Theology and the Fragmentation of the Self
Theology and the Fragmentation of the Self...
International Journal of Systematic Theology
Volu Volume me 1
Numb Number er 1
Marc March h 1999 1999
Theology and the Fragmentation of the Self LINDA WOODHEAD*
Abstract: Modern Christian anthropology frequently adopts from socio-cultural theory theory the thesis thesis that that modern modern selfh selfhood ood is fragme fragment nted. ed. This This ‘fragm ‘fragmenta entatio tion n thesi thesis’ s’ shou should ld be plac placed ed with within in a frame framewo work rk whic which h sees sees mode modern rnity ity not not as homogeneous but as stranded. Four conflicting construals of modern selfhood can be discerned: the bestowed self, the rational self, the boundless self and the effecti effective ve self. self. In promo promotin ting g versio versions ns of the besto bestowed wed self self throug through h commucommunitarian nitarian and Trinitaria Trinitarian n ideas, ideas, contemporary contemporary theological theological anthropol anthropology ogy often fails to meet the challenges posed by other construals of selfhood, or to take seriou seriously sly lesson lessonss learnt learnt from from contemp contempor orary ary forms forms of Christ Christian ianity ity like like the evangelical–charismatic upsurge.
Are our modern selves fragile and fragmented? In what follows, I consider the common claim that they are. Whilst I do not wholly repudiate this claim, I suggest that that it beco become mess more more subs substa tant ntia iall and and more more plau plausi sibl blee when when plac placed ed with within in a framework which views modernity not as a single, homogeneous entity, but as an inter internall nally y diverse diverse interw interweavi eaving ng of variou variouss cultur cultural al strand strands. s. By consid considerin ering g the nature of these strands, I identify four influential forms of modern selfhood: the bestowed self, the rational self, the boundless self and the effective self. I explore these these render rendering ingss of selfh selfhood ood and some some of the more common common confli conflicts cts between between them, and suggest that it is in terms of such conflict that the fragmentation thesis makes most sense. In the course of this exploration of the strands of modern selfhood I show how closely Christianity is implicated in all of them, and draw out the implications of this analysis for contemporary attempts to forge Christian anthropologies. I reflect in particu particular lar upon upon the commun communita itaria rian, n, Trinit Trinitari arian, an, relati relation onal al unders understand tanding ing of selfho selfhood od which which seems seems to domin dominate ate much much recent recent theolo theology, gy, and sugges suggestt ways ways in which it may fail to meet the challenges posed by conflicting contemporary construals struals of selfho selfhood. od. I also also consid consider er briefl briefly y the possi possibi bility lity that that Christ Christian ian anthr anthroopolog pology y may have have someth something ing to learn learn from from the succes successs of certai certain n contemp contempor orary ary forms of Christianity, not least the evangelical-charismatic upsurge.
The fragmentation thesis The question of how human identity is constituted in modern societies has long been of central concern to sociologists. One of the most influential theses to arise from from consid considera eratio tion n of this this quest question ion postu postulate latess the fragme fragmentat ntation ion of identi identity ty in modernity. According to the fragmentation thesis, many of the most central and char charac acte teri rist stic ic proc proces esse sess of mode modern rnit ity y lead lead dire direct ctly ly to the the dece decent ntri ring ng and and destab destabili ilizat zation ion of human human identi identity ty.. It is claime claimed d that that whereas whereas in tradit traditiona ionall and premod premodern ern societ societies ies the self self was firmly firmly embedde embedded d in wider, wider, stable stable system systemss of meaning and social organization, modern societies have witnessed the breakdown of such order and stability and the concomitant collapse of stable identities. This is to put the fragmentation thesis at its most abstract. In practice, different theorists work out the thesis in more concrete ways, developing different versions in the process. To take one of the more influential examples, the British sociologist Anthony Giddens characterizes modernity in terms of a number of inter-related processes including: 1. 2. 3.
the the speed speed and exten extentt of change change in the mode modern rn worl world d detrad detraditi itional onaliza ization tion and and the loss loss of a sense of the the authorit authority y of the past past reflexivity reflexivity,, the proces processs whereby whereby ‘social ‘social process processes es are const constantly antly examined examined and reformed in the light of incoming information about those very practices, thus constitutively altering their character’ 1 global globalizin izing g proces processes ses that ‘lift ‘lift out’ out’ socia sociall relatio relations ns from local local contex contexts ts and 2 restructure them ‘across indefinite spans of space–time.’
Giddens argues that the effect of these macro-processes is felt even at the level of the personal and intimate. Their impact on self-identity is immense, and all serve to fragm fragmen ent, t, dest destab abil iliz izee and and disr disrup uptt that that iden identi tity ty – in a proc proces esss which which Gidd Gidden enss 3 portrays as simultaneously emancipatory and fraught with danger. Gidden Giddens’ s’ statem statement ent of the fragmen fragmentat tation ion thesis thesis,, and of its relati relation on to wider wider struct structur ural al change, change, carries carries echoes echoes of Marx’s Marx’s much much earlier earlier depict depiction ion of the same same phenomenon. In The Communist Manifesto, for example, Marx spoke of modernity in terms of [the] [the] consta constant nt revolu revolution tionisi ising ng of produ productio ction, n, uninte uninterru rrupte pted d distur disturban bance ce of relations, everlasting uncertainty and agitation... All fixed, fast-frozen relationships, ships, with their venerable venerable ideas and opinions opinions,, are swept away, all new-formed new-formed ones become obsolete before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air... 4
A. Gidd Gidden ens, s, The Consequences of Modernity (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990), pp. 37f.
