Living toward the flourishing of others

Rod Dreher at Beliefnet writes enthusiastically about a new book, To Change the World, from James Davidson Hunter, who perhaps coined the term “Culture Wars” in his book by that title.

I have high respect for Hunter, though it’s been years since I read Culture Wars, so it was affirming to hear him making some of the points I made last month in Conscientious Objector the the Culture Wars. Hunter, eloquently:

The tragedy is that in the name of resisting the internal deterioration of faith and the corruption of the world around them, many Christians–and Christian conservatives most significantly–unwittingly embrace some of the most corrosive aspects of the cultural disintegration they decry. By nurturing its resentments, sustaining them through a discourse of negation toward outsiders, and in cases, pursuing their will to power, they become functional Nietzscheans, participating in the very cultural breakdown they so ardently strive to resist.

Me, [you supply the adverb]:

The Culture Wars are unwinnable on present terms partly because stridency and contempt beget stridency, contempt and alienation.

I don’t care who fired the first volley. That’s lost in the mists of history like the instigation of the Hatfields versus the McCoys. I’d like the shooting to stop. I’d like artificial divisions to end. I suspect there’s more common ground than either side presently will admit because of how things have been framed. Let’s tone it down a bit and then explore what the real divisions are. The more we insult the other side, the more we paint both sides into corners from which dialog, let alone truce, is impossible.

Hunter, interviewed, says he wants to accomplish three things through his new book:

A third thing that I would like for readers to take away is that there are alternative ways of thinking about the world we live in, and engaging it, that are constructive and draw upon resources within the Christian tradition. In the end, these strategies are not first and foremost about changing the world, but living toward the flourishing of others.

I like the italicized phrase at the end. It’s no panacea, however, as there remain some deep differences about how one promotes human flourishing. I’ll forego examples, lest I inflame things, though I have a very specific sharp difference in mind that arose between me and a bright young Christian of very liberal bent. For him it was self-evident that X promotes human flourishing. For me, it was almost self-evident that X promoted delusion, which might feel affirming and nourishing in the short term but ultimately would fail.

Dreher also has some extend quotes from Barbara Nicolosi-Harrington, a teacher of screenwriting in L.A.:

My vocation is to be a storyteller to the people of my time — and if I create a good enough story, stories have a way of transcending time. I’m very preoccupied with creating a story and characters that will haunt people in a way that sends them on a journey of introspection.

I am a political animal in many ways. It’s a big hobby for me. But I have, with the rest of my generation, almost completely lost confidence that real good in society can be achieved through politics. I don’t think that’s the pathway to lasting good. I think that politics can clear the field for good to be done, but I don’t think it actually achieves anything. I think culture is what creates good in the world. That’s the realm of the artist: the storyteller, the musician, the poet. And I see myself as a storyteller.


We may get a majority vote for the “right” side on this issue or that, but that will not end the war. There will be other battles. There will be guerilla warfare. There will be no peace, and there’s only a minimal chance for the “Right” to win. Not until the Right’s own culture changes.

Changing culture is the work I’m about now – feeling my way rather than barreling ahead. That’s much subtler work than culture war. I’m not sure how good I am at it….

I’m putting nobody under obligation by asking this, but what real good do you think politics accomplishes – or what great evil does it avoid?