To Change The World
By: James Davison Hunter
I’m an introvert. I like to be alone. I like to do things alone, so most of the time I’m incredibly thankful that we live in a very individualistic society. It works really well with my personality and it allows me to remain comfortable. It’s easy for me to buy into the “one person can change the world” mentality, but reading To Change The World by James Davison Hunter this week completely challenged my way of thinking. I’m not sure if I agree with him, but I’m sure that I will never look at the individual in the same way again.
There are a few things that this book challenged me on this week. First, his attempt to define culture. Second, the idea that culture doesn’t change from the bottom up, but rather from top down. Third, is the idea that no one changed the world alone, that’s why we need institutions.
First, defining culture… “Culture is the accumulation of very tangible things- the stuff people make of the world.” (p28) In other words, culture is the characteristics of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts. I agree with him that culture is incredibly difficult to define, so I appreciated the seven propositions on culture in Chapter 4. They are:
- Culture is a system of truth claims and moral obligations
- Culture is a product of history
- Culture is intrinsically dialectical
- Culture is a resource and, as such, a form of power
- Cultural production and symbolic capital are stratified in a fairly rigid structure of “center” and “periphery”
- Culture is generated within networks
- Culture is neither autonomous nor fully coherent
What I appreciate about these propositions is that they are challenging and don’t minimize the importance and complexity of culture. Sometimes a definition can strip something of its magnitude for the sake of better understanding.
Second, the idea that culture doesn’t change from the bottom up, but rather from top down. This is a challenging thought. The church does a pretty good job of emphasizing the individual through personal conversion, personal evangelizing, and your very own personal Jesus. That’s an easy sell and tough to change your mind on. I think Hunter might be on to something. Christianity doesn’t have a place at the table where decisions are made. If you’re not at the table, you’re not influencing. It’s a tough pill to swallow but it might be true.
Third, the idea that no one changes the world alone, that’s why we need institutions. It’s in my nature to dislike institutions, but again, he might be right. Institutions have a louder voice and more power than individual people. Yes, institutions are run by individuals, but the backing of an institution might give you a louder voice and a place at the table.
The tension is in defining power… Christians stay away from positions of power, or are afraid to exercise their power confusing it with pride. We tend to think that power is sin, but that’s not true.
The other tension is that if Christians move up in positions of power and influence they would have to deal with their eschatology. If you fight in this life you’re saying that this life matters… most Christians treat this life as a stepping stone into eternity. This life doesn’t matter… it’s the next one that really counts. We need to realize that this life matters and this life is all that we have. God will hold us accountable for this life, not the next. This life matters. This planet matters. Politics matter. Influence matters. We were not only created for eternity… we were created for this life too!