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Rebelling Conformists

I continue to be struck by how prescient J.C. Hoekendjik’s work is in regard to the nature of Christian mission and modern culture. One could even argue that he diagnoses the much joked about condition of the modern Christian hipster culture–which is, of course a sort of social-cultural ricochet of late capitalism in the West.  When speaking of the rise of the late modern subject, he argues that “we can sketch his profile with a bit of guessing when we try to portray him as a rebelling conformist.” I can’t think of a better definition for the cultural ethos of our time.

He goes and specifies this in some important ways. The paradoxical idea of rebellion and conformity embodied in one person is absolutely central to understanding the (Western) late modern subject. What is key here is that “rebellion” signifies something quite different from “revolution.” Our age does just fine producing rebels who continue to consume and constitute a very manageable citizenry–the one thing they are not is revolutionaries. The rebel, in contrast to the revolutionary, absolutely depends on the survival and stability of the status quo, in that it provides the rationale and context for his rebellion. In short, a rebel has to always have stuff to bitch about.

In contrast, “rebellion is the opposite of revolution. Revolution presupposes a historical plasticity: the belief that things can be different and the hope that we can bring that other day near.” It is precisely this notion of faith and hope that has been lost–and is thus being interestingly tapped by the American fans of Obama right now. But note, even the rhetoric of hope and change that is currently being embraced in America does nothing to mitigate the ultimately anti-revolutionary nature of the culture of late modernity. “Wherever one looks, one notices an impotence to revolt. . . . Even when idols are recognized, they are not cast aside once and for all, but are left standing so that again and again they can be slapped in the face.”(p. 48) This is, perhaps, the most stinging indictment of just about everything that passes for social criticism, Christian or otherwise.

Perhaps theology bloggers most of all should feel the sting on that one.

One Comment

  1. Gary Wake wrote:

    Link is down. All the eps. are here though:

    Wednesday, March 18, 2009 at 9:49 am | Permalink

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