05 May 2010

Sociological and economic theories of the culture wars

I would highly recommend reading Professor Russell Arben Fox's comments on Jonathan Rauch's review of a sociology of the culture wars by Naomi Cahn and June Carbone, since it explores one of the major 'sticking points' in the national discourse which makes courtesy and understanding so difficult. Why is it that the regions and cultural climates which show the highest amount of popular support for conservative social norms (stances against homosexuality, premarital sex, &c.) display a lifestyle which runs completely counter to those norms (higher rates of divorce, teen pregnancy and births out of wedlock)?

Professor Fox presents Rauch's sociological analysis as 'plausible', but at the same time he tends to fault it for ignoring the formative factor of religion. His analysis tends to privilege the Hegelian model (ideological paradigm shifts preceding economic and social behaviour paradigm shifts) over the Marxist model (economic paradigm shifts preceding ideological ones) while Rauch's does the inverse, but he has a good point. As religious institutions have lost their place in the social fabric as the loci of community and as the voices of community conscience advocating for concrete social change, religion has become something hyper-personalised, a hobby or an accessory rather than a source of existential grounding and self-definition. On the one hand, one sees the liberalising element shying away from challenging parishioners to open themselves to Scripture, to reflect, to discuss and to decide matters of political and social importance for the society (out of seeming fear of causing offence), and on the other hand you have an element of fundamentalist reaction monologically dictating the meaning of Scripture, discouraging open discussion and making stringent demands upon its followers in order to change society to its own political will. Both aspects would appear to be outgrowths of a tendency which I began to sketch from within my own adoptive Church tradition, what Fr Alexander of St Stephen's Episcopal Church terms 'self-defining orthodoxy'.

The question, though, is when and how the mainline churches lost their positions of prophetic witness with solid moorings in the community life, and it might be the case that Rauch (and Cahn and Carbone) have the right of it after all. One might easily imagine an increased physical and social mobility, the result of higher levels of industrialisation in the economy, being a cause of this decline, rather than a consequence. In which case, it becomes incumbent on the Church to reimagine its role within this advanced industrial social paradigm, and find ways to articulate an affirming, responsible Christian progressivism which provides deep meaning and 'a safe place to land' to a hypermobile generation.

Thanks to Professor Fox for bringing it to attention - it is indeed good food for thought.

No comments:

Post a Comment