Guests on Volume 115
• ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD on how the reliance in personal life on professional consultants establishes market-shaped models for imagining personal identity
• ANDREW DAVISON on why a fully Christian approach to apologetics requires a Christian understanding of reason
• ADRIAN PABST on why only a Christian understanding of God and Creation can provide the ground for understanding the order of reality
• GARY COLLEDGE on the centrality of Christian belief to the writings and social concerns of Charles Dickens
• LINDA LEWIS on how Charles Dickens assumed in his readers a basic Biblical literacy, and so constructed his stories in a sort of conversation with the teaching of Jesus
• THOMAS BERGLER on how the Church’s captivity to youth culture eclipses concern for (or even a belief in the possibility of) Christian maturity
Arlie Russell Hochschild
“We look at life in a ‘buying’ kind of way by focusing on the result — the purchase point — and not at the process that brings us to that result.”
— Arlie Russell Hochschild
Arlie Russell Hochschild joins us to talk about how viewing our very selves as products on a market distorts the way we experience our lives. Hochschild criticizes the encouragement of “branding” ourselves, which limits our worth to how we are perceived by the public. She discusses what is lost when we begin to commercialize the deepest and most intimate parts of our lives. Being fixated on the end result, we lose the power and significance of the process of making something and growing with others in a journey. We become infatuated with control, and we attempt to control things whose value is undermined by artificiality. Hochschild cites numerous examples of practices and services which are growing in popularity which can accurately be described as creepy in how they remove and delegate participation in our own lives. In contrast to the contractual, limited, disjointed interactions of market relationships, relationships built on trust and loyalty through self-giving create longer lasting and more rewarding relationships. The interview ends with a discussion of weddings and the services surrounding that occasion.
• • •
“Apologetics is already halfway towards its goal if it's responding to wonder.”
— Andrew Davison
Andrew Davison wants to re-evaluate how we understand apologetics. He views modern apologetics as relying on an Enlightenment understanding of reason as cold, calculating, analytical and purely logical rather than a pre-modern, Christian understanding of reason as desiring the truth for its beauty and goodness. For that reason, modern apologetics fails to grapple with the imagination and how the mind is drawn in by beauty. Beginning from that understanding of reason, Davison wants to push back against the notion that everyone can see reality clearly. Rather, he believes it is necessary for all peoples seeking the truth to realize that even the most basic observations are interpretive in nature, resting on a particular lens through which we view and desire the world. Davison ends with comments on the wonder of receiving the world as a milestone of apologetics.
• • •
“No anonymous creative principle could explain in the end why it would want to issue forth into a multiplicity of individual things.”
— Adrian Pabst
Adrian Pabst discusses the theological nature of metaphysics. He begins with addressing why metaphysics came to be dismissed by public intellectuals in wider society. Thinkers like Nietzsche viewed metaphysics as a straitjacket, an obscuring obstacle and constraint upon our minds in pursuit of the truth. Pabst takes issue with this disregard of metaphysics, often based on misunderstandings of philosophers, foremost among whom is Plato. He discusses common misreadings of Plato focusing on dualism, and explains how Plato understood the relationship between the unity and multiplicity of the reality we all experience. Pabst highlights the notion of participation as key to this relationship, as well as the fundamentally relational and self-giving nature of truth, goodness, beauty, justice and other transcendental ideas. While premodern philosophers were able to discover much of the metaphysical nature of reality, Pabst argues the personal and relational nature of the Creator in the Biblical tradition as necessary to explain the most basic questions of matter and reality that Plato could not answer. Pabst explains how a truer understanding of metaphysics would make “the common good” a coherent concept and aid in the cultivation of an alternative modernity.
• • •
“He wants [his children] to read the New Testament and understand the Jesus of the New Testament without hearing a preacher stand up and explain that Jesus to them or reading something about Jesus; he wants them to see it from the New Testament.”
— Gary Colledge
Gary Colledge believes the Christian worldview of Charles Dickens has been obscured and ignored by literary critics. He believes this worldview formed the background of his novels, and that accounting for those Christian beliefs and convictions is necessary to understanding the texts. For example, Bleak House involves characters that embody distinct biblical ethical paradigms and whose conflicts with each other form significant aspects of the plot. And yet, recent major stage and film productions of the story ignore these conflicts. Colledge traces this dismissal of the religious aspects of Dickens to early and influential critics like Arthur Quiller-Couch and Humphrey House. But Colledge argues that, for example, criticism of the church is not a sign of irreligion, but of a desire of the church to be reformed. Colledge’s research leads him to use Dickens’s book The Life of Our Lord, which he wrote to his children, as a touchstone of Dickens’s entire corpus and a view into the heart of Dickens, a heart which, despite his controversial views of the Old Testament and some New Testament epistles, Colledge argues is deeply Christian.
• • •
“These children were being idolized as almost physical icons. . . . Older people are not to be trusted, that the young are insightful, pure, innocent, close to God.”
— Linda Lewis
Linda Lewis discusses biblical themes in some of Dickens’s writings. She argues that Dickens assumed a deep familiarity with biblical narratives and other Christian sources like the Anglican liturgy. Debt and forgiveness, mercy and grace, free will and good works, faith and doubt, and other motifs are repeatedly displayed in Dickens’s characters. Lewis concludes that Dickens’s ambitions were for praise for himself, but also for the promotion of a social ethic and political vision he believed was best. Dickens was ruthless in criticizing certain churches and, despite his desire to be liked, did not shy away from singling out particular practices he saw as misguided and destructive. This segment concludes with Lewis commenting on Dickens’s high view of children throughout his novels, which foreshadowed a number of cultural trends in the twentieth century.
• • •
“American teenagers in the 1950s were highly unlikely to become Communist, but were very likely to become passive consumers. . . . Technically speaking, if all you really want of young people is to come to church and not make trouble, [consumerism] works for that, too. But if you want young people to do something more than that, then it doesn’t work as well.”
— Thomas Bergler
Thomas Bergler joins us on this concluding segment of the issue to talk about the juvenilization of American Christianity. He comments that most Christian students are no longer aware of the need to be spiritually mature. Maturity is seen in a negative light, just as in the broader culture. Bergler does not place all the blame on churches and individuals, but observes that this cultural tendency has to do with changes in what it means to be an adult more generally as well. Yet this is a problem, Bergler argues, because it obscures an essential aspect of the Gospel, which is not just about the forgiveness of our sins and our place in heaven, but about the renewal of our lives in conformity to Christ. This aspect is undermined by an undervaluing of maturity and giving “fun” a central place in Christianity. Bergler outlines how this tendency to immaturity arose from strategies churches and parachurch organizations used to appeal to younger people. A significant motivation and aspect of the driving force for the rash mobilization of youth appeal strategies on a mass scale in the mid-20th century was the fear of losing the youth to Communism and Fascism. Youth ministries in America felt it was their calling to save the world from these twin evils, and they won funding and support from major commercial and public institutions to win the young people. Bergler concludes the discussion by reflecting on impact of consumerism on Christian youth culture and the increasingly implausible goal of maturity in a world where the customer is always right.