Theology and the Fragmentation of the Self
Yet Giddens sees that the fragmentation thesis has gained further force since Marx as a result of wide cultural developments, not all of which need to be related back to macro-economic transformation. Those who identify themselves as sociologists of the postmodern have been particularly active in detailing these developments and in suggesting their constitutive importance for the decentring of the subject. Different theor theoris ists ts poin pointt to diff differ eren entt cult cultur ural al deve develo lopme pment ntss as key key to this this proc proces ess. s. So Baudrillard, for example, singles out the new electronic media of communication as most influential in the disruption and falsification of the self and social relations; Lacan shows how psychoanalysis reveals the self to be a problematic on-going proje project ct rather rather than than a stable stable given; given; Foucau Foucault lt presen presents ts the modern modern subjec subjectt as the product of different forms of disciplinary power; and those influenced by linguistic theor theory y since since Sauss Saussur uree pict pictur uree the the self self as the the inhab inhabit itan antt of unst unstab able le worl worlds ds of meaning and identity never fully amenable to control and closure. Despite debate and disagreement about the processes by which the modern and postmodern self has become fragmented, there is thus widespread agreement that such such frag fragmen menta tati tion on has has inde indeed ed taken taken place place,, and and that that the the mode modern rn self self stan stands ds in significant discontinuity with the stable identities that are thought to characterize the inhabitants of premodern societies. The transition from pre- to postmodernity is seen seen to be accompan accompanied ied inevit inevitably ably by the transi transitio tion n from from stabl stablee to increa increasin singly gly fragmented identity. 5 And yet, despite the extent of the agreement that surrounds the fragmentation thesis, and despite the thesis’ undeniable explanatory power in a number of areas, it still seems vulnerable on several fronts. First, it is far from clear that the assumption that modern selves and identities are in a state of chronic disruption is anything other than an assumption; a good case can be made for saying that the burden of proof in this matter still lies with the fragmentati fragmentation on thesis. thesis. Until the notion notion of identity identity and the mechanisms by which it is formed are more clearly understood, the gathering of evidence in this matter is bound to be difficult, yet in practice the fragmentation thesis seems often to rely on anecdotal and autobiographical evidence, conclusions derived from developments in high culture (especially French philosophy), and contestable readings of popular culture. Counter evidence, which suggests that strong and stable identities are still aliv alivee and and well well in the mod modern ern world orld,, must must als also be tak taken into into acco accoun untt. The The resurgence and resistance of religious, ethnic and national identities must count as a major part of this evidence – even though the fragmentation thesis can explain such unexpected phenomena in terms of a reaction to fragmentation, this is an argument that very easily becomes circular. Other counter evidence includes, for example, 5
S. Hall, Hall, ‘The Questio Question n of Cultural Cultural Identi Identity’ ty’ in S. Hall, D. Held Held and T. McGrew, McGrew, eds, Modernity and Its Futures (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992), pp. 273–316, presents a good good summ summar ary y of socio sociolo logi gica call theo theori ries es of iden identi tity ty whic which h make makess the the exte extent nt of the the
the persistence and continuing influence of stable ‘Enlightenment’ discourses of humanity, human rights and human values, 6 and readings of popular culture which show show how, how, agai agains nstt the the read readin ings gs of post postmo mode dern rn theo theoris rists ts,, clear clear ident identit ity y type typess continue to be recognized and reinforced in many areas. 7 Furthe Furthermo rmore, re, the fragme fragment ntatio ation n thesis thesis’’ found foundatio ational nal belief belief that that there there was a premod premodern ern era in which which selves selves and identi identitie tiess were were (even (even relati relatively vely)) stable stable and uncon uncontes tested ted seems seems highly highly dubio dubious. us. There There is a reveali revealing ng disagr disagreeme eement nt between between theorists about when and where this golden (or benighted) age existed. Some tend to identify it with the Enlightenment and its presumed belief in rational, substantial selv selves es (mos (mostt nota notabl bly y the the Cart Cartes esia ian n self self). ). Othe Others rs iden identi tify fy it with with so-c so-cal alle led d ‘traditional’ societies, which are pictured as undifferentiated and deeply religious, their religion consisting of a set of ancient beliefs, practices and institutions that were unified unified,, consis consisten tentt and uncha unchangi nging ng,, which which regula regulated ted every every aspect aspect of life, life, which were accepted unquestioningly as the edicts of higher power, and which had sovereign authority over the obedient and heteronomous individual. As Zygmunt Bauman puts it In the the ‘tra ‘tradi diti tion onal’ al’ way way of life life.. .... the the tota totalit lity y of ways ways and and means means,, in all all its its aspects, was lived as if validated by powers no human will or whim could chal challe lenge nge;; life life as a whol wholee was was a prod produc uctt of Divi Divine ne crea creati tion on,, moni monitor tored ed by Divine providence. Free will, if it existed at all, could mean only... freedom to choose wrong over right... to depart from the way of the world as God ordained it; and anything that visibly deflected from custom was seen as such a breach. Being in the right, on the other hand, was not a matter of choice: it meant, on the contrary, avoiding choice – following the customary way of life. All this changed, however, with the gradual loosening of the grip of tradition. 8 Bauman mentions traditional Christianity as an example of the sort of society he is speaking of – yet it is extremely hard to tally his remarks with any known period of Christian history. If such traditional societies full of stable selves really existed, it seems strange that so few historians and anthropologists have yet stumbled upon them them.. One One is left left with with a stro trong sus suspici picio on that that such such societ cietiies exi exist in the ideologically conditioned imaginings of sociologists rather than in historical reality. This objection is tied to a wider one. The fragmentation thesis seems weakened by its dependence upon what David Martin (speaking in relation to the secularization ization thesis thesis)) calls calls a ‘unili ‘unilinear near view view of histo history’ ry’.. 9 On this view, history moves 6
P. Heelas Heelas,, ‘On Things Things Not Being Being Worse Worse and the Ethic Ethic of Humanit Humanity’ y’ in P. Heelas, Heelas, S. Detraditionali onalization zation.. Critical Critical Reflection Reflectionss on Authority Authority and Lash and P. Morris, eds, Detraditi Identity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), pp. 200–22. 7 See, See, for exampl example, e, D. Kellne Kellner, r, ‘Popular ‘Popular Culture Culture and the Construc Constructio tion n of Postmode Postmodern rn
Theology and the Fragmentation of the Self
forward through a set of identifiable stages, all societies inevitably pass through these stages, and the different social processes within each stage are ultimately convergent. Most commonly, the unilinear view divides history into three stages: the premodern (or traditional), the modern, and the postmodern, with each stage viewed as a cultural whole – at least to the extent that generalizations about identity are thought to hold good for each period in toto. It is scep scepti tici cism sm abou aboutt this this unil unilin inea earr view view – toge togeth ther er with with the the fore forego goin ing g criticisms of the fragmentation thesis – which suggest that it may be helpful to retain some of its insights whilst recasting it in a way which is more sceptical of catch-all periodizations, and which, even if it accepts the usefulness of the category of the modern, can take account of its cultural diversity, and of its continuities as well as discontinuities with the past.
