As always, James K.A. Smith is equally perceptive of cultural habits as he is insightful in his analysis of them.
In today’s The NFL’s Thanksgiving games are a spectacular display of America’s ‘God and country’ obsession, published over at the The Washington Post, Smith plays on a common thesis in his writings:
Whereas many see our culture’s habits, traditions, and institutions as mundane, non-religious affairs, James sees much more at stake. They are competing rituals, or “religious” liturgies competing for our worship and shaping our loves.
Christian worship is formative — forming us into a people who love Christ and his kingdom. Our competing cultural “liturgies” (e.g., here: a traditional NFL Thanksgiving; or in other places in Smith’s writing: e.g., the mall as a house of worship for consumerism — quite relevant for tomorrow’s Black Friday) have a deformative power, pulling on our affections and, in the process, misplacing them (idolatry).
More than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City by William Julius Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Good. Provocative. Challenging.
Thesis – “The experience of poor, inner-city blacks represent the influences of more than just race.” Their responses and situation “stem from the linkage between new structural realities, changing norms, and evolving cultural patterns.” (pg. 131)
Wilson’s critique – The politically liberal tend to focus on structural realities to the neglect of cultural realities. Arguments based on culture tend to be taboo for them. The politically conservative tend to focus on individual responsibility and cultural realities to the neglect of prevailing structural realities built into America’s history of racial tension and segregation. Both of these approaches are inadequate.
Wilson’s assessment – Wilson addresses both structural and cultural realities and discusses the relationship between the two as he seeks to assess the situation of the inner-city poor black community in America. On structural realities relationship to culture, he states, “Culture mediates the impact of structural forces such as racial segregation and poverty.” (pg. 133) And on cultures relationship to structural realities, he states, “The behavior generated by these autonomous cultural forces often reinforces the very conditions that have emerged from structural inequities.” (pg. 134)
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