Exploring the Social Imagination

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

C.S. Lewis "Mere Christianity" Beyond Our Social Imagination

What is interesting about Christianity is that it asks people to think beyond the world that they see, to think beyond their 'social imagination'. How? Christians believe in a God that is unseen, and that he is the Creator of all things seen and unseen.
To support this notion that Christianity goes beyond social imagination I point to the writings of C.S. Lewis who embraced this and wrote perceptively on Christianity in his book, "Mere Christianity".  In the chapter, Beyond Personality, Lewis tells us that we must never imagine that our own unaided efforts can be relied on to carry us even through the next twenty-four hours as "decent" people. If He (God) does not support us, not one of us is safe from some gross sin. On the other hand, no possible degree of holiness or heroism which has ever been recorded of the greatest saints is beyond what He is determined to produce in every one of us in the end. The job will not be completed in this life; but He means to get us as far as possible before death. That is why we must not be surprised if we are in for a rough time. When a man turns to Christ and seems to be getting on pretty well, he often feels that it would not be natural if things went fairly smoothly. When troubles come along, illnesses, money troubles, new kinds of temptation, he 'man' is disappointed. These things, he feels, might have been necessary to rouse him and make him repent in his bad old days; but why now? God is forcing him on, or up, to a higher level: putting him into situations where he will have to be very much braver,or more patient, or more loving,than he ever dreamed of being before. It seems to us all unnecessary; but that is because we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us.The command Be ye Perfect is not idealistic gas, nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command.  He said that we were 'gods' and He is going to make good His words... if we let Him. Lewis writes, ... let me borrow from George MacDonald. Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on... you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But, presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that huts and does not seem to make sense. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace which He intends to come and live in  (Lewis 1952: pg 174)
Lewis also writes about how incredible His imagination is - the Creator. Lewis points to when we were in the womb, first a blob of cells, then a kind of tadpole, then a another kind of simple creature which we would in that simple form have likely been content to be just that... but He (God) did not stop there, He kept going, He created us human, man and woman, He created us in His image. He created us social and to live with Him in His Incredible and Gigantic social imagination!
C.S. Lewis - Mere Christianity: MacMillian 1952

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Atheists and Progressives- Theirs is not a Christian Morality!