Recasting the fragmentation thesis How might it be possible to preserve the insights contained in the fragmentation thesis, whilst avoiding its tendency to generalize about modernity and the crises of identity to which it gives rise? One way in which this may be done is by recasting the fragmentation thesis in terms of a more nuanced understanding of modernity, an understanding which recognizes that modernity is not one thing and attempts to make ake sens ense of its diver iverssity ity thro throu ugh a sch schemat ematiz izat atio ion n of its its mai main cul cultura turall trajectories, currents or strands. By its nature, any such schematization is bound to be somewh somewhat at arbitr arbitrary ary,, provis provision ional al and inadeq inadequat uatee to the complex complex reality reality of mode modern rnit ity. y. Yet, Yet, as I hope hope to show show,, the the atte attemp mptt to ‘str ‘stran and’ d’ mode modern rnit ity y may may nevertheless provide us with an extremely useful tool of understanding, and may illuminate sociological generalizations like those about fragmentation in new and helpful ways. One of the most impressive and helpful schematizations of modernity arose out of close empirical research into post-1960s American moral and cultural attitudes. Steven Tipton’s Getting Saved from the Sixties (1982) gave an early presentation of this this schemat schematizat ization ion,, thoug though h Tipton Tipton himsel himselff was drawi drawing ng upon upon earlier earlier work work by Bellah, as well as upon typologies of moral philosophy and theology. 10 In 1985 this schematization was again used in Bellah and Tipton et al.’s Habits of the Heart , once more revealing its power to account for the patterns of values and attitudes revea reveale led d by the the book book’s ’s empir empiric ical al rese resear arch. ch. In 1989 1989 the the sche scheme me was was recas recastt by Charles Taylor in his Sources of the Self , this time in the course of a narration of the main main phil philos osop ophi hical cal and and reli religi giou ouss sour source cess of the the mode modern rn self self rath rather er than than an 10
One of the the main influe influences nces upon upon Tipton’s Tipton’s formula formulation tion of this this schemati schematizati zation on was a ThD
empirical empirical survey. survey.11 And And most most rece recent ntly ly,, Paul Paul Heel Heelas as’’ stud study y of The The New Age Movement has shown once again the power of this schematization (of which he gives a particularly clear synthetic rendering) to illuminate and explain one of the more intriguing cultural and religious developments of late modernity. 12 The The sche schemat matiz izat atio ion n of moder moderni nity ty as it appe appear arss in Tipt Tipton on divi divides des mode modern rn culture and its ‘styles of ethical evaluation’ into four main strands: authoritative, regular regular,, conseq consequen uential tial and express expressive ive.. 13 As Tipt Tipton on expl explai ains ns this this sche scheme me,, the the authoritative is oriented toward an authoritative source of morality and truth – a God, sacred scripture, or authoritative leader, who is known by faith. The regular locat locates es the the good good in rules rules or prin princip ciple less know known n by reas reason on.. The cons conseq eque uenti ntial al is oriented toward principles which are tested by cost–benefit analysis; though it is concerned with maximizing benefit, the nature of this benefit is left open to the actor actor to decide decide.. Finally Finally,, the expres expressiv sivee takes takes its author authority ity from from ‘withi ‘within’ n’,, from from personal feelings and intuitions. Its goal is appropriate, sincere and honest selfexpression. Clearly this scheme operates at a high level of generality. Neither Tipton nor the other scholars who make use of it would wish to claim that it offered anything more than a framework within which to organize and understand a vast array of diverse and often highly subtle cultural positions. Taylor’s Sources of the Self , for example, is effective in showing the ways in which each strand is represented and developed by a vari variety ety of ph phil ilos osop ophi hica call and and theo theolo logi gical cal writ writer ers. s. Each Each stra strand nd maps maps a clus cluster ter of positions which are diverse – and yet which, despite their differences, have enough in common to be classified within the same broad trajectory. The attempt to come to a fuller and more nuanced understanding of modern cult cultur uree by iden identi tify fyin ing g its its main main stra strand ndss has has an imme immedi diat atee rele releva vanc ncee for for the the fragmentation thesis. As Taylor shows particularly clearly, each of the strands of moder modern n cult culture ure embe embeds ds a part partic icula ularr form form of ident identit ity. y. And And the the simp simple le fact fact that that modernity offers a number of different cultural possibilities for the self is enough to explain explain why ident identity ity confus confusion ion and fragmen fragmentat tation ion occur. occur. To that that extent extent plural plural theories of identity may be used to recast the fragmentation thesis. Extrapolating from such theories, fragmentation may be viewed not so much as the result of certain universal and unilinear modern processes, but as born from the confusion generated by the plural modes of selfhood available to modern men and women. 11
In his his own own word words, s, Taylor Taylor pres presen ents ts a ‘map ‘map’’ which which ‘dis ‘distr trib ibut utes es the the mora morall sour source cess [of [of modernity] into three large domains: the original theistic grounding... a second one that centres on a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms; and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism or in one of the modernist successor visions’. See C. Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1989), p. 495. 12 P. He Heelas, The (Oxford rd:: Blac Blackw kwel ell, l, 1996 1996). ). It is thro throug ugh h my The Ne New w Age Age Move Moveme ment nt (Oxfo
Theology and the Fragmentation of the Self
Four strands of modern identity Bellah, Taylor and other commentators build upon the original stranding model proposed by Tipton in various ways. Continuing this enterprise, I shall in turn offer an interpretation of this scheme, and an attempt to spell out its implications for an understanding of identity in the modern world.
Authoritative strand: the bestowed self Whilst Tipton’s exposition of the authoritative strand tends to focus upon a ‘higher’ authority which stands over against the individual, and to which the individual must be obedient, I believe it is helpful to understand this strand and its construal of identity rather more broadly. On this wider understanding, the authoritative strand is identified by its insistence upon the necessity of looking beyond the self in order to understand and to perfect the self. The human being is understood, not as selfsuff suffici icien ent, t, but but as form formed ed thro throug ugh h wide widerr relat relatio ions ns,, whet whethe herr that that be with with God, God, scripture, a religious community, the family, or some other authoritative source or site. Contrary to Tipton’s understanding, such authority need not be thought of as comple completel tely y extern external al to the indiv individu idual, al, but may be conceiv conceived ed as somet somethin hing g with with which the individual becomes bound up inseparably – a community into which the individual is incorporated, or a God who, as Holy Spirit, indwells an individual and their community, for example. For this strand, true selfhood is something which is rece receiv ived ed or best bestow owed ed.. It is not not the the natu natura rall inhe inheri rita tanc ncee or achi achiev evem ement ent of an indi indivi vidu dual al,, and and it dema demand ndss an atti attitu tude de not not just just of pass passiv ivee obed obedie ienc nce, e, but but of receptiveness, openness, gratitude and (possibly) faith. The authoritative strand incorporates both religious and secular, Christian and non-Christian construals of selfhood. To begin with the Christian, many aspects of Chri Christ stia ian n doctr doctrin inee and and pract practic icee prov provid idee evid eviden ence ce of the the impo import rtan ance ce of such such a cons constr trua uall with within in Chri Christ stia iani nity ty.. Comm Common on Chri Christ stia ian n use use of the the lang langua uage ge and and conceptuality of ‘creatureliness’, for example, throws the emphasis, not onto the individual actor and his or her ‘nature’, but upon human beings existing in relation to God God the the crea creato torr and and to othe otherr crea create ted d being beings. s. So Psal Psalm m 8, in answ answer erin ing g the the question ‘What is man?’ depicts human beings not in terms of their possession of a particular nature or attributes, but in terms of their position intermediate between God (‘a little less than God’) and the rest of the created order. Jesus’ preference for the term ‘neighbour’ reveals a similar reluctance to define the self in terms of its possession of a certain substance or attributes. The neighbour is rather the concrete person upon whom one stumbles in life’s path, the one to whom one is bound by the 14 simple fact of proximity (neighbour = proximus). The The centr central al Chri Christ stia ian n rite rite of bapt baptis ism m may may also also be cite cited d as evid eviden ence ce of the the
