This week we’re discussing chapter 2, pages 75-88, where Smith moves us from a discussion of anthropology to one of practices.
Summary: The Power of Habit
I particularly appreciate Smith’s continual emphasis that nothing in our lives or in culture is neutral or, properly speaking, “secular.” We are religious creatures, and it shows up in everything. You are either for Christ or against Him; there is no neutral stance. In this chapter, I copied his summary:
We can’t not be desiring some kingdom. The question is not whether we love, but what we love.
Smith then goes on to define what he calls thick practices and thin practices: thick being those infused with religious, identity-forming, aim-inspired weight and thin being those like brushing our teeth which are not fraught with the same level of significance. Still, Smith cautions us to be careful about assuming seeming-insignificant practices are thin – even when there isn’t always a conscious reason behind what we do, or the reason seems basic, the practice itself may hold meaning that shapes the direction of our heart. For example, we might assume we are only going to the mall to find a pair of boots. But even if going to the mall isn’t a habit of ours that we do for social connection, still the practice pulls at our gut, our affections, even without us being aware.
I think anything that is heavily influenced by a marketing campaign necessarily has this sort of pull, because that is precisely what marketers are intentionally trying to accomplish: to get you to align yourself with the brand, the product. Cognitive disagreement with a marketing ploy or a marketer’s plug is not enough protection against the gut-level pitch offered.
In this chapter Smith also tells us how he intends to distinguish his terms in the rest of the book. In his argument, a ritual is something you do repeatedly, and is the broadest term. A practice is a subset of ritual and it is akin to a habit. A liturgy is a subset of ritual and is Smith’s shorthand for a thick practice, a practice that will grab our gut and direct our affections in a specific way, whether we are aware of it or not.
Further Book Club Conversation
Visit these other participants’ posts and keep the conversation going in the comment sections! You don’t have to have a blog to participate. Please jump on in.
Next week: Chapter 3, pages 89-103