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

2 thoughts on “To Change The World, Week Four”

  1. The observations about elitism are arrived at through intellectual honesty and critical thinking. To then take the leap that we, non-elitists, must find a way to infiltrate the elitist networks without pledging loyalty to elite networks and causes and thus becoming elitist is intellectually dishonest and ignores the documented reality of elitist network design.

    1. I may have expressed myself poorly. I’m not writing to encourage people to infiltrate elite networks – I’m writing to Stanford students who are on track to enter into various elite networks. Given that they will likely end up moving in the sort of circles that Hunter describes, I want them to be wary of the seductive power of those networks. I want them to feel comfortable with people living in urban Manhattan and in small-town Missouri, and to treat with dignity someone discussing the latest academic symposium they attended and someone describing their favorite NASCAR driver.

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