an understanding of the human person born not just by natural human means, but by the gift of God’s grace and through membership of the Christian community. In the radical radical form form develo developed ped by August Augustine ine,, this this belief belief was expounde expounded d in terms terms of a notion of original sinfulness (the natural human state) which can only be (partially) overcome through the second birth of baptism. Though Christian interpretations and and unde unders rsta tand ndin ings gs of huma human n sinf sinful ulne ness ss are are vari variou ous, s, some some sens sensee of sin sin as an inescapable part of the human condition is common in many forms of Christianity. The naked self is both insufficient and corrupt. It stands in constant need of divine grac gracee for for rede redemp mpti tion on from from this this cond condit itio ion. n. Only Only by such such a mean meanss as regu regula larr partic particip ipati ation on in Christ Christian ian worshi worship, p, the gift gift of Word Word and sacram sacrament, ent, prayer prayer and discipline, can the imago dei in man and woman be realized. As well as stressing the importance of God and the Christian community in the bestowal of selfhood, some forms of Christianity additionally stress the importance of other authoritative engagements. The Lutheran tradition, for example, develops the notion of different ‘orders’ of creation, different spheres through participation in which human beings obey divine calling. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer expounds this tradition, for example, there are four such spheres (or realms of divine ‘mandate’): marriage, government, labour and church. To be fully human is to live creatively and obediently in each of these spheres. It is to be husband or wife, citizen, worker or member of the church – not a self-subsisting and self-sufficient individual. 15 The belief that identity is bestowed by participation in community is not, of course course,, exclus exclusive ive to Christ Christian ian though thought. t. Many Many forms forms of contemp contempora orary ry commucommunitarianism provide clear evidence of how the authoritative strand of culture may be given a secular rendering. 16 Some communitarianism also draws upon a wide range of older lder sources rces,, some of them them secu secullar, ar, ran ranging ing fro from Aris Aristo totl tlee to John Macmurray.17 Relat Related ed atte attemp mpts ts to reco recover ver the the inst institu ituti tion on of the the famil family y and and to pres presen entt it as the the main main site site of soul soul-m -mak akin ing g also also work work with within in the the traj trajec ector tory y of besto bestowe wed d self selfho hood od,, and and thes thesee too too are are mani manifes festt in both both secu secular lar and and Chri Christ stia ian n forms.18
Liberal humanistic strand: the rational self In contrast to the authoritative strand of culture, which rejects the idea that selfhood is cons consti titu tuted ted by poss posses essi sion on of a part partic icul ular ar natu nature re or attr attrib ibut utes es,, the the libe libera rall humanistic strand takes its stand on just this belief. Selfhood is construed in terms of being human, and humanity is construed in terms of the possession of a rational nature. The roots of this strand of rational selfhood can be traced at least as far as 15 16
D. Bonh Bonhoe oeff ffer er,, Ethics (London: SCM Press, 1978), pp. 252–67. See, See, for examp example le,, A. MacIn MacInty tyre re,, Afte Afterr Virt Virtue ue.. A Stud Studyy in Moral Moral Theo Theory ry (London:
Theology and the Fragmentation of the Self
Plato, and it was kept alive within some traditions of Christian thought until revived and and rene renewed wed by the the Rena Renaiss issan ance ce and and Enli Enligh ghten tenme ment nt and and unde underg rgir irde ded d by the the successes of scientific reasoning. Descartes’ famous depiction of the human person as thin thinki king ng subj subjec ectt give givess this this stra strand nd one one of its its clear clearest est and and most most infl influe uent ntia iall arti articul culat atio ions ns,, as does does Kant Kant’s ’s categ categor oric ical al impe imperat rativ ivee with with its its bidd biddin ing g to treat treat ‘rat ‘ratio iona nall natu nature re’’ as an end end in itse itself lf ‘whe ‘wheth ther er in your your own own perso person n or in that that of another’.19 In secula secularr rende rendering ringss of the liberal liberal hu huma manis nistt strand, strand, selfho selfhood od is identif identified ied with with the the po poss sses essi sion on of ratio rationa nalit lity y beca becaus use e it is this this whic which h defin defines es the the hu huma man n being; in Christian renderings, it is the possession of rationality which constitutes the image of God in man. For both, reason is understood as the ability to know, to think think,, to un unde ders rstan tand. d. Abov Above e all, all, perh perhaps aps,, it is the the abili ability ty to disc discern ern orde order. r. As Taylor puts it, ‘reason can be understood as the perception of the natural or right 20 order, and to be ruled by reason is to be ruled by a vision of this order alone’. Through its perception of order, the rational itself becomes ordered. By imposing control over other potentially rebellious elements of the self – spirit, desires, the body bo dy,, anim animal al natu nature re – a pers person on beco become mess fully fully hu hum man; an; virtu virtues es such such as selfselfmastery, self-control, temperance, even-temperedness and consistency are highly prized within this strand of selfhood, and the category of law is central. But the order which the rational self discerns and brings into being extends beyond its own own bo boun undar daries ies.. Ratio Rational nal selfho selfhood od const construe ruess the self self as bo boun unded ded,, as existi existing ng with within in clea clearr limits limits,, and and as takin taking g its its allo allotte tted d plac place e with within in a wide widerr (nat (natur ural al or providential) order whose laws reason can discern. So the rational self tends to be clearly differentiated from God, from other human beings and, particularly and decis decisivel ively, y, fro from m anim animals als (the (the no non-r n-ratio ationa nal). l). Again Again,, this this for forms ms some somethi thing ng of a contrast with the bestowed self, whose boundaries are more blurred, and which exists not as an individual monad, but through interaction with God and other creatures. The rational self thus has clear limits and a clear individuality. But within its own sphere it is sovereign. The self’s possession of reason grounds not just its humanity but its liberty. The self, able to know and to understand, must also be able to choose and to will. It has no need of an authority to legislate for it, for it is capable capable of self-l self-legi egisla slation tion.. The ideal ideal for the ration rational al self self is auton autonomy, omy, and the besto bestowed wed self self (espec (especiall ially y as repres represente ented d by pre-En pre-Enlig light htenmen enmentt Christ Christian ianity ity)) is rejected as heteronomous. Equally, the rationality of the self grounds its equality and fraternity with other selves. Since all human beings possess reason, and all are subject to the same universal laws, all human beings must be equal. Though women were were some someti time mess excl exclud uded ed from from this this equa equati tion, on, the the firs firstt femi femini nist stss were were able able to appropriate the rationalists’ own belief in a liberty common to humanity to fight this exclusion.
Like Like the the best bestow owed ed self self,, the the rati ration onal al self self has has both both reli religi giou ouss and and secu secula larr renderings. Deistic or rationalistic theistic interpretations of Christianity were key to the emergence of this strand of selfhood at the beginning of the modern era. In late laterr cent centur uries ies it has has been been most most clea clearl rly y mani manife fest st in Chri Christ stia ianit nity y in some some of the the varied forms of belief and practice subsumed under the wide heading of liberal Christianity (in the twentieth century, for example, it was clearly evident in the ‘personalist’ interpretations of Christianity so central to Liberal Theology in the 1920s and 1960s). This strand has also been prominent in other non-Christian and post-C post-Chri hristi stian an forms forms of modern modern religi religion on;; in Comte’ Comte’ss propo proposal sal for a ‘relig ‘religio ion n of humanity’, and in many of the forms of alternative spirituality which appeared in the West in the first part of this century, for example. 21 And, of course, the rational self self has has also also take taken n viol violen entl tly y anti anti-r -rel elig igio ious us form formss – in trad tradit itio ions ns of secu secula larr humanism and free thought, for example. The continuing influence of this strand of selfhoo selfhood d is still still appare apparent nt today today in the the contin continuin uing g and uncon uncontro trover versia siall appeal appeal to ‘human values’, ‘humanitarian values’, ‘human rights’, ‘freedom of choice’ and ‘human equality’. 22
