Christian Smith will be on campus November 10th to discuss his latest book, What is a Person? Some of us have been reading through it to prepare. Let me say he really is a "J" personality. The book is full of "before I get to x, I need to talk about y" and then "Y has four parts with 3 exceptions and 4 fallacies."
It's not necessarily a hard read--actually he's quite clear. But at one point I sent this link from Monty Python to my friends with the heading, "Christian Smith getting ready to make his point." We've finally concluded that he doesn't really have a point he's building toward. The point of each chapter is actually quite simple.
Here's the Reader's Digest version of his book:
1. Reality exists as something different from me knowing it (critical realism).
2. A person is a higher order of reality than the sum of our parts (against physical reductionism).
3. Much of our reality is socially constructed (against foundationalism), but not all of it (against extreme social constructivism).
4. We are not people apart from relational networks with others.
5. Much of the statistical research in sociology is crap. Correlation does not equal causation. Research that is purely quantitative is crap. Clear cause-effect relationships must be argued for from some theoretical framework.
Well, none of that is why I started this post. It occurred to me more clearly than ever how to frame the importance of community in relation to Christian life and why Barna doesn't know what he's talking about. One of the theories Christian Smith discusses is "emergence theory." As usual, it's a very simple concept pretty obvious to common sense but apparently heavily argued in some circles. It's the idea that there are levels of reality where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
For example, I am a biological machine. Some Christian thinkers are currently arguing that what we call the "soul" is not a separable part of me. For the sake of argument, let's say they're right. Nevertheless, myself as a person is a different order of reality. You could add up all the pieces to me but that would not equal me. "I" am a person and a person is a thing of a different order in its own right. I consider this pretty obvious, despite many in sociology currently who might resist it.
And now Schenck finally getting to his point. Genuine community is also like this. It is a different level of reality. Adding up the individuals in a community does not equal the reality of the community together. It is a higher order of reality that is an entity, an organism in its own right. This means you cannot be a complete Christian on your own in the woods. You will be lacking in your Christian identity. Even if you as an individual are more "spiritual" than everyone else in a particular place, you cannot be as spiritual as they are when they are together in Christian community.
This is the hypothesis that struck me today... no doubt one that would have Christian Smith responding, "Isn't that what I said?" ;-)