Thinking or Doing - What Forms Desire?

Recently, James K.A. Smith came to Washington DC to speak at the Q Ideas conference. Missing out on the opportunity to hear him speak I was reminded of his most recent book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. In his book, Smith examines the idea that all of Christian thought and action should be molded and shaped by Christian practices of the Church. He argues that many Christian institutions today – churches, para-church organizations, and Christian schools – while teaching Christian ideas, beliefs, and doctrines aren’t actually different than any comparative secular institution because they are not counter-formational to what he broadly defines as the liturgies of culture.The main tenant of his argument is a question of the nature of being human. He builds his argument on the fundamental assumption that as children of the enlightenment our society has a wrong image of humanity. The enlightenment ideal is that humans are rational beings and thus what we know, the things we believe, and why we do the things we do is based primarily on the mind. Smith flips this paradigm and says human beings are fundamentally desiring beings. He means that what and why one does the things he does is usually not rational, but primarily based on his desires and that desire  formed by the thick practices and habits of the heart we live out everyday in our cultural environments. To put it simply, we don’t just do the things we do, they in turn do something to us.The implications of his argument are far reaching. If anyone, whether they are of the Christian faith or not, takes Smith’s argument seriously, than form matters. The way one does worship, education, business, work, service, and all of culture making matters. Here at the Clapham Group this question is especially important to us. Our mission is to promote culture making that is true, good, and beautiful for the common good, but if we are failing to understand how our own practices and architected campaigns are informing the desires of those impacted by our work, than we may be counter acting our very mission.While Smith’s thesis is challenging, it is also encouraging. If Smith is right than we are not hopeless to change our desires. Change begins with an awareness of how one’s daily habits and interactions with desire shaping intuitions - like the mall - form our desires. I invite you to join me in your own personal examination of how to develop daily habits and disciplines to reshape your desires towards the things in this life that are True, Good, and Beautiful.Don’t have time to read Smith’s book and explore his argument for yourself? You can hear Smith articulate his argument in a guest lecture through the Calvin College website.Garrett Cichowitz

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