Expressive strand: the boundless self Some sociologists and social commentators argue that a ‘turn to the self’ constitutes one of the most most striki striking ng and generaliz generalized ed featur features es of late late modern modernity ity.. So Taylor Taylor speaks of ‘the massive subjective turn of modern culture’, Talcott Parsons refers to an ‘expressive revolution’, and Ronald Inglehart identifies the same phenomenon as a ‘sil ‘silent ent revo revolut lutio ion’ n’.. 23 The The revo revolu luti tion on find findss its its clear cleares estt and and most most extr extrem emee example in the emergence of a new mode of selfhood: the boundless self. In many ways the boundless self seems diametrically opposed to the rational self. Most obviously, it differs through its rejection of rationality. The expressive stran strand d not not only only deni denies es that that rati ration onal alit ity y is the the defi defini ning ng mark mark of the the huma human, n, it is actively opposed to reason and its rule. Here its romantic origins are most clearly evid eviden ent. t. In plac placee of reas reason on,, the the expr express essiv ivee stra strand nd exal exalts ts feel feelin ing, g, intu intuit ition ion and and creativ creativee impulse impulse.. The desire desiress which which Enligh Enlightenm tenment ent reason reason sough soughtt to order order and control are unleashed and liberated, and reason’s activity in ordering, differentiating, analysing and dividing is abandoned in favour of a search for connections, linkages, harmonies and creative unities. The The bou boundles dlesss sel self als also diff differ erss fro from the the ratio ation nal self elf in its its refu refussal to acknowledge bounds or limitations to selfhood and in its refusal to differentiate self from God, from others, and from the natural order. It is this unbounded and ‘dediffer different entiat iated’ ed’ qualit quality y which which marks marks the most most charact characteri eristic stic strand strand of selfho selfhood od
Theology and the Fragmentation of the Self
according to this tradition. The bestowed self stands not in relation to God, nor in isolation from God, nor in a Godless universe, but totally immersed in the divine. In its more religious renderings this strand of selfhood speaks of the self as having two modes: the everyday, phenomenal, limited self (the self with a small ‘s’), and the true, unfathomable Self, which is one with all (the self with a big ‘S’). For the boundless and sacralized self, the goal of human life is to break through the illusion which is the ‘self’ to the divine reality which is the ‘Self’. Finally, the boundless self differs from the rational self in its high valuation of the the natu natura rall worl world. d. Wher Wheree the the rati ration onal al self self was was shar sharpl ply y diff differ eren enti tiat ated ed from from the the natural and non-rational world (as from its own ‘animal’ nature) the boundless self tends to embrace the natural as part of its own essence. Nature is no longer an arena in which the divine may be partially revealed through law-like order; nature is now divinized. As such, nature is now understood to be deeply linked to the self, and self-realization and contemplation become complementary activities. In some respects, however, the boundless self reveals a closer continuity with the rational self than might be imagined. For a start, the boundless self takes over – and take takess furt furthe herr – the the rati ration onal al self’ self’ss exalt exaltat atio ion n of freed freedom om.. In addit additio ion, n, as Tayl Taylor or emphasizes, both traditions manifest an ‘inward turn’, the privileging of the ‘inner’ over the ‘outer’, which is such a characteristic mark of contemporary selfhood. This subjective turn may be seen as part of a wider and even more far-reaching process by which the self comes to usurp privileges formerly reserved for God. If the tradition of the rational self begins this process, that of the boundless self completes it. Now the self is seen as omnipotent and as intrinsically good, the source of all value and the creator of all meaning. For the boundless self, morality becomes a matter of selfexpression, and the self-referential notions of authenticity become the key virtues. Whereas the rational self and the bestowed self may be understood within either secular or religious frames of reference, it should be clear that the notion of the boundless self lends itself particularly easily to a spiritual rendering. This can, however, take more or less explicitly religious forms. The expressivist turn is now visible in many quarters, some of them religious only in the most minimal sense. As Heelas explains: Educ Educat atio ional nalis ists ts,, ther therap apist ists, s, coun counsel sello lors rs,, mana manage gemen mentt trai trainer nerss and and HRD HRD specialists, readers of psychological self-help books, social workers, members of AA, counter-culturalists, and students are among those most likely to think in terms of delving within to ‘get in touch with one’s feelings’, to discover and cultivate one’s ‘authenticity’ and in general to experience the riches of life itself.24 Heelas’ argument, however, is that the boundless self comes into clearest focus in its its most most radi radica call – its its most most reli religi giou ouss – rend render erin ings gs.. He rega regard rdss the the New New Age Age
the God within. Charismatic Christianity, with its deeply experiential focus, may represe represent nt the most most impor important tant Christ Christian ian render rendering ing (and (and re-ord re-orderin ering) g) of the same same cultural strand.
Utilitarian strand: the effective self Steven Tipton traces the utilitarian strands of modern culture back to the work of Thomas Hobbes. He draws the contrast between Luther’s authoritative stance and Hobbes’ utilitarian individualism in the following terms: For Luther, all men are equal by virtue of their relation to the highest authority, God. For Hobbes, all men are equal by virtue of their relation to the most basic drive, namely preservation. Protestantism relates the individual to the absolute and personally unique judgments of God. Utilitarianism relates the individual to the the cons consta tant nt end end of his his own own self self-p -pre rese serv rvati ation on.. It also also rela relate tess him him to the the shifting, comparable (to objects as well as to other persons), and impersonal judgments of the relative utility of means to the end of self-preservation. self-preservation. Every man has his price in this sense, just as every thing does. 25 As Tipton explains, the utilitarian individual in the twentieth as much as in the six sixtee teenth nth cen century tury,, con onc centra ntrate tess on ‘see ‘seek king ing to sati satisf sfy y his own wants nts or 26 interests’. Here, selfhood is seen to consist in effectiveness – in the effective reali realiza zati tion on of on one’ e’ss go goal alss and and the the effe effect ctiv ive e sati satisfa sfacti ction on of on one’ e’ss want wants. s. The The nature of these goals and wants remains open. This strand of modern culture is pure pu rely ly ‘pro ‘proce cedu dura ral’. l’. It is conc concer erne ned d to maxim aximize ize effi efficie cienc ncy, y, to devi devise se bett better er means for the attainment of ends, but it does not prescribe or proscribe the ends themselves themselves.. In Tipton’s Tipton’s understand understanding, ing, the ends which utilitarian utilitarian individuali individualism sm seeks tend to be the goals which are widely accepted in the culture as a whole – which which today means means happiness happiness,, success success in relationship relationships, s, wealth, wealth, power, power, success, success, material goods and sensation. Anthony Robbins, the self-help guru, exemplifies Unlimi mited ted Po Powe wer: r: The New New Scien Science ce of this this po posi sitio tion n in his his bestbest-se selli lling ng bo book ok Unli Personal Achievement :
If I were to say to you in two words what this book is about, I’d say: Producing results! Think about it. Isn’t that what you’re really interested in? Maybe you want to change how you feel about yourself and your world. Maybe you’d like to be a better communicator, develop a more loving relationship, learn more rapidly, become healthier, or earn more money. You can create all of these thing ings for your ourself self,, and and much much mor more, thro hrough ugh the effe effect ctiive use use of the 27 information in this book.
