Posts Tagged ‘Nancy Pearcey’
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:
- 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
- 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.
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 Belief – WSJ 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.
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
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
“Developers Trying To Treat Houses Like Copyright; Want A Cut Of Every Future Resale” and even worse than this, the financial firm pushing this garbage is in the process of securitizing these hidden ‘resale contract covenants.’ No offense, but it is greedy morons like these guys who got us into the whole sub-prime mess. I am all for free-market economics, but I really hope the free-market (particularly the hedge funds) decides to vote ‘no’ with their feet.
“A List of Important Sermons and Articles Worth Reading” (HT: JT) – this is an excellent excellent list. There are a good number of these that I have not read. I am particularly excited about those that I have not read that have multiple commendations.
Nancy Pearcey dissects the affect of secularism on America and its’ disability to provide a cogent response to radical Islam.
Excellent article in The Atlantic from Jeffrey Goldberg analyzing the likelihood and aftermath of an Israeli preemptive strike against the Iranian nuclear program.
Canadian PhD student creates human powered aircraft with large flapping wings. One of the craziest things I’ve ever seen.
Pacman with 111 human pixels:
You will never have more discretionary time than while in college. This is a critical time for you to develop your character and mind. This is a list of what I think are the most important books to work through during your time as an undergrad. These books focus on developing your heart to affection (orthopathos), renewing your mind to truth (orthodoxy), and provoking your hands to kingdom work (orthopraxis). Take 10 books a year and devote 30 minutes a day – you’ll finish the list, perhaps even early.
Note: I have listed them in order of how I think they should be read and not necessarily in order of how good they are. For sake of space, I am not going to do a writeup on each of these. If you have a question(s) about a book(s), just post in the comments.
1. Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper
2. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever
3. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
4. Designed for Dignity by Richard Pratt
5. The Fuel and the Flame by Steve Shadrach
6. Tell the Truth by Will Metzger
7. The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman
8. Holiness by J.C. Ryle
9. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable by F.F. Bruce
10. Universe Next Door by James Sire
11. Knowing God by J.I. Packer
12. Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey
13. Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray
14. Pensees by Blaise Pascal
15. No Place for Truth by David Wells
16. The Cross of Christ by John Stott
17. Culture Wars by James Hunter
18. Let The Nations Be Glad by John Piper
19. Salvation Belongs to the Lord by John Frame
20. Desiring God (or something else more substantial) by John Piper
21. The John Frame Trilogy: Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, Doctrine of God, Doctrine of the Christian Life by John Frame
22. The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntington
23. Christ of the Covenants by O. Palmer Robertson
24. Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe
25. Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards
26. Love the Lord Your God With All Your Mind by J.P. Moreland
27. Darwin on Trial by Phillip Johnson
28. Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark
29. Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley
30. Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
31. How to Read the Bible for All its Worth by Fee and Stuart
32. He Gave us Stories by Richard Pratt [there is a nice summary here]
33. Institutes of Christian Religion by John Calvin
34. Confessions by St. Augustine
35. Warranted Christian Belief by Alvin Plantinga
36. Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche (I included this book because it is important for us to study antithetical works, I will make a list of books like this one later)
37. What is a Healthy Church Member by Thabiti Anyabwile
38. Habits of the Mind by James Sire
39. Why We’re Not Emergent: From Two Guys That Should Be by Ted Kluck and Kevin Deyoung
40. Baptism and Fullness by John Stott
What books would you add?
1. Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey [y, l, e, p, s]
Again, excellent book on worldview that I have commended here numerous times. Get it and read it.
2. Francis Schaeffer Trilogy by Francis Schaeffer [y, l, e, p, s]
In The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason, and He Is There and He Is Not Silent, Schaeffer dissects modernity and modern culture, exposing its corrupt roots and highlighting its end consequences.
3. Universe Next Door by James Sire [y, l, e, p, s]
4. Intellectuals by Paul Johnson [l, e, p, s]
See previous write-up here.
5. Gnostic Empire Strikes Back by Peter Jones [y, l, e, p, s]
Jones does a good job helping us understand some recent worldviews are really just rehashed Gnosticism.