The Social Imagination of the Christian knows what he/she ought to do.
Firstly, let us understand the differences between different groups and their ideas about morality or justice. We can start with the Greeks, and this means starting with Homer. The first thing to say is that the gods and goddesses of the Homeric poems behave remarkably like the noble humans described in the same poems, even though the humans are mortal and the gods and goddesses immortal. Both groups are motivated by the desire for honor and glory, and are accordingly jealous when they receive less than they think they should while others receive more, and work ceaselessly to rectify this. The two groups are not however symmetrical, because the noble humans have the same kind of client relation to the divinities as subordinate humans do to them. There is a complex pattern that we might call ‘an honor-loop’ (see Mikalson, Honor Thy Gods). http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/religion-morality/ According to Cicero, Socrates (469–399 BCE) was the first to bring philosophy down from heaven, locating it in cities and even in homes (Tusc.V.10) Greeks and Romans had religion. In as much as atheists like to think that ideas of morality and virtue and ethics are innately human logic, evolved overtime, they are misinformed. Western thought on morality, virtue and ethics largely arose from Greek/ Roman philosophy/ political thought. Where did they get their ideas from? Socrates said that such thought was brought down from heaven. In that way, in each and everyone is the knowing of what we 'ought to do'. We know the difference between selfish desires and unselfish. When faced with a choice, we know what we ought to do and often avoid that 'ought to' in our selfish desire to run away from responsibilities.
Of course, some think that this 'ought to do' exists in the human naturally.  I suppose Plato discussed this Socrates as the question appeared "if one is just by choosing justice, then what is one by not choosing justice if by not choosing justice, the one gains more by not choosing justice. And, then justice for who? Justice for the group, another individual or the one. Which would be more important? If one was wealthy, well connected, then wouldn't his value alone in society be more just than a mere peasant's.  After all, his money helped to build the city, his money helped to provide jobs, his money helped to bring about civilization: the arts, science, and the idea of civics.  We see here a kind of honor loop. Yet, morality is this honor loop is defined as that which is virtuous behavior on part of the one, again if the one is making life better by building up the city, then he/she is a moral and just person, right? No of which has anything to do with what one ought to do. Because what one ought to do is not the desire for honor and glory of the self; but, the desire for the glory and honor of God's creation which includes all men. I suppose that even this can be argued in that the wealthy man does this as he/she spends his/her money to build up all of society. Isn't that Bill Gates?
How then is ancient Greek/Roman philosophy any different from the Christian perspective? As C.S. Lewis writes, the difference lies in the Golden Rule of the New testament "Do as you would be done by", in this every Christian has always known what is the right thing to do.  Is that so much different though from what we have been talking about? Building the grand arena which all could come to as a Roman citizen seems moral and virtuous, yet how did it get built? Senators living in splendid homes while others live in shacks; but because they gave their money to build such things and they represent the civic quality of life, they have a right in their virtuous position, right?. Who is moral and who is virtuous? I suppose that the ancients would argue that both are - the Senator and the peasant or average "Joe". The Senators are moral and virtuous because they represent the law- the Republic and the peasant is because they accept it. This is the honor loop. Yet, considering both groups, is this still doing what ought to be done, doing as you would have others do to you? Yes, if we accept the honor loop. No, if we break that loop. No, if we accept that every human person has always known what is right and what ought to be done, then we could not accept that just because some have more others should accept less, is this what the one would have done to them.
Yet, progressives are of the mind set that the means justify the end. If some are higher and others lower, this is justified in the end...then justice for all is done. Christ came to say that justice belongs to the one, and justice is served to him/her in honor of the justified one because he/she is moral and virtuous and knows what they ought to do as it would be done to them. Progressives want social justice at the expense of the individual. Christ came for all. You cannot sacrifice individual justice for collective justice.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Do Our Choices Determine Who We Are and How Others See Us?

We live a social reality. Max Weber wrote extensively about the classification of men and the choices they make - rational choice. For him, in comparison to Marx and Engels, rational choice was the key to understanding status groups, understanding the difference between the rich and poor, understanding racial and ethnic discrimination, understanding how we set ourselves apart from others and the natural tendency to want to do that.  How do men make rational choice? They make choices based on the amount and quality of information that they have at hand. We are only a composition of socialization process which begins with mother and stems out from there to father, siblings, peers, community and including teachers. In fact, one can say that the socialization process lasts a lifetime; hence, you are not really the same 'person' you were a year ago given the amount of social networking and social interaction one engages in over a year or any period of time. With that in mind, we make decisions based on the information we have gotten through social interaction including these days - media. This is what social workers, social engineers or social framers know and political science students learn.  What? That when given information as 'true or useable' through shared experiences that prove positive, we will make the choice to buy that thing, be with that person or group or live in that place, go to that school etc.  Dr. E.FGallion
The classification of men into such groups is based on their consumption patterns rather than on their place in the market or in the process of production. Weber thought Marx had overlooked the relevance of such categorization because of his exclusive attention to the productive sphere. In contrast to classes, which may or may not be communal groupings, status groups are normally communities, which are held together by notions of proper life-styles and by the social esteem and honor accorded to them by others. Linked with this are expectations of restrictions on social intercourse with those not belonging to the circle and assumed social distance toward inferiors. In this typology we again find Weber's sociological notion of a social category as dependent on the definition that others give to social relationships. A status group can exist only to the extent that others accord its members prestige or degrading, which removes them from the rest of social actors and establishes the necessary social distance between "them" and "us."
Empirically there are fairly high correlations between standing in the class and in the status order. Especially i capitalist society, the economically ascendant class will, in the course of time, also acquire high status; yet in principle, propertied and propertyless people may belong to the same status group. At certain times, an economically weak element, such as the East Elbian Junkers, may exercise considerable influence and power because of its preeminent status. Generally, as much pos-Weberian analysis of American politics has shown, political behavior may at times be influenced by men who are fearful of losing their status or who bridle at not having been accorded a status they think is their due; such influence may be as powerful as class-determined modes of political behavior.
In Weber's view every society is divided into groupings and strata with distinctive life-styles and views of the world, just as it is divided into distinctive classes. While at times status as well as class groupings may conflict, at others their members may accept fairly stable patterns of subordination and superordination.
With this twofold classification of social stratification, Weber lays the groundwork for an understanding of pluralistic forms of social conflict in modern society and helps to explain why only in rare cases are such societies polarized into the opposing camps of the "haves" and the "have-nots." He has done much to explain why Marx's exclusively class-centered scheme failed to predict correctly the shape of things to come in modern pluralistic societies.
In regard to the analysis of power in society, Weber again introduces a pluralistic notion. Although he agrees with Marx in crucial respects, he refines and extends Marx's analytical scheme. For Marx, power is always rooted, even in only in the "last analysis," in economic relations. Those who own the means of production exercise political power either directly or indirectly. Weber agreed that quite often, especially in the modern capitalist world, economic power is the predominant form. But he objects that "the emergence of economic power may be the consequence of power existing on other grounds." For example, men who are able to command large-scale bureaucratic organizations may wield a great deal of economic power even though they are only salaried employees.
Weber understands by power: the chance of a man, or a number of men "to realize their own will in communal action, even against the resistance of others." He shows that the basis from which such power can be exercised may vary considerably according to the social context, that is, historical and structural circumstance. Hence, where the source of power is located becomes for Weber an empirical question, one that cannot be answered by what he considers Marx's dogmatic emphasis on one specific source. Moreover, Weber argues, men do not only strive for power to enrich themselves. "Power, including economic power, may be valued 'for its own sake.' Very frequently the striving for power is also conditioned by the social 'honor' it entails."
From Lewis Coser, 1977:228-230.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Social Imagination... Unheard of Thesedays