Theology and the Fragmentation of the Self
Unlike the boundless self, then, the effective self is not thought of as particularly ‘deep’ or ‘sacred’, nor as the natural possessor of a plenitude of resources. Its wants are are many many,, and and they they must must be sati satisf sfie ied d in orde orderr that that adeq adequat uatee self selfho hood od may may be achieved.28 Yet though the effective self does not have the confident plenitude of the the bound boundles lesss self, self, it does does have have potenti potential. al. This This strand strand of selfho selfhood od assume assumess the existence of untapped capacities of the self that can be maximized through the harnes harnessin sing g of all availa available ble techni techniques ques.. And very often often these these capaci capacities ties will will be viewed as limitless; there is no end to what the self may achieve when it becomes truly effective – hence the use of the word ‘unlimited’ in Robbins’ title. The effect effective ive self thus thus displa displays ys some some simila similarit rities ies with with the bound boundles lesss self, self, part particu icula larl rly y in its its unde unders rsta tand nding ing of the the self self as (pot (poten entia tiall lly) y) infi infini nite te.. Like Like the the boundless self, and to some degree the rational self, the effective self may also be view viewed ed as a mani manife fest stat atio ion n of the the wide widerr subj subjec ecti tive ve turn turn so char charac acter teris isti ticc of modern modernity ity.. In Heelas’ Heelas’ view, view, ‘The ‘The traject trajectory ory has to do with with an instru instrumen mental talized ized 29 rendering of that ‘‘turn within’’.’ Similarly, the rational self and the effective self are linked by a common emphasis upon the importance of the will. As we have seen, the rational self is a self which reasons and makes its choices on the basis of that reasoning; the will is seen as the enforcer of reason’s deliverances. The liberal humanistic strand’s stress on the importance of human liberty is tied up with its confidence in the ability of each individual to make his or her own choices – and stands in contrast to more pessimistic Christian understandings of the weakness and corruption of the human will. But the effective self takes voluntarism even further than the rational self, and the will becomes more prominent than any other faculty, including reason. For the effective self, there is no limit to the capacity of the human will. Human beings are, above all, beings who make choices, and effective human beings are those who make effective choices. There is nothing that the will cannot achieve if it is sufficiently powerful, directed, informed and disciplined – there is nothing which lies outside its control. Despite the fact that the effective self’s belief in its own potentially unlimited powe powerr and and its its sove sovere reig ign n and and effe effect ctiv ivee will will puts puts it at odds odds with with many many more more trad tradit ition ional al Chri Christ stia ian n unde unders rsta tand ndin ings gs of self selfho hood od,, the the effe effect ctiv ivee self self does does have have religious – and Christian – renderings. The father of self-help, Norman Vincent Peale, was a Christian minister who presented his self-help gospel as a spiritual message. Similarly, American Protestantism has recently spawned various forms of ‘pros ‘prosper perity ity gospe gospel’, l’, which which promi promise se materi material al bless blessing ingss and enhanc enhanced ed person personal al effectiveness and contentment as the ‘gifts of the Spirit’. Steven R. Covey’s recent highly successful interpretation of the self-help genre, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People , shows shows this this spirit spirituali ualizin zing g tenden tendency cy contin continuin uing g into into the 1990s. 1990s. Interestingly, Covey not only presents the effective self as compatible with spiritual ideals, he also presents it as compatible with respect for human values. In this way
Covey shows the remarkable assimilative qualities of effective selfhood; the way it is able to draw eclectically, and in utilitarian fashion, on other strands of modern selfhood.30 As the back cover of the book proclaims: Steven R. Covey presents a holistic, integrated, principle-centred approach for solvi solving ng person personal al and profe professi ssion onal al proble problems. ms... .. Covey Covey reveals reveals a step-b step-by-s y-step tep pathway pathway for living living with with fairne fairness, ss, integr integrity ity,, honest honesty, y, and human human dignit dignity y – principles that give us the security to adapt to change, and the wisdom and power to take advantage of the opportunities that change creates.
Theology and the fragmentation thesis When recast in terms of the different sources of modern culture and selfhood, the frag fragme ment ntat atio ion n thes thesis is assu assume mess a sign signif ific ican antl tly y new new form form.. No Now w the the caus causee of the the fragmentation of the modern self is seen to lie not so much in the action of monolithic and universal processes of modernity but in the large number of cultural possibilities which compete for the self in the contemporary context. The fragmentation thesis is no longer tied to a unilinear view of history. It can happily accept the historical evidence which indicates that earlier ages and different cultures were not always charact characteri erized zed by stabl stable, e, embedde embedded d identi identitie tiess (such (such as Late Late Antiqu Antiquit ity, y, to take take a striking example). Nor does it have any particular stake in showing that we are now entering a postmodern age of intensified fragmentation. Instead, it accepts that some of the strands of modernity are in significant continuity with premodernity, and is not closed to the possibility that premodernity was itself diverse and stranded. Most importantly, however, the recast fragmentation thesis is better able to expl explai ain n why why moder modern n cris crises es of iden identi tity ty take take the the many many diff differ eren entt form formss they they do. do. Fragmentatio Fragmentation n ceases to be a blanket blanket explanation explanation and becomes becomes a more nuanced tool of analys analysis. is. One example example must must suffice suffice.. Revived Revived nation national, al, racial racial,, religi religious ous and ethnic identities can be understood as variations on the theme of bestowed selfhood. As such such,, thes thesee ident identit itie iess might might be expe expecte cted d to clas clash h with with libe liberal ral human humanis isti ticc renderings of selfhood – as indeed they do. This clash has come into theoretical focus in the rise of forms of communitarianism that distance themselves sharply from liberal humanism, such as MacIntyre’s After Virtue. Feminist writers have also played a central part in attacking the liberal rational self. 31 But some feminists then find themselves embroiled within another conflict, for secular humanism has undergirded the struggle for women’s equal rights in the past, and its overthrow may have serious implications for the feminist cause in the future. In actual life practice as well, it seems that many women find themselves torn between a feminist
Theology and the Fragmentation of the Self
allegiance that tends to encourage very independent forms of selfhood, and family lives that mesh much better with a tradition of bestowed selfhood. 32 Should women priz prizee free freedo dom m abov abovee all all thin things gs (lib (liber eral al huma humani nist st)) or shou should ld they they nurt nurtur uree relationality and connectedness (authoritative)? The debate continues to run, and the recast fragmentation thesis helps bring it into clear focus. As well as helping us interpret contemporary crises of identity, the stranded accou account nt of mode modern rn selfho selfhood od has clear clear relev relevanc ance e for theolo theologic gical al anthro anthropo pology logy.. The current fashion is for anthropologies that restate some version of bestowed selfho selfhood. od. Such Such anthro anthropo polog logies ies strong strongly ly empha emphasiz size e the create created d and relati relationa onall natu nature re of the the self self,, insi insist stin ing g that that pers person onss shou should ld be un unde ders rsto tood od no nott as self self-sufficient or self-created beings, but as creatures who live, move and have their being in the Trinitarian God. It is in Christ that we glimpse perfect humanity, and it is in being ‘conformed to Christ’, as Bonhoeffer put it, that we become fully human. Furthermore, we become human only as part of the body of Christ, the church. As Stephen Fowl and Gregory Jones explain, ‘Being disciplined by the Word enta ntails ils allo llowing ing ou ourr liv lives to be patte attern rne ed in Chr hris ist. t... .. It inv involv olves a willingness to have our lives formed and transformed in and through particular 33 Christian communities.’ communities.’
Contemporary Christian thought about the self is thus at pains to stress that it is only in relation to God and other people that we become fully human. Very often this preoccupation is spelt out in relation to an understanding of the Trinity as the inst instan antia tiati tion on of what what the the infl influe uent ntia iall Orth Orthod odox ox theo theolo logi gian an John John Zizi Ziziou oulas las has has 34 described as ‘being as communion’. Just as the Christian understanding of God is not of a self-contained solitary being, but of a God who is God in relation, so the Christian understanding of the human person is of a being who becomes human only in relation to the other. As Zizioulas says, ‘The being of God is a relational being; without the concept of communion it would not be possible to speak of God... True being comes only from the free person, the person who loves freely – that is, who freely affirms his being, his identity, by means of an event of communion with other persons.’ 35 For Zizioulas, as for other contemporary theologians who share share his his ontolo ontologic gical al insigh insights, ts, this this Trinit Trinitari arian an model model of person personho hood od leads leads directly to the church and, in particular, the eucharist as the site of human formation and perfection. As Alan Torrance says, ‘the ecclesial creation of the New Humanity represents the profoundest expression of our creation in God’s image’ 36 and as Zizioulas says, ‘the church has bound every one of her acts to the eucharist, which 32 33
See L. Woodhea Woodhead, d, ‘Faith, ‘Faith, Feminism Feminism and and the the Family Family’’ Concilium: The Family (1995) pp. 43–52. S.E. S.E. Fowl Fowl and and G. G. Jon Jones es,, Reading in Communion. Scripture and Ethics in Christian Life (London: SPCK, 1991), p. 34.
