992 John Woo movie entitled Hard Boiled. Woo is an auteur of the fight scene:

Best Links of the Week

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Stephen Prothero, religion Professor at Boston University, deconstructs the reductionistic idea that all religions are fundamentally they same.

Amazing composite picture of the most recent solar eclipse.  Note the detail on the moon and the magnetic affect on the solar flares emanating from the sun.

Apparently, Google Streetview is also logging your Wifi information and MAC addresses.  This is not good if you care at all about privacy.  I certainly hope they reconsider publishing this information later this year.

10 Strangest Alternative Safes.

Stephen Hawking presents argumentation that belief in aliens is rational, mathematical.  If I affirmed macroevolution, I think I would be in agreement with Hawking on this point.

Incredible photos from Iceland and the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull volcano.

Andy Crouch (Culture Making) reviews James Daveson Hunter’s new book, “To Change the World

The Washington Times on “Financial Fascism

How Goldman Sachs Screwed Ghana”  Goldman Sachs has a number of folks in the Obama administration:  Gary Gensler (Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission); Mark Patterson (former Goldman lobbyist and Chief of Staff to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner); Robert Hormats (Undersecretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Agricultural Affairs); Stephen Friedman (former COO and Chairman of the Board of Goldman Sachs [he still sits on the board] now Chairman of the United State’s Presidents Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board); Henry Paulson (former CEO of Goldman Sachs, former Treasury Secretary, and chief architect of the nationalization of crappy securitized debt).  It should be noted that George W. Bush had deep relationships with Goldman Sachs.

And for your viewing pleasure, here is Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) skewering a Goldman Sachs Executive on one of Goldman Sach’s self-proclaimed “shitty deals,” it happened to be some CDOs: 

Video of Tim Tebow Superbowl Ad

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Update:  so apparently the above version was not the one played in the Superbowl, this one below is the one that aired.  Not sure which I like better.  Not sure what all the fuss is about, both are pretty vanilla.  I don’t think the culture wars will be dying down anytime soon.

Also, a much longer video with Bob and Pam Tebow give much more back-story of their pregnancy with Tim is worth watching here.

Thoughts?

Written by Michael Graham

February 7, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Best Links of the Week

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The Problematic Path of a Graduate Degree in the Humanities

I am starting a new installment of this blog for the best links of the week.  They will typically be in accordance with the major topics discussed here (theology, philosophy, culture, economics, and politics).  Depending on how many good articles were out on the net, the number of links will vary.  Enjoy.

1.  “Graduate School in the Humanities:  Just Don’t Go“:  controversial, informative, and lucid look at the current status of graduate school humanities programs and the dysfunctionality of finding work thereafter.

2.  MSNBC article on Matt Chandler’s battle with cancer – there are some strange things about this story involving him punching a healthcare provider…  Also excellent is a year old article by John Piper entitled, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.”

3.  Previously mentioned article by pro-choice Sally Jenkins (Washington Post) defending Pam/Tim Tebow’s Superbowl Ad.

4.  “Haiti Three Weeks Later“:  absolutely stirring images from the Boston Globes excellent photo-essay segment “The Big Picture.”

5.  Pew Survey on Social Networking: Teens Love Facebook, Hate Blogging, Are Always Online, and Don’t Use Twitter

6.  Newsweek on the ineffectiveness of Anti-Depressants.  Not sure I share the conclusions, but interesting article.

7.  “A Christian Nation“:  article exploring relationship between Christianity and pop-culture and how we are highly marketed to.   There are weaknesses to the author’s argumentation but interesting nonetheless to get an outsiders view of Christianity and pop-culture.

8.  “Should Conan, Goldman Sachs send megabucks to Haiti?“:  Interesting proposal.

9.  “The Rise of the Calvinists“: article exploring Scott Brown’s theological convictions as a member of a CRC church.

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