Archives For Individualism

 

Against Nostalgia

 
A Feature Review of
 

The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in an Age of Individualism
Yuval Levin

Hardback: Basic Books, 2016.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]  [  Kindle ]

 
Reviewed by Ben Brazil

 

“Make America Great Again” is Donald Trump’s slogan, but it conveys a sentiment that reaches far beyond his supporters: that our nation is diminished. The Right laments moral decline, while the Left bemoans rising economic inequality.  Everyone agrees that we have, somehow, lost what is essential.

Such pervasive nostalgia, however, is actually near the root of our problems, argues conservative intellectual Yuval Levin in The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in an Age of Individualism. Moving forward, he contends, requires that we focus on the achievements, the problems, and the possibilities of our current, fractured society.

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“Forming, and Being Formed By, Culture

A Review of

Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself:
A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace
.

By David Lipsky
and
The Broom of the System: A Novel by Dav id Foster Wallace.
CD Audiobook Read by Robert Petkoff.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself:
A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace
.

David Lipsky

Paperback: Broadway Books, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

The Broom of the System: A Novel
Dav id Foster Wallace.
CD Audiobook Read by Robert Petkoff.
Hachette Audio, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

[ Read an excerpt from ALTHOUGH OF COURSE…  ]

Although Of Course You End Up...I have been familiar with the name of the late American writer David Foster Wallace for several years now and have read several shorter pieces by or about him, but had never tackled any of his books.  Thus, when I saw earlier this year that two books with his name on them were being released – one a biography of sorts and the other an audiobook of his first novel The Broom of the System – I figured that they would provide me with a great opportunity to immerse myself in his work.  Having found myself intrigued by The New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani eulogistic description of Wallace as one who “used his prodigious gifts as a writer — his manic, exuberant prose, his ferocious powers of observation, his ability to fuse avant-garde techniques with old-fashioned moral seriousness — to create a series of strobe-lit portraits of a millennial America overdosing on the drugs of entertainment and self-gratification” (14 Sept. 2008), I was eager to learn more about Wallace and to engage his work.

BROOM OF THE SYSTEMIn March 1996, Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky joined Wallace for the final leg of his Infinite Jest book tour, and recorded much of their conversation over a five day period.  That conversation has now been published as Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, and is the closest thing we presently have to a biography (or autobiography) of Wallace.  Not surprisingly the book reads like an extended Rolling Stone interview, and given the context of the conversation – unfolding over several days and interrupted by various events related to the book tour – the book tends to wander from one topic to the next, often circling back to topics discussed earlier in the conversation.  Along the way, we get a good chunk of Wallace’s life story, growing up with parents who were academics, and learning to love reading but at the same time very much loving television and popular culture.

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A Brief Review of

Witnessing Suburbia:
Conservatives and Christian Youth Culture
.
Eileen Luhr.

Paperback: U of California Press, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

“I’m rockin’ the suburbs
Just like Quiet Riot did
I’m rockin’ the suburbs
Except that they were talented
I’m rockin’ the suburbs…”
— Ben Folds

The story that Eileen Luhr tells in her new book Witnessing Suburbia: Conservatives and Christian Youth Culture is a familiar one for me, because it was in essence the story in which I grew up.  This story is described by Luhr in the book’s introduction:

This book is a history of the suburbanization of evangelicalism and the “Christianization” of popular culture – twin pillars of the conservative shift in national politics during the Reagan-Bush era … [It] contrasts the old Christian Right – with its dogmatic resistance to youth culture per se – and the new “rock” evangelicalism, which embraced cutting-edge cultural forms and media in order to institute moral reform and broaden the impact of its proselytizing efforts.  These processes, in turn, abetted a hegemonic conservative politics grounded in uniting possessive individualism with home-centered “traditional values” (5).

Although Witnessing Suburbia is intended largely for academic audiences, Luhr tells the basic narrative in a compelling and very readable fashion, and we would do well to read it carefully and reflect on it in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  There are many disturbing themes that Luhr unmasks here, but in short we begin to see the many syncretisms of American evangelicalism in the eighties and nineties – inextricably mixing the Christian faith up with right-wing politics, individualistic consumerism and family-based traditionalism.