has as its object man’s transcendence of his biological hypostasis and his becoming an authentic person.’ 37 The influence of Barth, Moltmann, Ju¨ ngel, Pannenberg and even Rahner on this new Trinitarian–ecclesial–eucharistic theological understanding of personhood is clear. So, too, is the influence of the currently fashionable and somewhat more secular classical–r classical–republi epublican–com can–communit munitarian arian traditio tradition n of thought thought represent represented ed by writers like Alasdair MacIntyre, Martha Nussbaum, Robert Bellah and Alan Bloom. In theology the latter tradition is perhaps played out most clearly in the work of Stanley Hauerwas. Hauerwas also develops an ecclesial anthropology of bestowed selfhood, but the Trinity and the eucharist assume a less prominent place in his theology. For Hauerwas, following MacIntyre, it is Christian narrative which takes centre stage; it is in living out the Christian story that church and self are shaped and formed. Similarly, Gerard Loughlin, a British narrative theologian, speaks of human person personho hood od as consis consistin ting g in narrati narrativel vely y forme formed d ecclesi ecclesial al existen existence. ce. As he says, says, ‘Entering [the Christian] story, becoming a character within its storied world, is... a matter of becoming part of the story that embodies the story... shaping consists in the formati formation on of virtuo virtuous us habits habits throug through h commun communal al practi practices.’ ces.’ 38 Selfho Selfhood od,, in other other words, is bestowed by participation in a story-shaped church. To liberal humanist and expressive ears, of course, such talk of a selfhood bestowed by God and the church sounds dangerously ‘heteronomous’ (to use a word plucked plucked from the liberal liberal vocabulary vocabulary). ). The conflict conflict between the liberal and the authoritative traditions of selfhood is, as we have seen, long-standing, and the two hav have been een shap haped by mut mutual ual opp oppositi sition on since ince the Enl Enligh ighten tenmen ment. Some Some communitarians, like Hauerwas, are happy to acknowledge their enmity towards liberalism and to spar with real or imagined liberal opponents, both Christian and secular. Similarly, Gerard Loughlin’s theology often seems framed in opposition to liberalism, though he is equally concerned to critique those like Don Cupitt and Mark C. Taylor whom he calls ‘nihilist postmodern theologians’. The latter tendency is even clearer in Anthony Thiselton’s Interpreting God and the Postmodern Self , where a Christian anthropology of bestowed selfhood is develo developed ped in explic explicit it reacti reaction on to all postmo postmoder dernis nists ts and the entire entire postmo postmoder dern n scene. Despite its undeniable insights and critical power, it is in Thiselton’s book, perhaps, that some of the problems inherent in the current enterprise of restating a communal anthropology of bestowed selfhood come into clearest relief. Thiselton adop adopts ts the the frag fragme ment ntat atio ion n thes thesis is whol wholes esal alee and and with withou outt demu demur. r. For For him him the the postmodern self (the self of today) is simply the fragmented, decentred self. As he says, ‘the postmodern self perceives itself as having lost control as active agent, and as having having been been transf transform ormed ed into into a passiv passivee victim victim of compet competing ing group groups’. s’. 39 The
Theology and the Fragmentation of the Self
culprits in Thiselton’s view include party-politics, capitalism, advertising, bureaucracy cracy – in fact fact,, the the whol wholee cont contemp empor orar ary y We West ster ern n soci socioo-po poli liti tica call matr matrix ix.. For For Thiselton, postmodern thinkers, both Christian and non-Christian, are all those who articulate and thereby reinforce such fragmentation. They range from Nietzsche, Derrida and Foucault on the one hand to Don Cupitt on the other. Against the postmodern self, it is the task of the Christian to reassert belief in a self given by God and a God who gives himself to the self. By such a means, Christianity can reassert belief in love and relationality, and so ‘dissolve the acids of suspicion and deception’.40 The Christian self is a self which is no longer passive victim to pregiven roles and performances, but a self which ‘perceives its call and its value as one-who-is-loved within the larger narrative plot of God’s loving purposes for the world, for society, and for the self.’ 41 In terms erms of the the anal analy ysis for which hich I have ave been een argu arguiing in thi this art article icle,, Thiselton’s blanket condemnation of the postmodern world and the postmodern self is bound up with his uncritical acceptance of the fragmentation thesis. It therefore suffers from a failure to understand the multiple sources of contemporary selfhood, sources which may, as we have seen, ground very stable identities as well as many diff differe erent nt kind kindss of iden identi tity ty cris crisis is and and frag fragmen menta tati tion on.. (Thi (Thise selt lton on’s ’s book book also also illust illustrat rates es how an acceptan acceptance ce of the the undif undiffer ferent entiat iated ed fragme fragment ntatio ation n thesi thesiss often often goes hand and in hand and with with a broad oad-bru -brussh char charac acte terrizat izatiion of mod modern ernity ity or postm postmod odern ernity ity as charact characteri erized zed by unvary unvarying ing and unive universal rsal linear linear proces processes ses.) .) If my analysis is correct, what is needed from theologians today is not such broadbrus brush h chara charact cter eriz izati ation onss and and cond condem emnat natio ions ns of mode modern rnit ity y or post postmo moder derni nity ty,, follo followed wed up by the triump triumphali halist st claim claim that that only only Christ Christian ianity ity can offer offer a viable viable alterna alternativ tive, e, but but more more hones honestt and nuance nuanced d approa approache chess to both both the contemp contempor orary ary world and Christian construals of selfhood. This will involve at least two things: first, a recognition that there are several, often conflicting, strands of contemporary self selfho hood od and, and, seco second nd,, a will willin ingn gnes esss to admit admit that that Chri Christ stia iani nity ty is invo involv lved ed and and implicated in these strands and subject to many of the same tensions. Christianity cann cannot ot,, in othe otherr word words, s, prete pretend nd to stan stand d aloo alooff from from the the prob proble lems ms of moder modern n selfhood and offer a timeless solution. Once it is accepted that the contemporary debate about selfhood is an intraChristian as well as a secular one, it is less easy to escape the fact that enthusiastic theological espousals of bestowed selfhood often amount to an attack on fellow Christians of different persuasions. As we have just seen, some theologians quite deliberately attack other forms of Christian conviction – Thiselton and Loughlin contra the the nihi nihili list st post postmo mode dern rn theo theolo logi gian ans, s, for for exam exampl ple. e. On even even the the most most optimistic estimates the number of such postmodern Christians is, however, tiny. The number of Christians who accept either a liberal or an expressive construal of selfhood (or some combination of the two) is, by contrast, exceedingly large. In a
exam exampl ple, e, Nanc Nancy y Amme Ammerm rman an and and her her team team of rese resear arch cher erss foun found d that that libe libera rall Christians (‘Golden Rule Christians’) were much the most numerous in American churches churches (51%), (51%), outnumberi outnumbering ng even evangelicals evangelicals (29%). (29%). 42 It is also possible to argue argue that that the whole whole Diana Diana pheno phenomen menon on (the (the spiri spiritua tuality lity she she espou espoused sed and the echoes of it in reactions to her death) provides evidence of a similarly widespread relig religio ion n of expr expres essiv sive/ e/li libe beral ral human humanit itar aria iani nism sm on this this side side of the the Atla Atlant ntic ic.. 43 Contemporary anthropologies of bestowed selfhood constitute an attack on such forms of Christianity, and thus on vast numbers of fellow Christians. Obviously this does not invalidate such an enterprise. It should, however, be made more explicit, and borne in mind as a factor which will undoubtedly affect the reception and influence of contemporary anthropologies of bestowed selfhood. A much more serious effect of the failure of many contemporary Christian accounts of selfhood to take seriously their historical situatedness is, I believe, their failu failure re to addr address ess the the crit critic icism ismss of best bestow owed ed self selfho hood od whic which h led led libe libera rals ls and and expressivists to depart from this trajectory in the first place. It is not enough merely to articulate communitarian versions of bestowed selfhood without answering the most weighty and long-standing objections which face them. Of these much the most important is the criticism that such selfhood degrades men and women by plac placin ing g too too much much emph emphas asis is on human human weak weakne ness ss,, falli fallibi bili lity ty,, depe depend nden ence ce and and sinfulness. Such a criticism can be traced at least as far back as Erasmus, though it became much more widespread at the time of the Enlightenment. So frequently does does one one come come acro across ss such such crit critic icism ismss in late late nine ninete teen enthth- and and earl early y twen twenti tieth eth-centur century y litera literature ture that that a good good argume argument nt could could be made for for sayin saying g that that dissat dissatisisfaction with Christian understandings of the human person was at least as important a cause of secularization as the rise of the natural sciences. In the later part of the twentieth century the objection has been stated with fresh force by feminist critics who hold Christian doctrines of bestowed selfhood guilty of reinforcing patriarchal oppression by undermining women’s sense of self-worth and their confidence in their own agency and ability. 44 Such Such critic criticisms isms surely surely need need to be addres addressed sed by contem contempor porary ary advocat advocates es of bestowed selfhood, though they rarely are. How is it possible to assert our complete depen depende denc ncee on God God with withou outt deny denyin ing g human human freed freedom om?? How How is it poss possib ible le to maintai maintain n belief belief in human human agency agency whilst whilst insist insisting ing that that the self self is consti constitute tuted d by relationality? And how is it possible to remain faithful to Christian doctrines of human sinfulness in ways which do not undercut belief in human dignity and have 42
N.T. N.T. Amme Ammerm rman an et al., Congregation and Community (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997); N. Ammerman, ‘Golden Rule Christianity. Lived Religion in the American Mainstream’, in D.G. Hall, ed., Lived Lived Religi Religion on in Americ America. a. Toward Toward a Theory of Practice (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997).
