To Change the World: Illusion, Irony and Tragedy

Faith%20and%20Family%20Logo%20SMALLNear the end of Essay II in To Change the World by sociologist James Davison Hunter, he takes up the ideas of illusion, irony, and tragedy. Noting that the public witness of the church has become a political witness and it understands the good of society as a political matter, Hunter endeavors to tell us just what is wrong with that.

First, it is an illusion.  The chief illusion is the idea that the state can provide solutions to the ills identified by Christians:

There are no comprehensive political solutions to the deterioration of “family values”… no real political solutions for the absence of decency or spread of vulgarity. …because the state is a clumsy instrument and finally rooted in coercion, it will always fail to adequately or directly address the human elements of these problems. … when the state does become involved in such matters, its actions can often create more problems through unintended consequences, not fewer. (p. 171)

Next is irony, or rather, a number of ironies. Here we’ll touch on two of them.  There are important values like decency, morality, marriage and family, but today these have become political slogans.  The first irony is “that no group in American society has done more to politicize values over the last half century, and therefore undermine their renewal, than Christians…” (p. 172)

Related to this is what Hunter calls a deeper irony:

in the Christian faith, one has the possibility of relatively autonomous institutions and practices that could – in both judgment and affirmation – be a source of ideals and values capable of elevating politics to more than the quest for power. … the consequences of the whole-hearted and uncritical embrace of politics by Christians has been, in effect, to reduce Christian faith to a political ideology and various Christian denominations … to special interest groups. (p. 172)

We’ve already seen the tragedy in which Christians, driven by resentment with a will to power become functional Nietzscheans.  What we haven’t seen is Hunter’s alternative, in which he decries the absence of “robust and constructive affirmations,” and yearns for

Vibrant cultures [which] make space for leisure, philosophical reflection, scientific and intellectual mastery, and artistic and literary expression. …there are few if any places… [of the] Christian Right or the Christian Left … where these gifts are acknowledged, affirmed, and celebrated.

You may have noticed that Tim Keller picked up his pen and took some notes on that last quote.


Filed under Culture Wars, evangelical politics, To Change the World, Two Kingdom

4 responses to “To Change the World: Illusion, Irony and Tragedy

  1. Pingback: To Change the World: Illusion, Irony and Tragedy | Presbyterian Blues | Christian News Tweets

  2. Richard

    MLM, I think you missed stating an important point Hunter makes at the beginning of his book–namely that, contrary to what you hear from the Colsons, Guinness, Dobsons, et. al., culture does NOT change from the bottom up as various peoples are convinced by the “Christian” world view; rather, it is from the top down, by certain cultural “elites,” which people such as Mark Noll have claimed the Christian community has either ignored or shunned. This is partly why an emphasis on vocation is important.

  3. Richard

    Good old Harry Blackmun. Responsible for turning an astronomical figure of speech into justification for something far more deadly.

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