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Guests on the issue include: Norman Wirzba, on how attentiveness to our eating and our care of the land are central aspects of culture and of godly faith; Maggie Jackson, on how multi-tasking exalts efficiency and on the importance of attentiveness in sustaining personal and social order; Christian Smith, on the aimless cultural world of “emerging adulthood” and on how it makes the idea of objective moral order implausible; Brad S. Gregory, on the danger of assuming that previous epochs of history have no lasting influence; Susan Srigley, on the sacramental and incarnational fiction of Flannery O’Connor; and Jeremy Begbie, on how music is a way of engaging with the order in Creation.
Norman Wirzba, on how attentiveness to our eating and our care of the land are central aspects of culture and of godly faith15:12
“When we think about eating, we think about the act of consumption rather than the whole sweep of activity and process and production that has to happen before we could actually sit down to eat something.”
On Volume 113 of the Journal, theologian Norman Wirzba joined us to talk about his book Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating. Here, Wirzba comments on the changes in the meaning of the word “culture” in the past two centuries: from expressing the link one has to the land — as we see more explicitly in the term “agriculture” — to expressing an individual’s consumption of products divorced from any earthly origins. Consumption in the modern world is increasingly distanced from the myriad processes that generate the goods that we consume. Eating, for example, depends on life and death in the world in profound ways, and modern practices often obscure these connections and prevent us from perceiving their significance.
Maggie Jackson, on how multi-tasking exalts efficiency and on the importance of attentiveness in sustaining personal and social order12:52
“Multitasking is just a way of layering the moment and . . . overcoming our bodily limitations and cognitive limitations.”
This interview features journalist Maggie Jackson, published on Volume 94 of the Journal, on our society’s predilection towards multitasking and the consequences this has for cultures. She reflects on how contemporary success corresponds to our desire to control time by enhancing efficiency through speed and the layering of the moment. A number of factors contribute to how people have developed these kinds of sensibilities, and they can lead to profound social and relational strain. Jackson comments that even as humans are primed for novelty, freedom and space, their flourishing also requires ritual, repetition and pause in order to sustain higher-order thinking skills and relationships.
Christian Smith, on the aimless cultural world of “emerging adulthood” and on how it makes the idea of objective moral order implausible8:49
“I was struck pretty heavily, or profoundly, by the degree of confusion and fragmentation and lack of clear directives or paths or procedures that are part of emerging adult culture. It really hit me very hard . . . how little the young people today over 18 to 29 have to rely on to negotiate . . . what is of value in life, what is good, how do you make moral decisions. All of that is so — I must say — deeply confused and confusing that I just think it must be an extremely difficult time in life to be a young person today.”
Sociologist Christian Smith joined us on Volume 100 to discuss his book Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults, the sequel to his earlier book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. This study follows up on the same cohort of American young people who were teenagers when described in Soul Searching. Sociologists have come to describe this new life stage (somewhere between the years of 18 and 29) as "emerging adulthood." Smith characterizes this period of emerging adulthood as being a time of exploration, opportunity, transience, confusion, openness and experimentation. Developing out of changes in the social, educational and economic structures of society, it is accompanied by new and particular expectations and norms. Emerging adults realize that some time in the future they will have to settle down, but now is the time for doing what they want to do and exploring different paths, trying to have fun, and managing all the transitions they are facing while keeping their options open. They face these choices and experiences in life without the aid of concrete and authoritative cultural forms; they operate, instead, from vague and amorphous scripts largely independent of a sense of objective moral reality beyond themselves. With the loss or deep skepticism of belief in objective moral order, the emerging adult tends to lack motivation for anything apart from their subjective interests. Most, though not all, of these cultural forces shaping the emerging adults tend to work against a settled membership and life in a tradition or church community.
Brad S. Gregory, on the danger of assuming that previous epochs of history have no lasting influence11:01
“Religion is not something separate from the rest of life in the late Middle Ages or in the Reformation era. It becomes something separate and separable as a long term difficult painful process because of the disagreements and concrete conflicts of the Reformation era.”
Ken Myers interviewed historian Brad Gregory on Volume 114 to discuss his book The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society. The unintended consequences that Gregory refers to are manifest today in the hyperpluralism and polarization of the public sphere, the unsustainable consumerism of the developed world, and the marginalization of truth in human morality and culture. In this excerpt from the interview, Gregory articulates the problems with a supersecessionist view of history: the assumption that later epochs completely displace earlier periods of time such that the influence of a past era becomes outgrown. Among these problems is the forced homogeneity that this view imposes on what is actually a heterogenous mix of persons, perspectives, and lives in modern society. Gregory explains how the disagreements and conflicts of the Reformation era between various Protestant and Catholic communities led to institutional solutions that first created a category of private religion and then removed that religion from the domain of public life. Ironically, this development would not have been acceptable from any of the Reformation era parties, all of whom insisted Christianity ordered all of life. Nonetheless their inability to unite led to many contemporary modes of secularization.
Susan Srigley, on the sacramental and incarnational fiction of Flannery O’Connor10:01
“I think that for [O’Connor], what the artist is trying to do is look at that intersection between time and eternity, where time and eternity meet, and what human beings do in the midst of that intersection between time and eternity.”
Professor Susan Srigley discussed on Volume 73 of the Journal the ethical vision at the heart of author Flannery O’Connor's work. In Flannery O’Connor’s Sacramental Art, Srigley notes that O’Connor’s fiction is, in part, trying to make sense of why people act as they do. In order to understand this, she depicts how they interact with the world and people around them. Such concrete realities as these, she understood, point to the divine, mysterious source of creation that evokes actions and reactions from people. O’Connor’s work is often referred to as sacramental or incarnational because of how it reflects a belief that all material realities are infused with and inseparable from spiritual realities, which we can apprehend only through our physical, embodied experiences of the world.
Jeremy Begbie, on how music is a way of engaging with the order in Creation and on how writing and hearing music involves a recognition of likenesses in Creation and the exercise of "hyper-hearing."17:03
“[Music] is a way of engaging with the integrities of the created order.”
In this interview from Volume 94, theologian Jeremy Begbie wants to steer us away from thinking of music as something we either like or dislike and towards understanding music as a medium through which we think about and discover the world around us. Begbie argues that there are significant distinctions between the metaphors of “seeing the world” and “hearing the world.” As our language reveals, the Western tradition has privileged sight over hearing, but some theological conundrums may be resolved much more easily when we allow our thoughts to be guided by musical rather than visual metaphors.