As mentioned at the beginning of this review, I grew up in this era (graduating high school in 1992) and to a large extent was a Christian swept up in the youth culture of the times.   For several years, the primary genre of music that I enjoyed was Christian Heavy Metal (incidentally the subject of one of the book’s finest chapters).  Although I was on the fringes of this movement, I never really got sucked into the mainstream of Christian youth culture, and indeed it was perhaps my familiarity with the broader youth culture (particularly punk music, and its frankness in revealing the powers that be) that help me resist such an assimilation.  I’m sure it helped too that I never exactly fit the economic mold of middle-class suburban culture.  Luhr’s work here is brilliant, illuminating the dark depths of a history that has gone largely unnoticed.  I hope that it will spur in Christian circles much reflection on the Gospel and culture.  Luhr’s narrative in Witnessing Suburbia reveals a lot of “being conformed to the pattern of the world” (Rom 12:2) in recent evangelicalism, and in illuminating this cultural domestication, it has the potential to nudge us in the direction of transformation and the renewal of our minds.

 

A Brief Review of
The Next Evangelicalism:
Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity

Soong-Chan Rah.

Paperback: IVP Books, 2009.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

 Soong-Chan Rah’s recent book THE NEXT EVANGELICALISM: FREEING THE CHURCH FROM WESTERN CULTURAL CAPTIVITY is an insightful and challenging book.  What the title does not convey (thanks, undoubtedly to an editorial decision) but what Rah emphasizes throughout the book is that by “Western cultural captivity” he means “WHITE Western cultural captivity.” While noting that the demographics of the Church are rapidly shifting away from the North American orientation of the past and toward “a southern and eastern hemisphere-centered Christianity” (12), and that even the Church in North America is rapidly becoming more diverse, Rah also observes that the leadership of American evangelicalism is still almost completely white and male. Thus, Rah writes seeking “reconciliation and renewal” among God’s people.  Overall there are many powers that Rah wrestles with here that other authors — including myself at times — have unmasked (individualism, consumerism, imperialism, etc), but the most convicting of his points is the prevaling whiteness that is driving Christianity in North America.  This point is driven home most poignantly in his chapter on “The Emergent Church’s Captivity to White, Western Culture.”  Here he observes that, generally speaking, the leadership of the Emerging Church is still largely white and largely male.  He observes, “Dialoguing on race for most white emergents, becomes a luxury, not a necessity, as it is for many people of color” (119).  Rah’s chapter critiquing mega-churches and the church growth movement in general is excellent and is well-worth the consideration and reflection of the Church.  Rah’s work is disturbing in that it sheds light on the multitude of ways that churches in North America have been held captive, ultimately calls us — in the book’s Conclusion — to confession and repentance.  THE NEXT EVANGELICALISM would be a perfect companion to J. Kameron Carter’s recent epic theological work RACE: A THEOLOGICAL ACCOUNT, elaborating in a more accessible fashion, on the theological history of racialism and racism that Carter has so compelling set forth in his work.  Both authors share a vision of a future Church that is necessarily more diverse.  In Carter’s words, they agree that:

[A]s a twenty-first-century discourse, Christian theology must take its bearings from the Christian theological languages and practices that arise from the lived Christian worlds of dark peoples in modernity and how such peoples reclaimed (and in their own ways salvaged) the language of Christianity, and thus Christian theology, from being a discourse of death – their death (RACE, 378).

Despite the many conflictions of my own theology and praxis, I believe that Carter and Rah are right, that North American churches are held hostage by their Westernness and whiteness and need to come to confession and repentance.  Jesus often proclaimed that he had come to set us free (cf Luke 4:16-21, etc.), but in order to be free in our twenty-first century North American context, we need first to recognize and repent of the unjust institutions to which we have been enslaved.  There are few books that take on this brutal and yet essential task with the clarity and the compassion with which Soong-Chan Rah has crafted THE NEXT EVANGELICALS.  I highly recommend it, for those who have the courage to face the mammoth cultural manifestations of our sinful state.

Used Book Finds [Vol. 1, #36]

September 18, 2008

 

The bread-n-butter of our bookstore business is the sale of used books, and we do a fair amount of scouting around for used books each week. In this section we feature some of the interesting books that we have found in the past week. Generally, we will only have a single copy of these books, so if you want one (or more) of them, you’ll need to respond quickly.

 

Habits of the Heart:
Individualism and Commitment in American Life.

Robert Bellah, et al. Paperback. Harper. 1986 Printing.
Very Good condition. Clean pages, Minimal wear.
Buy now from: [ Doulos Christou Books $4]

 

Believers: A Journey into Evangelical America.
Jeffery Sheler.
Hardcover. Viking Books. 2006.
Very Good Condition. Clean pages, minimal wear.
Buy now from: [ Doulos Christou Books $5]

 

Small Wonders: Essays.
Barbara Kingsolver.
Paperback. HarperCollins. 2002.
Very Good Condition. Clean pages, minimal wear.
Buy now from: [ Doulos Christou Books $5]