To Change the World 4

James Hunter in his book To Change the World addresses the “real problem” with the prevailing view of culture behind the tactics of Christian efforts of every stripe to change the world. In his analysis the problem is a combination of German idealism, individualism and Christian pietism. The idealistic nature of the view is to believe that the fight in the cultural war is singularly a fight of ideas. Coupled with this idealism are the rugged individualism of American identity and the emphasis on the individual in Protestantism. Christian pietism weds a spiritual and supernatural element to the individualism and idealism. The combination of these elements results in the Christian conviction that autonomous and rational individuals are the key actors in bring social change. The motto: Change consciousness and one changes culture.

But there’s a problem:

Idealism misconstrues agency, implying the capacity to bring about influence where that capacity may not exist or where it may only be weak. Idealism underplays the importance of history and historic forces and its interaction with culture as it is lived and experienced. Further, idealism ignores the way culture is generated, coordinated, and organized. Thus, it is underrates how difficult it is to penetrate culture and influence its direction. Not least, idealism mistakenly imputes a logic and rationality to culture where such linearity and reasonableness does not exist but rather contingency and accident. In all, it communicates the massage that if people just pay attention, learn better, be more consistent, they will understand better the challenges in our world today; if they have the right values, believe the right things embrace the right worldview, they will be better equipped to engage those challenges; and if they have courage at actually jump in the fray and there choose more wisely and act ore decisively, they will rise to and overcome those changes and change the world (26-27).

In sum, idealism leads to naïveté about the nature of culture and its dynamics that is, in the end, fatal. Every strategy and tactic for changing the world that is based on this working theory of culture and cultural change will fail—not most of these strategies, but all (26).


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