To Change the World

ThyWillTo Change the World, by sociologist James Davison Hunter, begins with Essay 1: Christianity and World Changing.  Hunter begins by noting that “The passion to engage the world, to shape it and finally change it for the better, would seem to be an enduring mark of Christians on the world in which they live.” (p.4).

With this as a starting point, how is the Christian to think about engaging and changing the world?  Hunter tells us tells us “the dominant ways of thinking about culture and cultural change are flawed, for they are based on both specious social science and problematic theology.” (p. 5)  For example, consider the view of Charles Colson:

 The real war is a cosmic struggle between worldviews-between the the Christian worldview and the various secular and spiritual worldviews arrayed against it…history is little more than the recording of the rise and fall of the great ideas-the worldviews-that form our values and move us to act. (p. 25)

And here it’s time to introduce German Idealism,

a principle and tradition in metaphysics that maintains that something “ideal” or nonphysical is the primary reality … what has greater ontological significance and is certainly prior to nature and the physical, are ideas – in short, the mind.

So the notion that “it is ideas that move history” is “pedestrian Hegelianism.”  (p. 25).  But changing the world is not so simple:

Ideas are important, of course, but without understanding the nature, workings, and power of institutions in which those ideas are generated and managed, one only understands half of what is going on in culture. It is better to think of culture as a thing, if you will, manufactured not by lone individuals but rather by institutions and the elites who lead them. Institutions such as such the market, the state, education, the media of mass communications, scientific and technological research, and the family in its socializing capacities are not organizationally neutral but have their own logic, place, and history that interact with ideas and the ideals for which they are carriers. (p.35)

In sum,

idealism mistakenly imputes a logic and rationality to culture where such linearity and reasonableness does not exist but rather contingency and accident. …if one is serious about changing the world, the first step is to discard the prevailing view of culture and cultural change and start from scratch. (p. 26, 27)


Filed under Culture Wars, To Change the World, Worldview

6 responses to “To Change the World

  1. Richard

    This is a great book, worth a deep read. Glad you are blogging it. Hunter’s indictment of culture wars is a pretty powerful one.

  2. Richard

    Gee, thanks. It amazes me hearing some kids in our church acting oh, so wise, attacking the postmodern thinking they see around them, using Colson’s, Schaeffer’s language with terms and thoughts from the Enlightenment and modernism, and, yes, German idealism. Last Lord’s Day, I was lectured to about the “worldview” of Star Trek, God help me. I’ve been advising people in my church to read Hunter’s book, but have gotten no takers, so far.

  3. I ate the indictment with a spoon but felt a little heartburn with the conclusion.

    Richard, I was once asked if by “otherworldly” as opposed to “this-worldly” I was positing another dimension in outer space (a neo-Cal prof). What planet are some of these people on? Um, ever heard of heaven?

  4. This discussion reminds me of Steely Dan’s “Any World That I’m Welcome To”. Great song.

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