Joshua Gibbs, in his article Can We Make Classicism Into A Fan Club Instead Of A Movement? at the Circe Institute has an interesting critique of whole notion of “starting movements.” While he directs his message toward an audience hoping to see a classical education movement, I think he raises some interesting questions for those of us who would say that we are apart of (or hoping to be apart of) a simple/organic church movement in North America. He writes…
Movements are necessary, I suppose. When I say movement, I mean a group of people who have an agenda they want to accomplish— changing the hearts and minds and pocketbooks and laws of society at large. A movement has a platform of broad goals tailored to appeal to as many people as possible while still remaining potent. A few planks will have to be sacrificed to get enough people on board. The more particular the platform, the fewer the followers. Dollars and cents. A movement also needs icons, by which I mean images (eagles or warriors, probably) which the leaders of the movement have chosen to represent the movement to itself. A movement needs literature, a central work of written philosophy comprehensible to many, and a list of approved books. A movement responds to enemies, bad guys, ideological opponents, other movements with contrary iconography. The ball and the cross. The broad versus the straight and narrow. A movement needs a narrative to resume, a fallen flag to raise up again. Some ancient battle of good and evil which has been momentarily lost (and so evil has gained the upper hand), but the movement will return society to the good. I’m actually stealing a lot of this from Umberto Eco’s “Ur-Fascism: 14 Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt” essay and just replacing “fascist governments” with “movements.” But movements are necessary, I suppose.
Is starting a movement the only way to change society? If your goal is changing society, then sure, although I’m skeptical that changing society is even possible. The concept of “changing society” doesn’t seem to be much older than the Enlightened economists who tanked late eighteenth century France after “changing society” again and again and again until the wheels fell off. Was Constantine trying to change society? What about Leo III and Charlemagne? In his essay on early Medieval Europe for The Oxford History of Christianity, Henry Mayr-Harting suggests that Charles was simply convinced that an impiously governed empire would, as the Old Testament repeatedly confirms, invite God’s anger. When the Jews lost in battle, exactly no one said, “Well, that’s how it goes sometimes.” Rather, everyone went back to camp and the trial began; when the discreet thief in their midst had been outed, they put him to death and returned to making war, now successfully. So, too, Christian rulers who “changed society” had no intent of “changing society” in the sense that most modern Christians use the expression; Theodosius and Charles were being practical, trying to please God so their empires would be safe. When the Israelites lost in battle, none of them returned to camp with the intent to “change society.” They just had to find the fly in their ointment.
I would like to suggest the fan club as an alternative to the movement.
A fan club is dissimilar to a movement in almost every way. Think of a Bruce Springsteen fan club for a moment. It has no enemies. A Bruce Springsteen fan club is not opposed to anything, but merely for Bruce. You can listen to Kesha and Debussy and still be a part of the Bruce Springsteen fan club. You don’t get kicked out for liking things other than Bruce, you get in by liking Bruce; the club is not built off exclusion, but wholly on inclusion. The Springsteen fan club has no platform other than, “The Boss is great,” or some such simplistic motto. There are no planks. You don’t have to agree on why the Boss is great, or which of his records is best. You can like it all, even the lousy club remixes of “Dancing in the Dark” and the overplayed cover of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” which clogs up airwaves every December. The Bruce Springsteen fan club is not trying to change society, but is a place where people who love Bruce can come and express their love of Bruce. Consequently, the Springsteen fan club appeals to a wide array of people. It’s beautifully ecumenical. Nothing about Bruce or the love of Bruce has to be sacrificed so that the fan club can reach more people. I’ll bet you a dollar there aren’t many people who get burned by the Bruce Springsteen fan club and leave.
So what do you think? Would we benefit from seeing ourselves joining “simple church fan clubs” instead of joining a simple church movement or does the analogy not apply here?
Click HERE to read Josh’s entire article.