Friday, May 10, 2013

Blair on Suburbs and Other Good Stuff

At the endlessly worthwhile Patheos web forum, Peter Blair has an interesting article about my favorite hobbyhorse: The Real Case Against the Suburbs, or, How Ought Christians to Think About the Common Good?

Money quote:
I should note, in closing, that the suburbs are really just a cultural symbol of the larger point we were trying to make. That point was: Bradley was right to suggest that we need more ordinary, God-loving, everyday Christianity. We don’t all have to be radically missional in the sense that some evangelicals promote. But we should not mistake the normal cultural standards of 21st century American life for “ordinary” life. By the standards of both grace and nature, ordinary American life, in many ways, falls far short of what ordinary life should look like. Of course, this gap will always be with us, courtesy of the Fall, but that doesn’t mean that certain cultural arrangements can’t make it bigger or smaller.
Blair mentions several of the points that I talked about in one of my first posts about the importance of shared public spaces in creating authentic community.  He brings up some other interesting points too, including the impact of urban/suburban structures on criminal justice policy.

Another important idea he brings up (and one with broader applications) is the tendency among Christians to have a knee-jerk reaction against theories or lines of thinking perceived as "secular" without actually subjecting them to real intellectual scrutiny.
A kind of aversion to Christian adoption of secular thinking is behind a lot of the more harmful facets of American Christian thought (e.g. continued skepticism of evolution). I am not saying Miller himself is a creationist, only that the kind of language he employs here gives comfort to that kind of thinking. All truth is one, and we shouldn’t hesitate to adopt something just because it has a secular provenance.
 I think this is important to consider, though I would snag another of the phrases that Blair uses and note that often Christians and those in the secular arena are speaking two different "cultural languages" even when they seem to be voicing support for the same theory. 

Relatedly, Blair goes on to caution evangelical Christians like himself against thinking that any position worth holding needs to be boiled down to some specific Biblical text.
An ethics grounded in proof-texting the Bible will always be thin, watered-down, and incomplete. Christians need to engage with the breadth of human learning, and an argument can be quite persuasive and intellectually binding on a Christian even if it does not once mention the Bible.
 Catholics ought in theory to find it easier to avoid this pitfall, since our faith recognizes Tradition as a key part of God's revelation to humanity.  Catholic thought has also been in dialogue with secular scientific and philosophical thought for over two thousand years now, which means we should feel confident engaging these systems on their own turf.  Of course, we can and do subject our Tradition to "proof-texting" as well. Catholics would do well to remember that we have nothing to fear from secular scientific or philosophical inquiry pursued in good faith. There's only one Truth, and any true thing pursued honestly will eventually lead there.

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