Love in the Age of “Like”

Jonathan Franzen contemplates technology, “liking,” and love in an excellent essay for the New York Times that was adapted from a college commencement speech. Some choice bits:

[O]ur technology has become extremely adept at creating products that correspond to our fantasy ideal of an erotic relationship, in which the beloved object asks for nothing and gives everything, instantly, and makes us feel all powerful, and doesn’t throw terrible scenes when it’s replaced by an even sexier object and is consigned to a drawer.

A related phenomenon is the transformation, courtesy of Facebook, of the verb “to like” from a state of mind to an action that you perform with your computer mouse, from a feeling to an assertion of consumer choice. And liking, in general, is commercial culture’s substitute for loving…

But if you consider this in human terms, and you imagine a person defined by a desperation to be liked, what do you see? You see a person without integrity, without a center. In more pathological cases, you see a narcissist — a person who can’t tolerate the tarnishing of his or her self-image that not being liked represents, and who therefore either withdraws from human contact or goes to extreme, integrity-sacrificing lengths to be likable.

…There is no such thing as a person whose real self you like every particle of. This is why a world of liking is ultimately a lie. But there is such a thing as a person whose real self you love every particle of. And this is why love is such an existential threat to the techno-consumerist order: it exposes the lie.

I quoted more of the cranky parts, but he gets really good as he reflects more deeply on love in the second half of the essay. Go read Franzen’s essay.

The Efficacy of Reason

Most would agree that reason is near the top of any sensible list of virtues. But, among those for whom devotion to reason approaches religious fervour, you won’t be hearing wisdom like this:

Reason is a very good solvent of nonsense but is not necessarily a very good constructor of sense.

The above is from Rowan Williams’s excellent article Critical Solidarity Between Faith and Enlightenment courtesy of the consistently high quality ABC Religion & Ethics portal.

A Biblical Economic Vision

Drawing heavily on the work of Walter Brueggemann, Bouma-Prediger and Walsh have the following to say about a biblical economic vision:

A covenantal/prophetic perspective “holds that the haves and the have-nots are bound in community to each other, that viable life depends upon the legitimate respect, care and maintenance of the have-nots and upon the restraint of the haves so that the needs and rights of the disadvantaged take priority over the yearnings of the advantaged.” There is nothing naïve or romantic about this economic vision. Classical economic theory is correct: humans are self-interested, indeed, deeply selfish creatures. But rather than take that as a normative given for economic life, a biblical vision responds to such selfishness by prioritizing the needs of the poor and restraining the acquisitive appetites of the rich. Otherwise, the poor will always be oppressed, and the rich will continue to rule with an agenda of privatization and legal structures that protect their rights of profit. Against such privatization, a covenental/prophetic vision of economic life “regards property as a resource for the common good, as a vehicle for the viability of a whole society, as the arena for the development of public responsibility and public compassion.” And when responsibility and compassion become public, they take the shape of justice.

Steven Bouma-Prediger & Brian J. Walsh, Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement (Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 142.

Dangerous Moral Purity

It’s hardly news that upper and middle class people tend to view the poor as dirty, chaotic, and even dangerous. Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian Walsh contend that this habitus (set of acquired patterns of thought, behavior, and taste) needs to be understood if we’re to understand the structural barriers faced by homeless people:

Insofar as morality is a matter of making life safe and orderly, anything that will be a threat to safety and a force of disorder must be either eradicated or at least kept at a distance. Within this kind of habitus of exclusion, establishing boundaries that keep the homeless out of our neighborhoods (the “not-in-my-back-yard” dynamics that homeless shelters, haflway houses, and affordable housing must constantly confront) is not seen to be a moral failure, but a moral success! Protecting one’s family and community from contamination is a virtuous act. If a habitus serves to shape human habitation, then anything that threatens the order of that habitation must be excluded. The poor remain homeless.

Steven Bouma-Prediger & Brian J. Walsh, Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement (Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 110-1.

Faith in a Culture of Displacement

I’ve had Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian Walsh’s Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement sitting on my bookshelf since early fall, but haven’t gotten around to cracking it until now. If the rest of the book is as good as the two paragraphs below, I’ll be kicking myself for waiting so long:

Displacement. To be displaced. To be disconnected from place. To “diss” place. That’s our current place. We in North America live in a culture of displacement. “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through” is no longer the sentiment of a certain kind of dualistic pietism; it is a culture-wide attitude. Whether we are talking about the upwardly mobile who view each place as a rung in the ladder that goes up to who knows where, or the postmodern nomad with no roots in any place or any tradition of place, or the average consumer who doesn’t know anything about the place where she lives or the places her food comes from, the reality is the same — we are a culture of displacement.

Christian faith is a faith that is always placed. Places in a good creation. Placed in time. An incarnational faith. A faith rooted in one who took flesh in a particular place. And it continues to be a faith of embodied presence. The church is the body of Christ, and bodies can only exist in place. Moreover, this is a faith with a placed hope  a new heavens and a (re)new(ed) earth. This is not a faith about passing through this world, but a faith that declares this world  this blue-green planet so battered and bruised, yet lovely — as our home.

Steven Bouma-Prediger & Brian J. Walsh, Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement (Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), xii.