In his book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, James Smith argues that people are not primarily cognitive or believing beings. Instead, Smith goes a more Augustinian route, claiming we are at our core desiring, loving and liturgical creatures. Our problem isn’t so much ignorance, skepticism or improper belief (though this might be part of the problem) as it is the misdirection of our desires.
In a chapter entitled Why Victoria’s In on the Secret, Smith claims that Victoria Secret gets right what many in the church miss. Its marketing “quite intentionally combines passion with transcendence, combines sex with religion…marketing taps into our erotic religious nature and seeks to shape us in such a way that this passion and desire is directed to strange gods, alternative worship, and another kingdom. And it does so by triggering and tapping into our erotic core—the heart.” Advertising sells an ideal and taps into the core of what we are and directs us away from God. Smith’s point is that often many in the church take a different and inferior approach. “…The church responds to the overwhelming cultural activation and formation of desire by trying to fill our head with ideas and beliefs” (76).
Smith suggests that the church try and redirect passion and desire rather than try to overcome it with ideas and beliefs. While Victoria’s Secret is “grabbing hold of our gut (kardia) by means of our body and senses—in stories and images, sights and sound, and commercial versions of “smells and bells”—the [Protestant] church’s response is oddly rationalistic” (126-127).
Personally, I found this book on the whole to be very insightful. I thought I would take a piece of it out for discussion given the implications on the emphases our churches place on different ideas and practices. I tend to agree that Protestant churches do tend to place too much emphasis on ideas and beliefs (though I think these need to be a good part of the picture). Still, I wondered about the Eastern Orthodox (among others) church’s multi-sensory approach to liturgy and how this might be something we can all learn from even if we do not accept what they do with some of it. Thoughts?