Hermits Rock

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only, the c.s. lewis in question is even more religiously “conservative” (knowing full-well that neither conservative nor liberal mean a damn thing) than the guy who evangelical-fundamentalism co-opted. c.s. lewis never was nor wanted to be an evangelical nor a fundamentalist. he was happy being an anglican…but that’s another post, which will probably never be written. and, the c.s. lewis in question doesn’t write fiction, just reads it and writes about it.

so, for those of you who don’t know it, NPR has got this great little show called speaking of faith the host, krista tippet , whom i will refrain from theologically identifying, has a wide variety of interlocuters on her show. several weeks ago she had a fascinating discussion with a rabbi and with luke timothy johnson on family in jewish and christian traditions. she’s also interviewd shamans and pop-psycho-babble-spiritualists. yesterday, though, she had a fascinating discussion with james k.a. smith (being a very intelligent person, he, of course, was born and raised in canada…why, why are they all canadian?) mr. smith is an associate professor of philosophy and religion at calvin college and on the forefront of protestant radical orthodoxy. he studied with john caputo, a derrida acolyte, at villanova. i would venture to say, though, and a sonarless bat would stumble into the same conclusion, that smith is much more conservative than caputo. his eulogy of the theory superstar (who was vilified by many and copied by just as many) is quite moving.

he has gained my admiration for many reasons…among them is this very nicely done undoing of a rather awful book that has become enshrined in by the evangelical men’s movement.

and because he refuses to be pigeon-holed by secular and religious thinkers alike.

i found him eloquently propounding ideas that i have held for a long time…so let me move over and simply post his off-the-cuff eloquence:

And I have to say, you know, there are days when the last thing I want to do is call myself an evangelical, and it’s usually after I’ve heard somebody on Larry King or read some editorial that James Dobson wrote and think, “Oh, if that’s what evangelicalism is, here’s my ticket, you can have it back,” and try to find some other term. On other days, though, I want to sort of stand up and fight and say, “No, we’re not going to let you have the term. It’s broader and more generous than that, and you are not representative of, you know, my friends in Wisconsin who are just trying to be faithful, Bible-believing, you know, serious disciples of Jesus. And they do listen to you, but I’m not sure why, and I want to help them to think critically about it.”

Ms. Tippett: It’s about helping the poor and the weak and the friendless. Yeah.

Mr. Smith: Yeah, absolutely. And so, you know, when Yahweh talks to Jeremiah and he says, “If you want to know whether a king knows me, the question is does he feed the poor?” And evangelicals are equally worried, and this is where I share it, that that doesn’t mean giving up, though, a sense of personal holiness. In some ways I think evangelicals should recapture the language of holiness but stop restricting to it this sort of personal, private sphere and think about almost a sort of public holiness or corporate holiness. And what would that mean about how we treat the poor and children and women, and not living with that divide between external, internal or personal and public? I mean, if you really want to get evangelicals riled up, try to start a conversation about either war, capitalism, nationalism. Those are issues where, if I’m at home with my family and we’re talking about these things, that’s when they start to really get upset with me.

Ms. Tippett: Well, what would that explosive conversation be? I mean, what buttons would that push now?

Mr. Smith: Well, there is — and I don’t want to be trite or quick about this — but let’s say, and maybe I even have a little bit of an outsider status just because I’m still enough of a Canadian to sort of be on the outside looking in. But there is a remarkable collusion and identification in this country of being a faithful, Bible-believing evangelical Christian and being a very patriotic, pro-business, pro-war after 9/11 kind of citizen. And so to suggest, for instance, that Christians might want to rethink their commitment to the sort of nationalistic pride that motivates participation in war, that feels like you’re taking a brick out of the wall of their Christian faith, because they haven’t been able to distinguish the two. Or if you start saying, “Hey, you know, I don’t know if we should be so pro big business and free markets in the way that we are because, if we think about this a little more carefully, there’s some really serious injustices that are engendered by that.” But then it’s like you might have well as said, “I’m not sure about Jesus is God,” in some places. And that’s so bundled up in a sense of identity and standing up for what’s right that you’re very quickly marginalized as a Christian if you start challenging those areas.

