Saturday, April 21, 2012

American Christianity's Lack of Cultural Capital

"In the early decades of the twenty-first century as in the last decades of the twentieth, Christian presence in America has been a presence primarily in, of, and for the middle class in everything that this designation means. This is especially true of the Evangelical, Reformed, and Catholic traditions. There are exceptions, of course, but those exceptions tend to prove the rule. Thus, the financial capital that fuels Christianity's religious, social, and political causes is generated primarily from the extraordinarily generous tithing of the ordinary faithful. The considerable political capital American Christianity has amassed exist primarily in its pressure groups and the ability of those groups to mobilize the grassroots, middle-class, church-going voters. The vitality of its cultural capital today is a vitality that resides almost exclusively among average people in the pew rather than those in leadership, on the periphery not the center of cultural production, in tastes that run to the popular rather than the exceptional, the middle brow rather than the high brow, and almost always toward the practical as opposed to the theoretical or the imaginative. There is little taste for 'high culture' especially in Evangelicalism, where the tendency has long been toward translation- making things accessible to the largest number of people. . . .

In terms of the cultural economy, . . . , Christians in America today have institutional strength and vitality exactly in the lower and the peripheral areas of cultural production. Against the prevailing view, the main reason why Christian believers today (from various communities) have not had the influence in the culture to which they have aspired is not that they don't believe enough, or try hard enough, or care enough, or think Christianly enough, or have the right worldview, but rather because they have been absent from the arenas in which the greatest influence in the culture is exerted. The culture-producing institutions of historical Christianity are largely marginalized in the economy of culture formation in North America. Its cultural capital is greatest where leverage in the larger culture is weakest.

. . . the Christians who do operate in positions of social, cultural, and economic influence are neither operating within dense social networks nor working together coherently with common agendas, not least because they are largely disaffected from the local church. There are those with fairly high levels of social and economic capital but it is not linked with high levels of cultural capital. It is fair to say, then, that in any social and culturally significant way, Christians are absent from the institutions at the center of cultural production. The cultural capital American Christianity has amassed simply cannot be leveraged where it matters most."

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