To Change The World, Week Five

To Change The World by James Davison HunterBlog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through To Change The World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2017. The reading schedule is online at https://xastanford.org/summer-reading

Earlier this week I saw an essay that illustrates many of the ideas from our reading so far: Why Didn’t the Planned Parenthood Videos Change the Abortion Debate? (Joe Carter, Gospel Coalition). Carter makes many points, but two stand out – the video makers failed to coordinate with institutions and they also were attacked by elite networks. To use Hunter’s terminology, Planned Parenthood is an institution on the center and the Center for Medical Progress is an institution on the periphery – they had an uphill battle for which they were unprepared because they apparently held to the naive view of culture Hunter critiqued. I encourage you to read the article and reflect upon the readings so far in light of it.

Hunter is now moving onto the second theme of his book – rethinking power in light of faith. He’s going to focus “on the conservative, progressive, and neo-Anabaptist positions — because in contemporary America, these are the most prominent” (page 109). As Hunter hints, there are more theological options than these. Perhaps we will discuss them as we move through this second essay.

His main point in this week’s reading is that in modern societies discussions of power are inevitably political.

“Politics has become so central in our time that institutions, groups, and issues are now defined relative to the state, its laws and procedures. Institutions such as popular and higher education, philanthropy, science, the arts, and even the family understand their identity and function according to what the state does or does not permit. Groups (women, minorities, gays, Christians, etc.) have validity not only but increasingly through the rights conferred by the state.” (page 103)

Hunter says this tendency is evidence of a weak social fabric.

“…the amount of law that exists in any society is always inversely related to the coherence and stability of its common culture: law increases as cultural consensus decreases. By these lights, the fabric of the common culture in modern America has worn even more thin in the last several decades and the extraordinary amount of litigation we have seen in recent decades is just one place we see it.” (page 102)

Given that laws will multiply, the reach of the state will become ever more encompassing, and so interest groups feel it is imperative to get the state to act in alignment with their values. The state cannot simply remain neutral, as Hunter explains:

“There is a tradition in political theory that claims that in a liberal democracy, the state is or should be neutral when it comes to questions of the good. This is wrong mainly because it is impossible. Law infers a moral judgment; policy implies a worldview.” (page 103)

There is, of course, the caveat that this ressentiment-driven impulse toward power-seizing is not always true of individuals – even influential ones – but as Hunter demonstrated in the previous essay the attitudes of individuals prove less significant than the attitudes of institutions.

“I don’t want to overstate the case—clearly what I describe here are not fully and comprehensively established realities; all is not power and ressentiment. What makes it more complicated (and interesting) is that there are genuinely public-spirited people on all sides of all issues. Indeed most people are not resentment-filled and power hungry. But consistent with my view all along is the fact that the motives of individuals and the structures of culture are not the same thing.” (page 109)

This essay is off to a promising start. I’m eager to see how he summarizes the three theological options he mentioned.

