this monstrous rival to market—God

A late capitalist culture …that is truly consumerist, is a culture whose primary cultural task, the great adventure of the culture, is the fabrication of desires and ever more desires for an ever greater diversity of things—desires for things that were not even desirable before they became necessities and then to make room for other desires within that sort of order of social-cultural relations in which acquisition and disposal become the primary business of life. Look, we are surrounded by advertising all of the time. We don’t even think about it. It’s a white noise. That’s what our culture does. It’s teaching us to fabricate desires.

Such a culture is inherently atheist. It has to be. That doesn’t mean that you can’t live a perfectly decent life within building a small business and employing people. That’s not what I mean. But the consumerist culture is one in which prohibitions on desire progressively have to be erased, new desires have to be fabricated constantly for things. Ultimate values that could possibly distract from or act as rivals to the momentary, the finite desires by which the economy is sustained and the culture advances have to be abolished. There is no value more problematic than God because He might actually send you out into the desert rather than into the world of business.

This isn’t an opprobrium cast to people who make their lives making things and employing people, but you can do that without having embraced the culture and the inherent nihilism of consumerist capitalism.

What I see in the new atheists is a kind of predictably vulgar expression of this need to do away with [God]. I also see a contemptible Western supremacism: the late modern notion that those who have not embraced the late modern western mechanistic vision of reality have cultures that are worthless, literally worthless. You get the O’reillian notion that the only light that comes from the east is the sun. Aboriginal culture in Australia, with this very rich language of the Dreaming, that’s meaningless because it’s not mechanisms is just folk mythology, it’s not even folk phycology. So there is that. I just see new atheism as this popular expression of this imperative of a capitalist culture to do away with this monstrous rival to market—God.

Prayer is an essentially subversive activity in a culture like that. Prayer is the one thing that you should not be allowed to do in a truly good consumerist culture. It gets in the way of advertising. It gets in the way of your openness to advertising. You should be opening your pours and your mind and your soul to constant advertising, and prayer is something that should be discouraged.

My transcription from this video of a Q&A with David Bentley Hart, posted on March 3, 2017 by YouTube user ObjectiveBob.

Hart’s point about “this very rich language of the Dreaming” within Aboriginal culture in Australia is very extensively developed within his most recent book Roland in Moonlight. Hart’s point about prayer being subversive reminds of these points made by Eugene H. Peterson from his book The Contemplative Pastor.

here we can see it for what it is

They’re content to make their way by planting seeds and raising beasts. Too poor to live in Torbourough, too honest to scrape by in Dugtown, not yet vile enough to through in with the Stranders, they live their lives with a mighty sorrow. As the company moved on, most of the mud-farmers as Podo called them, though not without pity, ignored them. But some stood up in the fields where they were unearthing stones in the way of the plow or stopped hammering a rotten plank to a rotten structure with a rusty nail or peered out their windows to watch the Igiby’s pass.

“Has it always been like this?”, Lilli asked.

“No, lass, not always”, Podo said over his shoulder.

“But for far too long,” Oscar said, “that’s certain. For many years the Stranders have made trouble along the river. These poor tired folks have suffered between the indifference of the elite in Torbourgh and the hostility of the ruthless in Dugtown and the Strand.”

“Someone should do something,” Lilli said quietly.

“What would they do?”, Janna ask. “It seems like the whole world is as awful as it is here.”

“Things weren’t this bad in Glipwood,” Tink said.

“No, but it didn’t take much to tip the scales,” Janna said. “In just a few days, the town was deserted, and the Fangs moved in. Everything in Scree is as bad as it is for these mud-farmers. It’s just that here we can see it for what it is.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Janna saw a smile on his mother’s face. She and Podo’s eyes met, and he sensed that he had done something that made her proud. He thought back to the way he felt in Glipwood on Dragon Day when Oscar had first helped him see the sadness beneath the merriment. None of visitors to Glipwood laughed from the belly. None of them smiled except in defiance of the way they really felt. Only Amulen the Bard was able to muster any true feelings of joy, and Janna had noticed to that, for himself and for the people who listened to his songs with such desperate attention, the joyful feelings that the song brought to the surface always came with tears. Theirs was a burden too heavy to be lifted by songs along however fine the melody.

“Someone should do something,” Lilli said again, this time in a feisty tone. Everyone knew better than to challenge her. She was right.

From North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson.

the sight of monsters walking among them

Now the sight of monsters walking among them seemed as normal as the seagulls that swooped and chattered in the air above the city.

From page 127 of Andrew Peterson’s On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness: Adventure. Peril. Lost Jewels. And the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree.

The book spines looked richer somehow in the lantern’s glow, and Janner thought of Oskar’s words at the start of the day: “Look around you, lad. This is the best of old Skree. Or at least, it’s what’s left of it.” …What Oskar had preserved was the memory of a world that had passed away as surely as Esben Igiby had passed away.

From pages 92 and 86 of the same book by Andrew Peterson.

a person who cares about words and is honest with them

It is easy to say what either flatters or manipulates and so acquire power over others. In subtle ways, being a pastor subjects our words to corruption. That is why it is important to frequent the company of a poet friend – Gerard Manley Hopkins, George Herbert, Emily Dickinson, Luci Shaw are some of mine – a person who cares about words and is honest with them, who respects and honors their sheer overwhelming power. I leave such meetings less careless, my reverence for words and the Word restored.