Mr. Smith: This is the question my wife puts to me all the time. It’s like, “You live in this church in your head.” You know, “Where do we see this?” And yet I don’t want to settle for being realistic. I would rather keep working towards the ideal. There’s a long tradition of Christian political thinking or social thinking which has always been trying to look for this third way, and one of the things I get frustrated with very quickly is that, well, if you’re against Bush or against current Republican policies, then you must be a Democrat. To which I would reply, “No.”

I mean, I don’t understand why it’s always this either/or. And I think what happens is both sides of that game are playing by the rules of what I would call statecraft. Actually I developed this from a fellow named Daniel Bell, a Methodist theologian at Southern Lutheran Seminary. And what he says, both the sort of liberal, progressive Christian Democrats and the more conservative, right-wing Republican Christians, both think that the way to solve problems and the way to be faithful is to marshal the resources and mechanics and engine of the state. And this is where I think there is an alternative which says, you know, I don’t want to play by either side’s rules in that respect, that the church, within a civil society, can carve out its own space to be political as the church. That is, I think, the church is a political space. It is a polis, in the Greek sense. It is a community which has a specific goal that it’s aiming for and is trying to embody — practices to form, virtuous people to achieve that goal. So I think that’s a political space, but I don’t think it should be identified with the space which is the state.

When I say the church, I wouldn’t want us to ever just think of a local congregation, and I wouldn’t even want us to just think of American evangelicalism. What we’re talking about is a body, a community which is a transnational reality. It’s really an alternative, but global, community of people which transcends the borders and citizenships of nation states, and yet that’s our primary citizenship. So that has to make a difference for how we think about our relationship to global realities.



what a sensible person.
and thanks for linking to the awful-book review…i had an awkward conversation with someone who continually referenced the awful book as though it was something i’d ever heard of, and i’ve been mildly curious about it since (though not curious enough to actually google it myself).

“It could be compellingly argued that Wild at Heart has simply taken the rote script of nondescript action movies, justified it with a questionable scriptural hermeneutic, and presented it as God’s plan for Christian men.”
—Damn! That’s what I call a smackdown!

I had not actually heard of Wild at Heart before reading this review, but it doesn’t surprise me that it’s immensely popular. It especially doesn’t surprise me that it’s immensely popular because its entire point appears to be to reconfirm what are already popular myths of masculinity. It occurs to me that many fall for this stuff because they don’t actually want to be “countercultural.” To be truly countercultural is to be alienated by culture, and no one wants to be alienated.

I’ve read Wild at Heart twice and found it helpful in gaining insight into my personality, my past, family dynamics and the Creation. The article you linked is interesting, and makes several good points, but I think it’s also unnecessariliy harsh in some aspects and simply incorrect in others. There are indeed flaws in the book, but I don’t think it’s as bad as this review paints it. I was going to ask if you’d read it (now I don’t need to), and also if your thoughts on giving writers more, what – benefit of the doubt? – than their critics applied to this book as well.

Why’d you like W@H, Mick?

on the recommendation of a friend, i began Wild at Heart but lost heart with it pretty quickly.

i was not able to stomach his thesis: men have a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to fight for…i have no patience with the beauty and beast gender construction; nor with his theory about how modern culture has emasculated men; his lists of things that “real” men can’t take seem to be little more than cliches, meant to get heads nodding, or people laughing in agreement rather than true reflection (i.e. nothing prefab, modular, nonfat, ziplock, franchised, on-line, microwaveble); and, quite frankly, his take on Genesis (Eve created in the lush Garden…Adam in the pre-Garden wilderness…and that this means something) seems to be a case of overinterpretation.

i was also dizzied by his use of huck finn, hannibal, lewis and clark, elijah, magellan, moses, and the litany of other biblica, fictional, and historical characters (many, especially the historical characters, engaged in imperialistic nation building) as if each of these examples carry the same amount of weight. and, his quoting d.h. lawrence as someone with his pulse on the feeling of true (christian) men also seemed a little much.

maybe this review is more to your liking…though he has little positive to say about the book, as well.

but, since you believe that they mischaracterized the book, Mick, how and where did you feel the smith and mulder review mischaracterized Wild at Heart?