Honorable Mention: No Place for Truth by David Wells [l, e, p, s]
Wells dissects evangelicalism’s roots in modernity in this devastating critique.
(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)
These are books that are helpful for the Christian in better understanding their world past and present. Some of the books are not written from an explicitly Christian perspective, but are nonetheless quite valuable.
1. The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntingtonn [y, l, e, p, s]
Huntington’s thesis is that the world is broken down into 9 different civilizations that each have a different main worldview/religion and that wars are most likely to occur where several civilizations come in close contact with each other – due to the friction created by mutually exclusive ideas. Huntington’s work has proved to be a solid predictor over the last 20 years.
2. Culture Wars by James Hunter [y, l, e, p, s]
Hunter provides acute analysis on the American cultural landscape, describing battlelines drawn over American culture of the orthodox vs. progressive. A must read for getting a better look at hot-button issues in contemporary America.
3. Social and Cultural Dynamics by Pitrim Sorokin [e, p, s]
Sorokin has a mountain of historical and cultural analysis on the history of western civilization. He describes this history as oscillating between ideational culture and sensate culture. Ideational culture is where the Western civilization was driven by the world of ideas (typically Christian ones). Sensate Culture is where Western civilization has abandoned ideas and been preoccupied with pleasuring ourselves (#10 on this list does a great job in explaining the latter in our present context).
4. Intellectuals by Paul Johnson [e, p, s]
Johnson takes a look side-by-side at the thoughts and lives of several key intellectuals over the past two centuries (specifically: Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Bertrand Russell, Brecht, Sartre, Edmund Wilson, Victor Gollancz, Lillian Hellman, Cyril Connolly, Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, Kenneth Tynan, and Noam Chomsky). He lets the reader come to their own conclusions… but the conclusions are obvious: these intellectuals lived lives either horribly inconsistent with their ideas OR their horrible lives drove their suspect ideas. Paul Johnson also happens to be a very well respected historian whose other works are standard texts at Universities everywhere.
5. Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber [y, l, e, p, s]
Weber’s thesis for the first half of the book is pretty shocking – the Puritans started capitalism and that no one but the Puritans could have started capitalism. Never before had capitalism been created because no one had a Calvinistic view of the world before where work was sacred and one did not spend one’s wealth because their focus was on the world-to-come. Capitalism required an immense amount of initial capital to begin the new paradigm and the Puritans were the first people to be able to inadvertently create the system. Weber spends the second half of the book explaining how capitalism destroyed the Puritans four generations later as the wealth accumulated became an iron cage.
6. Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn [y, l, e, p, s]
Kuhn levels the idea that the history of science follows the Darwinian model of slow-and-steady progress. He coins the term “paradigm shift” to explain how the history of science is a history of completely new-and-superior paradigms leveling older paradigms (ie. Quantum Mechanics and Newtonian Mechanics). The thesis of the book has implications though for other fields as well.
7. Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey [y, l, e, p, s]
Excellent book on worldview that I have commended here numerous times. Get it and read it.
8. Christ and Culture by H. Richard Niebuhr [e, p, s]
See write-up on this one here.
9. Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark [y, l, e, p, s]
Fascinating look on how Christianity spread from a marginalized Judean sect to the state religion of the Roman empire in under three centuries. Stark is a well-respected historian and this book is a standard text at most Universities. I think the implications of how Christianity was so successful in the pluralistic Mediterranean area has important lessons to teach Christendom today.
10. Sensate Culture by Harold O.J. Brown [y, l, e, p, s]
Brown picks up where Sorokin (#3) left off. He takes a good hard look at Sorokin’s categories in light of modern American culture.
(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)
Let me first say that science would not exist unless it where for Christianity. In the history of Western Civilization, one has to ask themselves, ‘the Greeks were really really smart, why didn’t they invent the scientific method?’ The answer is simple, following Platonic and Neo-Platonic thinking, they did not think this world was real or intelligible. It was not until Christianity presented a world created, ordered, and directed by a sovereign and benevolent triune God that the scientific method sprouted. The consensus view in the history/philosophy of science is that science required the fertile soul of Christianity in order to grow. Christianity took this world seriously.
1. Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe [l, e, p, s]
In my view, this book destroys the Neo-Darwinian (scientific rationalism) story of how life exists. This book is a must read. See also this previous blog post.