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 110

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. The First Church of Intersectionality (Elizabeth C. Corey, First Things): “Intersectionality is, then, a quasi-religious gnostic movement, which appeals to people for precisely the reasons that all religions do: It gives an account of our brokenness, an explanation of the reasons for pain, a saving story accompanied by strong ethical imperatives, and hope for the future. In short, it gives life meaning.”
  2. Nondicrimination For All (Jonathan Rauch, National Affairs): “The landmark civil-rights bills that broke the back of racial segregation in the 1960s were not absolutist. They provided exemptions for religious organizations. They exempted ‘Mrs. Murphy,’ the landlady renting a room in her own house. At the time, civil-rights advocates in Congress made the pragmatic argument that exemptions were needed to pass the bill, but they also made the politically principled argument that exceptions would increase social comfort with the legislation while still covering the vast majority of cases — a trade they deemed worth making…. In fact, the pop-culture ideal of zero-tolerance nondiscrimination is possible only because of the underlying reality of ubiquitous accommodation.”
  3. The Wasted Mind of Ben Sasse (Ben Mathis-Lilley, Slate): “What is most maddening about Sasse is not his party fealty per se—I’m not expecting a Republican senator to support left-wing policies; that’s not the standard we should hold him to—but the way he has outlined the basis for a path he has yet to take himself.” This is more partisan than most things I share, but since I highlighted Sasse as one of my two favorite Senators back in issue 107 it seems appropriate. I still like both Sasse and Booker, by the way.
  4. Some questions I’m asking while off to my white evangelical church (Lisa Robinson, personal blog): “Has all this attention on white supremacy maybe pushed down central issues to being part of the kingdom of God together, with its discipleship mandates and being salt and light in the world? Because it seems to me, based on what I read in Scripture anyway, that only through him can true reconciliation happen.”
  5. Meet Five Men Who All Think They’re The Messiah (Jonas Bendiksen, National Geographic)  “If Christ were to come back to complete his work today, I’ve thought, what would he think of the world we’ve created? And what would we think of him? With these thoughts tumbling around in my head, I decided to start looking for messiahs. I found them the way you find everything these days: through Google.”
  6. “Mainline” Churches Are Emptying. The Political Effects Could Be Huge (Lyman Stone, Vox): “While progressives are keen to see in the decline of labor unions an important component in the rise of conservative political power, they rarely consider the impact of losing their movement’s soul. Despite mainline denominations commanding as much or more popular support and membership as labor unions, their decline seems to be unmourned within the progressive movement they birthed; the consequences of that decline likewise go unconsidered.”
  7. Getting the Rich and Powerful to Give (SSRN, Kessler, Milkman & Zhang): “Consistent with past psychology research, we find that the rich and powerful respond dramatically, and differently than others, to being given a sense of agency over the use of donated funds. Gifts from rich and powerful alumni increase by 200-300 percent when they are given a sense of agency.”

Things Glen Found Amusing

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have Alcohol, Blackouts, and Campus Sexual Assault (Texas Monthly, Sarah Hepola), the most thoughtful secular piece I’ve read on the issue. “Consent and alcohol make tricky bedfellows. The reason I liked getting drunk was because it altered my consent: it changed what I would say yes to. Not just in the bedroom but in every room and corridor that led into the squinting light. Say yes to adventure, say yes to risk, say yes to karaoke and pool parties and arguments with men, say yes to a life without fear, even though such a life is never possible… We drink because it feels good. We drink because it makes us feel happy, safe, powerful. That it often makes us the opposite is one of alcohol’s dastardly tricks.” (first shared in volume 25)

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda – we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it).

Also, remember that I’m not reporting news – I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it.

Archives at http://glenandpaula.com/wordpress/category/links.

Podcasts I Listen To

This is sort of an update to a post from a few years back: Do you geek out when there’s a new episode of Radiolab? Thoughtful Christian Podcasts, although it’s broader and includes podcasts that aren’t specifically Christian.

Tonight I had a bunch of friends over and we began discussing podcasts we listened to. One of them asked me write up my list, and I thought it might be of more general interest.

Here are the ones I get most excited about seeing in my feed. They’re an eclectic mix of intellectual, devotional, and practical.
  1. Planet Money – this is a fascinating NPR podcast about the economy. One of my absolute favorites. The episodes are not long but the topics are explored in sufficient depth to be informative.
  2. Radiolab – a show about curiosity (often with a strong science bent). This was the show that got me into podcasts. When it is good, it is off the charts.
  3. Campus Ministry Leadership Podcast – two Chi Alpha leaders, Lennon Noland and Andrew Youngblood, conduct engaging interviews with university ministers.
  4. Pete Bullette from Chi Alpha at UVA – Pete is one of the consistently best preachers I know. I listen to him to stretch myself. Bias alert – Pete is a friend of mine and so factor that into my endorsement.
  5. Larry Osborne from North Coast Church – Larry Osborne is extremely insightful. The podcast is a mix of the various pastors on staff, so I should clarify I only listen to him – I don’t resonate with the other preachers on the church staff that much. Others seem to like them a lot, though.
  6. Unbelievable? – this one is from the UK. This is a show that usually features a Christian debating a non-Christian. The host is phenomenal at keeping his guests on track and forcing them to interact with their opponent’s strongest arguments. The episodes are long, but if you like the topic of the day you will be pleased with the quality of the conversation.
  7. The Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast – Andy has a talent for taking big ideas and making them accessible. I nearly always walk away from one of his podcasts with a new practical insight.
  8. Ask Pastor John – these are bite-sized podcasts. Each day John Piper answers one question that has been emailed to him. Every once in a while the questions are silly, but very often they’re relatable questions and Piper gives well-thought-out answers.
  9. Thinking in Public – an interview-style podcast with the president of Southern Theological Seminary. The guests are usually amazing and the topics are stimulating.
  10. Bayside Church – a large church near Sacramento. I particularly like Curt Harlow’s sermons (bias alert – I have known Curt for over 20 years and consider him a good friend).
  11. Conversations with Tyler – Cowen is one of the great public intellectuals of our age, and if I am at all interested in the person he’s interviewing I know I will love it. He asks questions that other hosts don’t think to ask.
  12. Econtalk – from Russ Roberts, a scholar at the Hoover Institute here at Stanford. I like the host, but sometimes the topics fail to interest me.
  13. Research on Religion – the host, Anthony Gill, is a professor of political science at the University of Washington. He hosts experts on religion (usually academics) to talk about their area of expertise.
  14. Revisionist History – bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell digs into something from history and analyzes it from a fresh perspective.