Posted below is an incredible story that I had to share with my blog readers. The story below is amazing on many levels. The first is that a marriage can last a lifetime. In modern social imagination, that seems odd. Yet, in the story you will read that it is possible - one can give live with the same spouse for an entire lifetime. You will read that a couple can have the same imagination about love, marriage and raising children. They can have the same imagination about how to get through hard times. Americans rarely experience such things, marriage that lasts, love that never ends and is unconditional, and the joy of raising children together as husband and wife = mom and dad - the same husband/wife, the same mom and dad from beginning to end. We live in a throw away culture, that is in love with 'new' and hates 'old'. We love new things, and we want to have fun. As if any other kind of living or imagination is useless, has no purpose, no value.
I wanted to share this story because it is not about new things or having fun. It is about a full life filled with sorrow and with happiness. I have been to the Ukraine and lived in eastern Europe for a number of years. You cannot believe the level of poverty in some places yet people are always happy to share a meal. You would not expect to see the residue of War, not the recent but of long past. It is hard to understand that if there was such conflict in the past, why don't people try to work things out today. As Americans, it is easy to say that. But Europe is a different world. People there have a deeply embedded consciousness of 'being in' or 'connected to' a place. So deeply embedded, they are willing to fight for. I took my husband to eastern Europe, he loved the old towns and how people seemed to live a symbiotic relation - past and present. There was a kind of 'recursiveness' everywhere.  I wanted him to know that though old towns are charming, they were often destroyed and people too. I took him to the eastern border to see the extermination camp - Sobibor... what remains of it. It is hard for people to believe the hardships that many people had suffered during WWI and WWII. For today's generations, they are pages in a history book. But, for many memories are still present or have left a vivid impression as one can still see in Warsaw. As a listener of Moody Radio, valuing the programming so much; hence, I wanted to share this story about Pastor Erwin Lutzer's parents who came out of such hardships.