Is it not significant that the biblical prophets and psalmists were all poets? It is a continuing curiosity that so many pastors, whose work integrates the prophetic and psalmic (preaching and praying), are indifferent to poets. In reading poets, I find congenial allies in the world of words. In writing poems, I find myself practicing my pastoral craft in a biblical way.

From The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction by Eugene Peterson in chapter XIV, “Poets and Pastors.”

the world of our passivities is a vast cosmos

Learning the art of willed passivity begins with appreciating the large and creative part passivity plays in our lives. By far the largest part of our life is experienced in the mode of passivity. Life is undergone. We receive. We enter into what is already there. Our genetic system, the atmosphere, the food chain, our parents, the dog – they are there, in place, before we exercise our will. “Eighty percent of life,” says Woody Allen, “is just showing up.” Nothing we do by the exercise of our wills will ever come close to approximating what is done to us by other wills. Our lives enter into what is already done; most of life is not what we do but what is done to us. If we deny or avoid these passivities, we live in a very small world. The world of our activities is a puny enterprise; the world of our passivities is a vast cosmos. We experience as happening to us weather, our bodies, our parents, much of our government, the landscape, much of our education. But there are different ways of being passive: there is an indolent, inattentive passivity that approximates the existence of a slug; and there is a willed and attentive passivity that is something more like worship.

From The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction by Eugene H. Peterson.

making friends with some ancestors long dead

I began to comprehend the obvious: that the central and shaping language of the church’s life has always been its prayer language. Out of that recognition a conviction grew: that my primary educational task as pastor was to teach people to pray. I did not abandon, and will not abandon, the task of teaching about the faith, teaching the content of the gospel, the historical backgrounds of biblical writings, the history of God’s people. I have no patience with and will not knowingly give comfort to obscurantist or anti-intellectual tendencies in the church. But there is an educational task entrusted to pastors that is very different from that assigned to professors. The educational approaches in all the schools I attended conspired to ignore the wisdom of the ancient spiritual leaders who trained people in the disciplines of attending to God, forming the inner life so that it was adequate to the reception of truth, not just the acquisition of facts. The more I worked with people at or near the centers of their lives where God and the human, faith and the absurd, love and indifference were tangled in daily traffic jams, the less it seemed that the way I had been going about teaching made much difference, and the more that teaching them to pray did.

It is not easy to keep this conviction in focus, for the society in which I live sees education primarily as information retrieval. But there is help available. Most of mine came from making friends with some ancestors long dead. Gregory of Nyssa and Teresa of Avila got me started. I took these masters as my mentors. They expanded my concept of prayer and introduced me into the comprehensive and imaginative and vigorous language of prayer. They convinced me that teaching people to pray was my best work.

From The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction by Eugene H. Peterson

directing worship in the traffic

But “there are things,” wrote Marianne Moore, “that are important beyond all this fiddle.” The old-time guide of souls asserts the priority of the “beyond” over “this fiddle.” Who is available for this work other than pastors? A few poets, perhaps; and children, always. But children are not good guides, and most of our poets have lost interest in God. That leaves pastors as guides through the mysteries. Century after century we live with our conscience, our passions, our neighbors, and our God. Any narrower view of our relationships does not match our real humanity.

…If pastors become accomplices in treating every child as a problem to be figured out, every spouse as a problem to be dealt with, every clash of wills in choir or committee as a problem to be adjudicated, we abdicate our most important work, which is directing worship in the traffic, discovering the presence of the cross in the paradoxes and chaos between Sundays, calling attention to the “splendor in the ordinary,” and, most of all, teaching a life of prayer to our friends and companions in the pilgrimage.

From The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson.

unfathomable gift

Gabriel Marcel wrote that life is not so much a problem to be solved as a mystery to be explored. That is certainly the biblical stance: life is not something we manage to hammer together and keep in repair by our wits; it is an unfathomable gift. We are immersed in mysteries: incredible love, confounding evil, the creation, the cross, grace, God. The secularized mind is terrorized by mysteries. Thus it makes lists, labels people, assigns roles, and solves problems. But a solved life is a reduced life. These tightly buttoned-up people never take great faith risks or make convincing love talk. They deny or ignore the mysteries and diminish human existence to what can be managed, controlled, and fixed. We live in a cult of experts who explain and solve.

From The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson.

how I loathe big issues

From The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction by Eugene H. Peterson (in a section entitled “Small Talk: A Pastoral Art”):

Most of us, most of the time, are engaged in simple routine tasks, and small talk is the natural language. If pastors belittle it, we belittle what most people are doing most of the time, and the gospel is misrepresented.

“Lord, how I loathe big issues!” is a sentence I copied from C.S. Lewis’s letters and have kept as a reminder. …Lewis warned of the nose-in-the-air arrogance that is oblivious to the homely and the out-of-the-way, and therefore misses participating in most of the rich reality of existence.

…Humility means staying close the ground (humus), to people, to everyday life, to what is happening with all its down-to-earthness.