To Change The World, Week Four

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through To Change The World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2017. The reading schedule is online at https://xastanford.org/summer-reading
The first part of this week’s reading is a straightforward extension of Hunter’s thought so far, perhaps best summed up by this observation:
Against the prevailing view, the main reason why Christian believers today (from various communities) have not had the influence in the culture to which they have aspired is not that they don’t believe enough, or try hard enough, or care enough, or think Christianly enough, or have the right worldview, but rather because they have been absent from the arenas in which the greatest influence in the culture is exerted. (page 89, emphasis in original)
A book he mentions in the footnotes, Faith In The Halls Of Power by D. Michael Lindsay, is definitely worth reading in conjunction with this one. The book is available online through the Stanford library. I posted some excerpts from it a few years ago: Notes from Faith in the Halls of Power.
What I was most pleased by in this week’s readings were Hunter’s reflections about the perils of elitism.
The significance of every person before God irrespective of worldly stature or accomplishment and the care for the least are the ethical hallmarks of Christianity…. This is why elitism—a disposition and relationality of superiority, condescension, and entitlement by social elites—is so abhorrent for the Christian. Its foundation is exclusion on the implicit (and sometimes explicit) view that people are not equal in love and dignity before God. Thus, by its very nature, elitism is exploitative. So far as I can tell, elitism for believers is despicable and utterly anathema to the gospel they cherish. (page 94)
Whatever its larger influence in the world may be, a culture that is genuinely alternative cannot emerge without faithful presence in all areas of life. This will include networks (and more, communities) of counter-leaders operating within the upper echelons of cultural production and social life generally. These are realms of performance and distinction that may be rare and inaccessible to the average person, but they are still critically important to both the renewal of the church and its engagement with the culture. (page 96)
Here is my challenge to you, someone who is being conditioned by Stanford to serve in elite roles. Whatever you wind up doing, learn to love what you do without disdaining less elite believers. This is harder than you think it will be. A part of elite culture you must remain vigilant against is ostentatiously despising people who relish popular culture. One key marker will be whether you truly view believers who have never heard the word intersectionality and who view Denny’s as the pinnacle of cuisine as brothers and sisters worthy of celebrating and defending. In other words, be elite without being elitist.
Worth reading in this regard is the recent David Brooks New York Times column and its frenzied responses.
How We Are Ruining America (David Brooks, NYT): “To feel at home in opportunity-rich areas, you’ve got to understand the right barre techniques, sport the right baby carrier, have the right podcast, food truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes, not to mention possess the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace, child-rearing, gender norms and intersectionality.” This column spawned much derision on social media, but I strongly agree with Brooks. Here are two sympathetic reactions from Freddie deBoer on the left and from Rod Dreher on the right. Dan Drezner takes it in a different direction.
The above snippet will be featured in today’s Friday email.
Given our summer reading, I supposed I should highlight that this is from a New York Times columnist. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but I deliberately choose articles from high-status institutions and individuals that are either directly relevant to the Christian life or are germane to a Christian view of human flourishing. I don’t hold to this rigidly, but it’s something I am very aware of when composing each Friday email. It’s one small step towards helping our community interact with the most influential parts of culture.
Incidentally, if you don’t get those Friday emails and are interested in them, you can sign up at http://glenandpaula.com/wordpress/subscribe

