Monday, January 10, 2011

"Little else is worth thinking about"

The cheerful posts come fast and furious. Robert Jensen's words, excerpted in the last post, reminded me of Philip Goodchild's preface to his difficult and fascinating (and as yet unfinished by me) book, Capitalism and Religion: The Price of Piety. He describes the book's origins:
This book emerged from the tension between four powerful insights—insights bringing problems, not solutions. The last insight to arrive was the contemporary truth of suffering: a growing awareness that current trends in globalization, trade and the spread of technology are not only leading towards a condition where the human habitat is unsustainable, but the urgency and responsibility announced by this preventable catastrophe mean that little else is worth thinking about. Prior to that, research for this present work was initiated by the realization that the encompassing framework delimiting the production of thought and values in modern life, and exerting increasing influence, was simply the impersonal and self-positing structure of money as the measure of values. As a whole, however, my work is grounded in an 'idea'—or perhaps I should say an 'experience'—of what I will call 'God'. This 'idea' was so overwhelming and so distinct from our customary ways of thinking that, while intelligible in itself, it remains incommunicable until it has called into question and reformulated all existing categories of philosophy and theology. Finally, the work of the revaluation of values which may lead to the cessation of suffering was developed in the form of the 'murder of God'—the actual work of calling into question the fundamental concepts and values of the European tradition.

Each of these insights fractured my self-consciousness, exposing an abyss beneath all my thoughts and relations to myself, to others and to the world. I became a stranger to those closest to me as well as to myself. Each issue imposed itself as a dynamic force on thought, a problem of unlimited importance that I feel barely equipped to begin to address. Moreover, these are not personal but universal and global problems, imposing the responsibility on each person to find an appropriate way of addressing them. In the case of each problem, however, there is only a minority who feel the impact of its force, and those who are concerned with two or more of these problems are much fewer. The public consensus is engaged in a vast enterprise of evasion, sheltering in a wicked and lethal complacency. Yet each of these problems calls to and awakens the others. Anyone who carefully attends to the significance of these issues—and this book is an attempt to communicate their significance—may risk having their world shattered. Thinking is nearly as dangerous as complacency.

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