Theology and the Fragmentation of the Self
the the balef baleful ul effe effect ctss poin pointe ted d out out by femi femini nist stss and and other other crit critic ics? s? None None of these these questions necessarily require that theologians should abandon their defence of a Christian version of bestowed selfhood, but they do require somewhat less evasive accounts. To take only the last question, the question about sin, it is noticeable that many many contemp contempora orary ry anthr anthropo opolog logies ies skirt skirt around around the doctri doctrine ne altoge altogethe ther. r. Again, Again, Thiselton’s book is instructive. Far from attempting to address the issue, he ends up developing an anthropology whose stress is overwhelmingly positive: Christianity alone can help us regain faith in human agency and the reality of relationality, love and trust. Strangely, it is his postmodern opponents from Foucault to the feminists who who end end up arti articu culat latin ing g more more power powerfu full accoun accounts ts of sinf sinful ulne ness ss than than This Thisel elton ton himself, who is at pains to insist that institutions like the church are not really as pron pronee to manip manipul ulate ate and and abus abusee powe powerr and and prom promot otee thei theirr own own inte interes rests ts as the the postmodernists maintain. Again, I do not wish to single out Thiselton for particular criticism, for he merely brings into focus a more general failure to take seriously the issues that any Christian defence of bestowed selfhood should face. Instead of tackling the issue of sin head on, too many theologians skirt round it, with the paradoxical consequence that that they they look look rema remark rkab ably ly naı naı¨ve, ve, not not just just abou aboutt indi indivi vidu dual al,, but but parti particu cula larl rly y institutional, sin. Enthusiasm about the need to be disciplined by the church would, I believe, carry more conviction if it went hand in hand with an honest exploration of the abuses of ecclesiastical power which this can invite. In actual fact, liberal Christians, often accused of being naı¨ve ¨ve about sin, have tended to be much more aware of the ways in which institutional Christianity can and has inhibited more just forms of social and personal existence. Part of the problem may be the unwillingness of theologians to take seriously what is actually happening to the churches in the late twentieth century. We have just noticed the way in which anthropologies of bestowed selfhood sometimes fail to take account of the impact of their doctrines on the vast liberal constituency of the the churche churches. s. The failur failuree to take take serio seriousl usly y libera liberall and expres expressiv sivee critic criticisms isms of bestowed selfhood may be related. Just as important, however, seems to be the failure of contemporary theology to take seriously another striking contemporary development development:: the worldwid worldwidee evangelical– evangelical–charisma charismatic tic upsurge. upsurge. This upsurge upsurge has been been most most evid eviden entt in Lati Latin n Amer Americ icaa and and subsub-Sa Saha hara ran n Afri Africa ca,, but but it is also also noticeable in the Philippines, the Pacific rim (above all, Korea), China, parts of East Easter ern n Euro Europe pe,, and and in We West ster ern n Euro Europe pe and and the the Unit United ed Stat States es.. Char Charis isma mati ticc Christianity has not merely spawned new churches and denominations; it has also exerciz exercized ed a power powerful ful influ influenc encee within within the the older older church churches, es, both both Protes Protestan tantt and 45 Catholic. The signif significa icance nce of this this upsur upsurge ge for Christia Christian n anthro anthropol pology ogy may lie in its ability to embody forms of selfhood which manage to combine elements of the
beyond the old authoritative–liberal stalemate, and suggest new and creative forms of faithful selfhood. On the one hand, it restores human agency and empowers indivi individu duals als who often often find find themsel themselves ves in the most most desper desperate ate situati situation ons. s. On the the other, it maintains belief in the transcendence of God, the authority of scripture, and the reality of human sinfulness (often ascribed to demonic powers). David Martin explains charismatic–evangelical religion’s ability to empower those who are most often downtrodden without succumbing to pure expressivism or abandoning belief in the Trinitarian God in the following terms: Evangelical religion provides empowerment through its offer of healing, its demand for responsibility, and its invitation openly to affirm and express. For people to be addressed in evangelical language as persons is to be spoken to in terms that truly speak to their condition, confirming beyond the shadow of doubt their dignity, worth and significance... It is just when your circumstance is most severely limiting and when structures are most obdurately resistant that you need to know yourself as agent, otherwise you will be passively swept over the abyss.46 At its best, evangelical–charismatic Christianity manages to build strong Christian communities at the same time that it upholds this stress on personal dignity – thus reinforcing an important theme of contemporary communitarian anthropologies. At the same same time, time, its constru constructi ctions ons of selfh selfhood ood seem to bear bear witnes witnesss to import important ant aspects of the tradition of bestowed selfhood, whilst also responding in new and remarkably creative ways to the contemporary situation. Of course, this form of Christianity has its own particular weaknesses and blind spots, including a tendency to give rise to authoritarian forms of personal leadership. It would be foolish to hold it up as the anthropological touchstone theologians have been seeking. It is far from fool foolis ish, h, howe howeve ver, r, for for theo theolo logi gian anss to take take note note of the the fact fact that that the the form formss of Christ Christian ianity ity that that appear appear to flour flourish ish in the contemp contempora orary ry world world are those those which which manage manage to combin combinee the elemen elements ts of the liberal liberal–ex –expr pressi essive ve and the autho authorita ritaria rian n strands of selfhood (and in some cases the utilitarian as well). It is not enough for Christians today merely to repudiate modernity and the modern (or postmodern) quest for selfhood. To have any real bite, theology should engage seriously with the complexity of the modern world and the diverse modern construals of selfhood. It should do so in honest acknowledgment that it is already implicated in these strands and has played a significant part in their unfolding. It should do so with the confidence that it can continue to influence and play a part in the unfolding of modernity or even postmodernity. And it should do so with a willingness to learn from those flesh-and-blood men and women in the churches today who reveal to us something of the authentic selfhood to which we are called in Christ.