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 109

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. How We Are Ruining America (David Brooks, NYT): “To feel at home in opportunity-rich areas, you’ve got to understand the right barre techniques, sport the right baby carrier, have the right podcast, food truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes, not to mention possess the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace, child-rearing, gender norms and intersectionality.” This column spawned much derision on social media, but I strongly agree with Brooks – and so do many commentators. Here are sympathetic reactions from Freddie deBoer on the left and from Rod Dreher on the right. Dan Drezner takes it in a different direction, and the Monkey Cage says “duh” while Alan Jacobs calls people unwilling to acknowledge Brooks’ observation “willfully blind”.
  2. Luther’s Revolution (The Nation, Elizabeth Bruenig): “Theology is morality is politics is law—and whether or not it’s immediately obvious, the world is steeped in theology. In contemporary America, and especially in the more secular precincts of Western Europe, it seems unlikely that one could look at a property deed or a government budget and find, just beneath its explicit reasoning, traces of old theological disputes and their resolutions. But they’re there…”
  3. I’ve Worked with Refugees for Decades. Europe’s Afghan Crime Wave Is Mind-Boggling. (Cheryl Benard, The National Interest): “Europeans were predisposed to be positive towards Afghan refugees. But it quickly became obvious that something was wrong, very wrong, with these young Afghan men: they were committing sex crimes to a much greater extent than other refugees… It took a while for the pattern to be recognized because, until recently, western European media deliberately refrained from identifying an assailant’s refugee or asylum status, or his country of origin.”
  4. Personality, Gender, and Age in the Language of Social Media: The Open-Vocabulary Approach (Schwartz HA, Eichstaedt JC, Kern ML, Dziurzynski L, Ramones SM, Agrawal M, et al., PLOS One) – This one is from 2013. Pay particular attention to Figure 6 and notice the cluster of words associated with emotional stability. #blessed #on_my_way to #church
  5. No Retreat: Lecrae’s Approach to “Culture-Making” (Jemar Tisby, Christ and Pop Culture): “But Lecrae couldn’t fulfill his mission if his beats only banged in Christian ears, though not because Christians aren’t important to him. It was Christian fans who propelled him to popularity and still continue to support him. Nevertheless, having testified in Jerusalem, so to speak, Lecrae felt compelled to testify also in Rome (Acts 23:11).” This is related to what we’re covering in our summer reading project, and you’re welcome to join us. 
  6. In Praise of Extreme Medicine (Alex Tabarrok, Marginal Revolution): “It’s odd that we allow some crazy things and ban others—even more that the crazy things we allow are sometimes socially useless while the crazy things that we ban are sometimes socially valuable. The case for banning extreme sports, for example, is much stronger than the case for banning extreme medicine.”
  7. ‘Born this way’? It’s way more complicated than that (Alia E. Dastagir, USA Today): “Getting America to believe that people are born gay — that it’s not something that can be chosen or ever changed — has been central to the fight for gay rights. If someone can’t help being gay any more than they can help the color of their skin, the logic goes, denying them rights is wrong. But many members of the LGBTQ community reject this narrative…”
  8. Why Roman concrete still stands strong while modern version decays (Nicola Davis, The Guardian): recommended by an alumnus. I sometimes hear people state it like a self-evident truth that we are smarter than the ancients. I see no evidence we are any more intelligent than them. We just have more accumulated knowledge in certain domains.

Things Glen Found Entertaining

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have On Obstinacy In Belief (C.S. Lewis, The Sewanee Review). Lewis explains why Christians are justified in continuing to believe even when they encounter an argument they can’t immediately answer (first shared in volume 6).

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda – we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it).

Also, remember that I’m not reporting news – I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it.

Archives at http://glenandpaula.com/wordpress/category/links.

To Change The World, Week Three

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through To Change The World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2017. The reading schedule is online at https://xastanford.org/summer-reading

I hope you’re loving this book as much as I am. I find a stimulating observation on nearly every page. Last week I accidentally skipped one of the readings (chapter four), so today here are some thoughts on both chapter four and chapter five.