A Tribute to my Mother by Pastor (Dr.) Erwin Lutzer
After having served her generation by the will of God, my dear mother got her wish and went home to heaven on January 1, 2012, a month after her 103rd birthday. By any measure, mother was a remarkable woman. She was a hard worker who gladly sacrificed for her family; she had a focused love for God and intolerance for sin. She was a woman of prayer, a woman who understood better than anyone else I know, both the eventual terrors that await the unsaved and the glories of heaven reserved for those who belong to the King of Kings. She loved Christ passionately and has waited with a longing patience for her entrance into the heavenly kingdom. And what an entrance she will have!
Mother was born to German parents in the Ukraine in 1908 and after World War I began in 1914, the Russian government, fearing that the Germans within its borders might mutiny, forced them to become refugees to places like Afghanistan or Siberia. Incredibly, her father (my grandfather) had actually come to the United States to make preparations to bring his entire family here to Chicago. But when the war started, he immediately made plans to hurry back to be with his family. Providentially, he was able to catch the last passenger ship back to Europe; after that the ships were used only for war material. If he had been stranded here in the US, my mother’s family would have had to manage the hardships of Siberia on their own. How thankful they were that he was able to return in time to be with them on this long and painful journey.
Meanwhile, the trip to Siberia took weeks (the large family had only one horse and wagon) and when they arrived at the Volga river they were loaded onto barges and from there herded into freight cars for the long train trip to the northland. The entire family (with about six or seven children at the time) lived in one room; later they moved into a basement. Life was not only very hard but also dangerous. Remember, not only was World War I in progress, but so was the Bolshevik Revolution. Often there was fighting outside of their small quarters and the family had to stay indoors.
Mother recounts the deep grief she experienced when her younger sister died, and because of the fighting, her small wooden coffin had to lie on a back porch for a week (my mother was about 8, her sister was 6). Finally, when there was a lull in the fighting, my grandfather buried her in a grave along with another body. But my grandmother was grieved that her little daughter was not buried in her own grave, so to please her, my grandfather dug up the coffin to bury the little girl in her own shallow grave. Mother was very close to her younger sister and wept for days in her grief.
When the war ended in 1918, the families were able to return to their homestead. Then the decision was made that my mother and her older sister would go to Canada to seek a better life. Just imagine: my mother was 20, her sister was 22. When they said goodbye to their mother and father, they knew they would probably never meet again. Later they learned that my grandmother lay in bed for three days, mourning the loss of her precious daughters whom she expected to never see again (about 32 years later they were briefly reunited when my parents visited Europe).
I will not detail all the hardships that mother and her sister experienced in Canada. Soon after they arrived, they were separated, working for various farmers. Mother loved to hoe the garden, she said, so she could pour out her soul in lonely weeping where no one would see her.
As God would have it, the sisters then ended up working on farms that were close to a small town with an evangelical church. My mother and her sister had a strong desire to be “born again.” They had been baptized Lutherans but knew that their baptism could not save them. When evangelistic meetings were held, my mother was gloriously converted. “It was as if I was in the holy of holies” she recounted later.
My father was attending the same church. He also had been born in the Ukraine back in 1902, and his story was similar except that his family had to migrate to Afghanistan. There his mother and older brother died. As a boy of 14, he threw himself across the bed and thought he’d never stop crying. But when his family returned to their homestead, he bravely came to Canada alone to work for a farmer who was willing to sponsor him.
My father had become a Christian while in the Ukraine. Now as he attended church, he couldn’t help but notice the two young German women who had just arrived in the area. He knew of my mother’s conversion and she had heard him pray, so she knew he was a firm believer.
One Sunday he asked my mother if he could walk her home and along the way he asked if she would marry him! My mother said she’d have to think about it, but within 3 weeks they were married at a farm on July 25, 1931. The marriage lasted for 77 years, until my father’s death 3 years ago at the age of 106! (A word to the singles reading this: don’t use my parents as an example of how long you should know each other before you marry!)
In our home the Bible was read every morning and prayers were offered, rain or shine, followed by a song sung by the family; my mother’s favorite was “Take the name of Jesus with you”. I was the youngest of 5 children, and as my sister put it, “I got away with blue murder.” My parents were desirous to protect us from sin (out on the farm there were few opportunities to get into trouble, but boys will be boys!). My Dad was a very hard worker but often sick in those early years, telling us that he was dying (evidently he was having panic attacks which he obviously outgrew!), so mother helped by milking cows, she grew a garden, washed our clothes and cooked for the family. In the fall she helped with the harvest, canned food for the hard winter and made sure that we had warm clothes. I simply don’t know how she did it. When hail took our crop away she and my father and we as children got on our knees to thank God for his goodness. “We still have food to eat” my father said. And that was enough.
At Mom and Dad’s 70th anniversary I asked my mother if she knew the names of all of her great grandchildren (I think the number was about 25 at the time). She waived her hand and said, “Sure, I have a prayer list and I bring them before my Heavenly Father every day!”
My mother and father were plain people who taught themselves to read (they had at best a grade 3 education back in the Ukraine), and to speak English. They were free of all hypocrisy or pretense; what you saw is what you got. They were fastidious in their honesty and although they were frugal when spending money on themselves, they were very generous with others. Even in retirement they gave virtually all of their money to Christian ministries. They showed hospitality to those who were in need. The legacy they left us is not in worldly goods but in their example of faith, hard work and Christian virtues. I’m prejudiced, but they just don’t make them that way anymore!
“Thanks, mother. I owe you more than I could ever say. For the times just the two of us were at home in the farmhouse while the older children were in school, when you watched me play on the floor, you read to me, loved me, prayed for me. And when I needed a lap to sit on, you were there. Only heaven will reveal who you were and all that you did and the prayers you offered on my behalf. Whatever I’ve been able to accomplish in my life, I owe it all to you…I’m your last born, your “der kleine” (“the little one”) as you affectionately called me in German.
And yes, mother, we shall meet again.”
Erwin Lutzer