2. Pensees by Blaise Pascal [y, l, e, p, s]
Although not explicitly about science and Christianity, Pascal presents an epistemology that includes science, reason, and faith.
3. Personal Knowledge by Michael Polanyi [e, p, s]
Polanyi rightly challenges the objectivity and impersonality of the scientist. Polanyi is very important in philosophy of science and is a worthwhile read.
4. When Science Meets Religion by Ian Barbour [l, e, p, s]
Barbour presents four possible relationships that science and religion might have. Balanced read.
5. The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy by Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton [l, e, p, s]
Great critique of naturalism. Pearcey is solid as usual.
6. Darwin on Trial by Phillip Johnson [y, l, e, p, s]
Is there enough hard evidence to prove Darwinism correct, were it to be put on a public trial? Creative and damning question.
7. The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism by Michael Behe [l, e, p, s]
More Behe. Good stuff.
8. Evolution: A Theory in Crisis by Michael Denton [l, e, p, s]
Most think that this is the book that started the Intelligent Design movement.
9. The Reason for God by Tim Keller [c,y l, e, p, s]
Although not explicitly on the subject of science, like Pascal, Keller presents a third way between pure science/reason and pure faith.
10a. The Language of God by Francis Collins [l, e, p, s]
A look at DNA, from the director of the human genome project, and an evangelical Christian.
10b. Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historian by Jeffrey Russell [l, e, p, s]
Russell confronts the myth that people (esp. Christians) believed in a flat earth. Pretty damning to an annoying and ignorant argument:
On page 1 of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae (that is, in the first article of the first question of the first part), he casually mentions the round earth on the way to proving something doctrinal: “the astronomer and the physicist both may prove the same conclusion: that the earth, for instance, is round: the astronomer by means of mathematics (i.e., abstracting from matter), but the physicist by means of matter itself.” (via Between Two Worlds)
Honorable Mention: Icons of Evolution by Jonathan Wells [c, y, l, e, p, s]
I cannot stand behind anything else he has written, but Icons shreds the silly pictures commonly put in the textbooks you had growing up, demonstrating how they do not show Darwinian macroevolution.
(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)
Three nasty by-products of a half-century of evangelical cultural disengagement and anti-intellectualism were that secularism, pluralism, and post-modern-pragmatism were allowed to run amok. Divinity schools where Pastors were trained for ministry became Religious Studies departments where we put religions in a box to poke them and take notes.
Moving forward, evangelicalism must rediscover the Biblical worldview that they have neglected. I can think of no better starting point that evangelicals everywhere reading Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth. Every undergraduate, mom, working person, or clergy needs to read this book. Later I will be doing a series of Top5/10 posts on different books in different genres. This books is on my Top 10 All-Time across all categories. It is not an arrogant statement, but a truthful statement, to say that Christianity accounts for everything in the Universe. This is not tantamount to saying that individual Christians fully understand or comprehend all things or that there is no mystery for us. But it does mean that, as Augustine put it, “all truth is God’s truth.” Universities used to be the unity of Christ as total truth uniting the diversity of various academic disciplines that all had their center in his logos. In other words, the University was much like a bicycle tire, where Christ was the unifying hub and each field was a spoke that owed its stability to the hub and owed its inter-relatedness to other fields also to that same hub. Now, the University is a place where you get completely different mutually exclusive worldviews in different departments. This was my experience at University of Florida. I got diametrically opposed pictures of reality in the Religious Studies and Philosophy departments. Both were frustrating because both were wrong. The Religious Studies department was certain that nothing was certain. The Philosophy department was certain that everything was certain (via modernistic rationalism). I believe that the University is ripe for the plucking because none of these worldviews being espoused have any substantial veracity. John Summerville has a game plan that I wrote on earlier for on how to redeem the University.
In my view, secularism, pluralism, and post-modern-pragmatism (I will define this term in a later blog post), are ultimately unlivable and provide a really fertile soil for the Gospel. Evangelicals must take their faith seriously in mind, heart, and practice.
Up next, we will look at how energy, the Peak Oil debate, urbanization, telecommuting, and the suburbs may present a substantial threat to evangelicalism.