“Imagine, in this regard, a genuine ‘third great awakening’ occurring in America, where half of the population is converted to a deep Christian faith. Unless this awakening extended to envelop the cultural gatekeepers, it would have little effect on the character of the symbols that are produced and prevail in public and private culture. And, without a fundamental restructuring of the institutions of culture formation and transmission in our society—the market, government-sponsored cultural institutions, education at all levels, advertising, entertainment, publishing, and the news media, not to mention church — revival would have a negligible long-term effect on the reconstitution of the culture.” page 46

As it turns out, there actually was such great awakening that goes largely unrecognized by historians. It was the Jesus people movement of the 60s and it played out exactly as Hunter describes. You can read more about it in God’s Forever Family by Larry Eskridge. The fact that most of you don’t know about it (and even Hunter appears not to, or at least not to appreciate how much it serves his purpose) illustrates Hunter’s thesis, much as the temperance movement does.

“Such is the story of one of the most powerful transatlantic social reform movements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—the temperance movement. This movement failed, of course, not least because it did not and could not address the culture of restraint on which the particular interest of temperance depended. In the end, the ideal of ‘temperance’ finally expired in derision with the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933, the word now having disappeared from our public vocabulary.” page 46

That last sentence is stunning – a word that identifies the highly successful movement of the last century has now disappeared from our day to day vocabulary. Moreover, Prohibition (a crowning success of the temperance movement) has become synonymous with failed social policy even though Prohibition actually achieved significant good: check out this Harvard prof’s NY Times op-ed from 1989 arguing Actually, Prohibition Was a Success.

Contrast that with the Protestant Reformation.

“The success of the Reformation, as Protestants like to tell it, was a result of the triumph of truth over falsehood, true Christian morality over corruption in the medieval church, genuine piety over false piety, and so on. To be sure, there was sham godliness, spiritual and moral corruption, and theological (p.65) fabrication for which the Reformation stood as a corrective. But there were other reform movements of the late medieval period that contended for the same things as Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Hus and yet either failed or were rendered impotent. What made the Reformation of the sixteenth century successful, though, were factors that were not exactly theological or spiritual in nature.” pages 64-65
“At its heart, of course, the Reformation was an intellectual and moral revolution, originating within the theological faculty of a German university, which challenged and offered a bibliocentric alternative to late medieval theology and religious practice. Foundational to this revolution was the fact that the leading reformers were all scholars of the first order. In addition to the Bible, they had mastery over the ideas, logic, language, and texts of classical thought and medieval scholasticism.” page 66

There is another useful illustration of the Christianization of pagan Europe:

“In sum, the conversion of barbarian Europe took centuries. The movement of change was from the higher echelons of the social order to the lower; indeed it took multiple generations after royal conversion for Christianization in the culture and among the common people to occur. Looking back, it is easy to be ambivalent about all that occurred. One can find Christian faith that is at its most exemplary—enacted love that is humble, courageous, sacrificial, generous, and so on. One can also find Christianity syncretized with paganism and rife with corruption—forced conversions, bribery, greed, calculating, power-hungry, and exploitative. There is much here to learn from and emulate and every bit as much to detest.” pages 60-61

Incidentally, footnotes 101-106 are quite interesting and give further historical illustrations. I guess they were in the initial text and an editor made him trim the chapter down.

These historical summaries are meant to illustrate Hunter’s eleven theses about culture and cultural change. I’ve summarized them below in case you didn’t have a chance to read chapter 4.

