Imagining the Good Life: Apologetics and Human Flourishing
View Dr. Smith’s bio, http://www.jameskasmith.com/
Dr. Smith will be making the following presentations during the conference:
My project begins from an Augustinian axiom: We are what we love. And it extends this insight into a philosophy of action: we do what we love. Both our identity and our action flow from our most fundamental desires and longings and loves. But to appreciate this, we need to refuse “intellectualist” models of the human person which see us as primarily information processors, as “thinking things.” In this first lecture I will outline an alternative theological anthropology as the basis for Christian formation—both in worship and education. In particular, I will argue that humans are primarily lovers—that the core of the human person is located in the heart and that we are defined by what we love as ultimate. Thus when St. Paul prays for the Philippians to be knowledgeable and discerning, he first prays that their love might abound more and more (Phil. 1:9-10). Drawing on the work of French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s “conceptual toolbox” and an illustration from The King’s Speech, I will suggest that love is a kind of “erotic comprehension” of the world—a way that we make sense of our world on a bodily register. It’s a kind of understanding we carry in our bodies, an “incarnate significance” that seeps into our bones, shaping how we perceive the world—and hence how we act within the world. I will close by suggesting that Christian faith is not just a set of beliefs and doctrines but a mode of erotic comprehension by which we imagine the world differently.
Contemporary psychology and cognitive science have begun to appreciate what Christian spirituality has known for ages: that action flows out of our habits. Rather than seeing our action as the deductive outcome of individual decisions based on specific beliefs, in fact much of our action and behavior is generated by acquired dispositions and habits that become “second nature” and thus incline us to respond in ways that are almost automatic. Historically, Christians have described such “good habits” as virtues. However, we must also appreciate that virtues are bound up with perception. In other words, I am inclined to respond to situations because I have already perceived the situation in a certain way. To shape perception is to generate action. But that perception is more on the order of the imagination than the intellect: it’s more like a “feel for the game” than an objective analysis. In this lecture, I will draw on the work of social theorist Pierre Bourdieu to help us appreciate how our perception is shaped by communal practices that inscribe in us a “habitus,” a pre-intellectual way of relating to—and perceiving—our world, which then encourages certain sorts of action. This means we need to be attentive to the way that cultural practices might be mis-shaping our perception. The goal of Christian worship and Christian education, then, is to “sanctify” perception in order to shape Christian actors.