Posted by: rogermitchell | August 28, 2011

The deep structure of the West

I am aware that more and more people are finding their way to this blog, who can’t be expected to wade through the many (now 128) previous posts. So I think it will be helpful from time to time for me to recap some of the crucial perspectives that are embodied in the ideas put forward here and offer some signposts on the way. Hopefully this will help explain what I’m attempting and make the blog a more successful catalyst for innovative thought. This post is intended to be an example of this.

I have long found it helpful to think in terms of the deep and surface structure of things. I first consciously encountered this in the theories of Noam Chomsky back when I was an undergraduate studying linguistics in the 1960s. I confess I never fully grasped the intricacies of transformational grammar in which the concept formed a part. But the potential of the idea immediately presented itself as a means of making sense of the conflicting experiences of life in what was for me the then contemporary West. It seems likely that this was also the case with Chomsky himself, given his subsequent incisive insight into American society, although I am not aware of him specifically claiming that his increasingly radical views were the result of this.

What is for sure is that since I was a youngster I have been acutely aware of a conflict between those aspects of my experience of church and society which were definitely positive, and those which were extremely negative. These included some of the apparently basic theories and practices of church and gospel as well as the assumptions and operations of Western representative democracy. In seeking for the roots of this inconsistency, the concept of a deep structure behind or beneath the surface of Western life that might help explain this, has been a very useful tool for thought. This remains the case for me.

My many years of practical experimentation with new forms of Christian community that might be able to reinforce the positive aspects of Western Christian life and overcome the negative, consistently proved to me that the latter negative aspects continued to intrude on the surface of everyday experience in a highly destructive way. This served to highlight with increasing urgency the need to investigate the underlying sources of a seemingly endemic problem. So in embarking on the research of the last six years, which is contained in the soon to be published book ‘Church, gospel and empire; how the politics of sovereignty impregnated the West,’ the possibility of penetrating the deep structural grammar of the West was one of the goals motivating me. It eventually brought me to the thesis that a misconceived partnership of church and empire displaced the originary gospel Jesus and that the ongoing deep structural trajectory of this underlies the history and present experience of the contemporary West. This pervading perspective and its remedy characterises the direction of this blog.

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Responses

  1. Wow! First, thanks for putting together a post like this. This is my first visit to your site but I intend to be back. Second, you are definitely dealing with some really big concepts here. It seems like what you are doing, what most scholars attempt to do, is put into concrete and tangible forms those ideas that underlie what is going on. In this case the things that just don’t seem to quite mesh between the Gospel as recorded in the Bible and the practice of those who claim to be followers of the Gospel. That is at least my interpretation of what you are setting out to do. I am looking forward to reading your thoughts as you do this.
    Thanks!

    • Thanks for this Jeremy,
      It’s great to have your input and I look forward to more. You’ve certainly got the point, although your “things that just don’t seem to quite mesh” may be a bit of an understatement of some of the issues involved!

  2. The issue of surface versus deep structures is a problem because it means that we don’t often see what is right in front of us. We are easily deceived. I think on how so many in the religious right support political figures whose policies are completely antithetical to anything connected with Jesus or the Kingdom. But we get fooled. Someone claims to be a Christian, makes all the right noises about social issues and the church supports him/her. While deep down this person is absolutely sold out to empire and imperial economics like any other politician. It also means we are often bad at evaluating social and economic issues. We fail to discern what is underneath what we are seeing.

    Kind of reminds me of an article I read yesterday. A deep underground river has been discovered beneath the Amazon. So there are at least 2 levels to the watershed drainage and one had never been noticed before. Interesting eh?
    c.

  3. Thanks Cheryl,
    I love the example of the Amazon. What a discovery!

  4. […] I am aware that more and more people are finding their way to this blog, who can’t be expected to wade through the many (now 128) previous posts. So I think it will be helpful from time to time for me to recap some of the crucial perspectives that are embodied in the ideas put forward here and offer some signposts on the way. Hopefully this will help explain what I’m attempting and make the blog a more successful catalyst for innovative thought. … Read More […]


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