An Economics of Holiness

From James K. A. Smith’s introduction to Daniel Bell’s new book, The Economy of Desire.  It looks brilliant and I’m eager to jump in!

This world is “postmodern” not because it signals some romantic escape from the modern or some jarring break with modernity but because it is one completely saturated and dominated by the forces of modernity.  Postmodernity isn’t a world where modernity has failed; it is the world where modernity is all in all.  Or as Daniel Bell puts it below, it’s the world where “we’re all capitalists now.”

Most Christian thinking about discipleship and spiritual formation has failed to appreciate this reality.  Indeed, much of contemporary North American Christianity not only blithely rolls along with these realities; in many ways, it also encourages and contributes to it with a vast cottage industry of Christianized consumption.  By locating the challenges for Christian discipleship in arcane cults or sexual temptation or the “secularizing” forces of Supreme Court, evangelicalism tends to miss the fact that the great tempter of our age is Walmart.  The tempter does not roam about as a horrifying monster, but as an angel of light who spends most of his time at the mall.

. . . at the core of Bell’s analysis and argument is a concept that should revolutionize how you think about discipleship and spiritual formation: desire.  Bell helps us to appreciate that there is an economics of desire—that our desire is primed and pointed by “technologies” that habituate us toward certain ends.  The question isn’t whether we’ll be subject to an “economy,” but which.

Many Christians have failed to see what’s at stake in contemporary “postmodern” life—dominated as it is by a globalized market and the rhythms of consumption—because we still tend to think that Christian faith is an “intellectual” matter: a matter of what propositions we believe, what doctrines we subscribe to, what Book we adhere to.  And conversely, we tend to think of economics as a “neutral” matter of distribution and exchange.  Because of these biases, we can too easily miss the fact that Christian faith is at root a matter of what we love—what (and Whom) we desire.  If we forget that, or overlook that, we’ll also overlook all the ways that the rituals of “late capitalism” shape and form and aim our desire to worship rival gods.

[T]he practices of Christian discipleship and the rituals of Christian worship [are] the lineaments of an alternative economy—a “kingdom come” economics that orders the world otherwise, bearing witness to the strange, upside-down economy of a crucified-now-risen King.

He invites us to nothing less than a holy economy.

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