You Are What You Love NOT What You Think
Ever since Descartes proclaimed "Cogito ergo sum!"—"I think therefore I am!"—Western thought has taken on a highly cognitive view of man. From pulpits to classrooms the adage "You are what you think" is heralded as though it needed no defending. Thankfully, such a truncated anthropology is starting to be questioned. Is man simply a "brain on a stick" or does our embodiment have something to do with our being?
Christians philosopher James K.A. Smith is at the forefront of this Descartian interrogation. If you've been tracking along with things here at St. Anne's Manor you'll know the name pretty well by now. Last week marked the completion of my "Liturgy Series" in which I (more or less) walked through chapter 5 of Smith's book Desiring the Kingdom. Again, if you've been tracking along, that book will also be familiar to you. Desiring the Kingdom is part one in Smith's "Cultural Liturgies" series in which he takes on this Descartian view of man that's "all brain and no body."
Now, while I've given plenty of lip services to Smith's Desiring the Kingdom I have hardly mentioned his work Imagining the Kingdom (part 2 in his Cultural Liturgies series) on this blog. A big reason for this was due to my Liturgy Series and my desire to not over do it with James K.A. Smith block quotes! However, now that the Liturgy Series is complete I have no qualms in bringing other Smith material to the blog.
All that said, I'd like to offer a quick glimpse at one of the key arguments made by Smith in Imagining the Kingdom. As noted above, one of Smith's concerns is in questioning the long held assumption that humans are essentially "thinking things." Smith wants to argue that while we certainly do think (evidence of this can be found enough in Smith's work alone), our minds and our bodies have a lot more to do with each other than we tend to believe. Moreover, Smith confronts the long standing belief that humans are, in essence, what they think.
Smith believes that more foundational to what we think is what we love. Further, Smith informs his readers that our love or affection is not changed by what we think. There is a mistaken process undertaken by many Christians that assumes our loves and affections will change if we can change the way we think. Smith sees this line of thinking as way off mark. Ultimately, Smith promotes an anthropology arguing that it is the formative practices that we participate in (liturgies) that have a greater affect on what we love than merely the way we think.
Smith complains that current Christian formation is (largely) based (almost solely) on the life of the mind. The reason he complains about this approach is because targeting the mind (ultimately) does little to change one's heart and therefore one's actions. Taking a constructive turn, Smith believes that Christian formation must broaden beyond the mind (not to the exclusion of the mind) to take in the scope of the entire person. Put shortly, Christian formation must be "holistic." Here's what Smith says:
The focus on formation is holistic because its end is Christian action; what’s at stake here is not just how we think about the world but how we inhabit the world—how we act. We are what we love precisely because we do what we love. (pg. 12)
Love drives action. This concept is as old as Augustine. While this axiom will not likely be disagreed with outrightly, many Christians will disagree with how we get at what one loves. Many modern Christians will openly accept the concept that love is the motive behind action, however, at the same time, they harbor an ideal that we can change what someone loves by changing how they think. Smith disagrees. The way to get to someone's heart is not (solely) through the mind. We humans are more than just "brains on a stick." God gave us bodies and, therefore, the whole body must be discipled. This is not some call for aestheticism or mutilation of the flesh, but rather a call for understanding that we inhabit a physical world with physical bodies that must be captured up into God's story as well as the mind.
Food for thought.