One: Culture is a system of truth claims and moral obligations

“That is, our understanding of the world is so taken-for-granted that it seems utterly obvious. It bears repeating that it is not just our view of what is right or wrong or true or false but our understanding of time, space, and identity—the very essence of reality as we experience it…. Most of what really counts, in terms of what shapes us and directs us, we are not aware of; it operates far below what most of us are capable of consciously grasping.” (page 33)

Two: Culture is a product of history

“Culture takes form as the slow accretions of meaning in society over long periods of time…. The inertia built into culture by virtue of its relationship to its long history tends to make it lumbering and erratic at the same time. (pages 33-34)

Three: Culture is instrincally dialectical

“To put it bluntly, culture is as much an infrastructure as it is ideas. It takes shape in concrete institutional form…. Another way to say this is that culture is intrinsically dialectical. It is generated and exists at the interface between ideas and institutions; between the symbolic and the social and physical environment.” (page 34)
“Institutions cannot exist without the individuals who make them work, but individuals cannot be understood outside of the institutions that form them and frame all of their activity. That said, in the formation of culture, one should not be under the illusion that the dialectic is evenly balanced. While individuals are not powerless by any stretch of the imagination, institutions have much greater power.” (page 35)

Four: Culture is a resource and, as such, a form of power

“…symbols in the form of knowledge, technical know-how, credentials, and cultural accomplishments can also be thought of as a form of capital. Particularly in the cultural meaning imputed to such things, culture can be understood as symbolic capital. Though, unlike money, symbolic capital cannot readily be transferred from one generation to another, or from one individual to another, like money, symbolic capital can be accumulated. Some individuals, some organizations, and some objects have more and accumulate more symbolic capital than others.” page 35
“…accumulated symbolic capital translates into a kind of power and influence. But influence of what kind? It starts as credibility, an authority one possesses which puts one in a position to be listened to and taken seriously. It ends as the power to define reality itself.” page 36

Five: Cultural production and symbolic capital are stratified in a fairly rigid structure of “center” and “periphery”

“…one may be able to get as good an education at Bluefield State College in Bluefield, West Virginia, as one would at Harvard, but Harvard, as an institution, is at the center and Bluefield State is at the periphery of cultural production. Therefore, someone with a credential from Harvard will find many more opportunities than someone from Bluefield State and will more likely end up in a position of greater influence than the other.” page 37

Six: Culture is generated within networks

“…the key actor in history is not individual genius but rather the network and the new institutions that are created out of those networks. And the more “dense” the network—that is, the more active and interactive the network—the more influential it could be. This is where the stuff of culture and cultural change is produced. In making this case, I don’t want to underplay the role of individual charisma and genius. Within any network, there is usually one who provides a certain unprecedented leadership, who offers a greater degree of articulation or who puts more at risk financially, socially, and reputationally, or who provides the connective tissue for the network itself. This is where we do find the greatness of a Martin Luther or John Calvin, a William Wilberforce, a Dorothy Day, a Martin Luther King, and so on.” page 38

Seven: Culture is neither autonomous nor fully coherent

“In some ways, the expansion of the state in the last several decades is due to its growing role in the production of knowledge and information. Science and education are, in the main, appendages of the state, as are the myriad regulatory agencies dealing with health, occupational safety, welfare, and communications among others. So too, of course, is the judiciary. This means not only that the state provides much of the financial, personnel, and administrative infrastructure for the knowledge industry but also that the state can limit dissent through its coercive powers. It is in the realm of education where these powers are most critically at work.” page 40

Eight: Cultures change from the top down, rarely if ever from the bottom up

“Even where the impetus for change draws from popular agitation, it does not gain traction until it is embraced and propagated by elites.” page 41
“In a very crude formulation, the process begins with theorists who generate ideas and knowledge; moves to researchers who explore, revise, expand, and validate ideas; moves on to teachers and educators who pass those ideas on to others, then passes on to popularizers who simplify ideas and practitioners who apply those ideas. All of this, of course, transpires through networks and structures of cultural production.” page 42

Nine: Change is typically initiated by elites who are outside of the centermost positions of prestige

“Wherever innovation begins, it comes as a challenge to the dominant ideas and moral systems defined by the elites who possess the highest levels of symbolic capital. Innovation, in other words, generally moves from elites and the institutions they lead to the general population but among elites who do not necessarily occupy the highest echelons of prestige.” page 42

Ten: World-changing is most concentrated when the networks of elites and the institutions they lead overlap

“The impetus, energy, and direction for world-making and world-changing are greatest where various forms of cultural, social, economic, and often political resources overlap. In short, when networks of elites in overlapping fields of culture and overlapping spheres of social life come together with their varied resources and act in common purpose, cultures do change and change profoundly. Persistence over time is essential; little of significance happens in three to five years.” page 43