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Living in the Flesh... what does that mean for the Social Imagination?

What does living in the flesh mean? It means living in the world, everything in the world that has to do with engaging our fleshy senses. We should live according to the spirit in the flesh. In every man/woman's life there comes the situation as C.S. Lewis points in which he/she finds themselves having to make a choice and he/she knows in a moment - right from wrong and they know the 'right' option to choose. A man is not an animal; because, an animal would simply respond to what suits him/her needs in the moment and move on. Animal choices work like that because they are simple programs. There is no right or wrong choice for them in their natural state. If they are hungry, they get food by whatever means. Man is able to discern from advantages in the flesh and desire advantages which are unseen. Advantages such as joy which is unseen. It means that in man is the feeling that he/she ought to help/rescue/share. As Lewis writes in 'Mere Christianity' there is a 'third thing' which tells you that you ought to follow the impulse to help and suppress the impulse to run or take. Lewis also says that inside man there is a  knowing when to take up what he calls the first thing 'desire' for self gratification, and when not to and when to run 'the second thing' and when not to. What is that governs these options/things? The third thing - the spirit in man- his God given spirit.

Lewis recognizes like I do (as a sociologist) that there are things we learn from parents and teachers - Rule of Decent Behavior. But even in saying that, whose 'decent' are we taking about. In order to compare our 'decent' from someone else's we would have to acknowledge that there is a  model. Again, whose model. Some argue that it is what works for people in a place. That can be true but then no model is created out of that as in any place what works there does not create a universal or absolute model to make comparisons. Yet, somewhere in man there is an idea of what is decent and what is not. We would have to be taking a bird's eye 'fleshy' view in that case... the case that allows us to arrive at what is decent in one place and decent in another. But, by doing so, we fail as what is fleshy for me is not for you and hence no model or absolute truth can come out of that. However, the spirit - the third thing, because it is also inside and yet something greater than the first aspects of man's desires, made known to him/her as it is in him/her, does allow for and move man into 'third thing' application as in 'ought to do'. It is the spirit that discerns as Lewis said. The knowing when to reject fleshly desires and reject fear - run, in accepting the unseen advantage in doing what 'ought to be done'. This we see played out in American films all the time- the hero... the impulse desire (third thing) to save Private Ryan; that is not living in the flesh but in the spirit - what I may call the true 'social imagination'.