Eleven: Cultures change, but rarely if ever without a fight

“By its very nature, culture is a realm in which institutions and their agents seek to defend one understanding of the world against alternatives, which are always either present or latent. That work is the work of legitimation and delegitimation; of naming one normal and right and its competition, deviant, inferior, stupid, inadequate, ridiculous, un-American, politically incorrect, or just plain evil.” pages 43-44

To sum up: 

“at every point of challenge and change, we find a rich source of patronage that provided resources for intellectuals and educators who, in the context of dense networks, imagine, theorize, and propagate an alternative culture. Often enough, alongside these elites are artists, poets, musicians, and the like who symbolize, narrate, and popularize this vision. New institutions are created that give form to that culture, enact it, and, in so doing, give tangible expression to it.” pages 77-78

Also, I thought this observation was insightful:

“To live in a culture is, in most times and places, to experience the world as stable and enduring. This is true even in times of great social change and cultural upheaval. We tend not to experience the change as change but only really recognize it for what it is in retrospect.” page 78

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 108

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. Should Tyler Cowen Believe In God? (Ross Douthat, NYT): this is delightful. “There: I’ve probably blasphemed, weakened my Catholic credentials, endangered my soul, insulted my religious brethren, picked pointless fights with Muslims and Calvinists, and betrayed a juvenile understanding of statistics.”
  2. Desperation and Service in the Bail Industry (Joshua Page, Contexts): “…industry advocates confidently assert that bail companies and agents are service providers helping needy people. As my research shows, this claim is based in reality. But it is a constructed reality. Political and legal decisions make the services necessary in the first place.”
  3. “High” Achievers? Cannabis Access and Academic Performance (Olivier Marie & Ulf Zölitz, The Review of Economic Studies): The authors studied “an exceptional policy introduced in the city of Maastricht in the Netherlands that discriminated access via licensed cannabis shops based on an individual’s nationality…. We find that the academic performance of students who are no longer legally permitted to buy cannabis substantially increases.” In other news, water is wet. You can find a PDF of the full paper at SSRN)
  4. The Case Against Cardinal Pell (Julia Yost, First Things): this is fascinating and distressing and full of all sorts of indirectly-related asides, such as “the McMartin Preschool case generated 321 charges from forty-one children. We now know that every charge was a lie and every child was a liar. Yet today, with the children now well into their thirties, many of them still insist that their charges were true.”
  5. Stranger In A Strange Land (Francis J. Beckwith, Inside Higher Ed): “A little over four years ago, the University of Colorado at Boulder began a three-year pilot program that I believe has no precedent in American higher education. With the help of private donors and the support of the university’s board, president and chancellor, the school created the position of Visiting Scholar of Conservative Thought and Policy.”
  6. I Am Not a ‘Paki,’ Not a Terrorist. I Am Nobody but Myself. (Omar Aziz, NY Times): recommended by a student. “Here is the basic conundrum the child of immigrants faces as he goes through school. Until now, he has safely assumed the identity provided to him by his family, but as he encounters innocent white faces, he is confronted with an interrogation about who he really is.”
  7. Would Your Dog Eat You if You Died? Get the Facts. (Erika Engelhaupt, National Geographic): “There’s no way to guarantee that your pet won’t eat you if you die, apart from not having any pets. Even hamsters and birds have been known to scavenge on occasion.” Hamsters? Really? Who has hamsters roaming freely through their house?

Things Glen Found Amusing

Something Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight a link I shared before which is still worth your consideration. This week we have  The Land of We All (Richard Mitchell, The Gift of Fire): this essay teases out the implications of this insight: “Thinking can not be done corporately. Nations and committees can’t think. That is not only because they have no brains, but because they have no selves, no centers, no souls, if you like. Millions and millions of persons may hold the same thought, or conviction or suspicion, but each and every person of those millions must hold it all alone.” Warning: the formatting is horrid. It is worth reading anyway. Either use the Readability bookmarklet, an app like Pocket, or just cut and paste it into a text document on your computer. (first shared in volume 2)

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda – we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it).

Also, remember that I’m not reporting news – I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it.

Archives at http://glenandpaula.com/wordpress/category/links.