Craig Bartholomew on Hyper-Mobility and ‘Placial Stability’

There’s an interesting interview at Christianity Today with Craig Bartholomew, Professor of Philosophy at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario, on his new book about the ‘crisis of place’ in western culture.  Our technological reordering of transportation, communication, and our built environment has generated a culture of instantaneity in which individuals are virtually unfettered by time and space, or at least in which these features of our humanness have become less ‘real’, less central to our existence than they have been at any point in history. Individuals have in the process been given the illusion of self-creation and self-sufficiency and the illusory hope of total liberation from the past and tradition. Zygmunt Bauman has astutely pointed out that the ambitions of the middle class and its vision of the good life have been reinscribed around the desirability of the range of experiences made possible by mobility:


Life ambitions are more often than not expressed in terms of mobility, the free choice of place, travelling, seeing the world; life fears, on the contrary, are talked about in terms of confinement, lack of change, being barred from places which others traverse easily, explore and enjoy. ‘The good life’ is life on the move; more precisely, the comfort of being confident of the facility with which one can move in case staying on no longer satisfies. Freedom has come to mean above all freedom of choice, and choice has acquired, conspicuously, a spatial dimension. (Bauman, Globalization: The Human Consequences, p. 121)


Since Bauman wrote those words in 1998, the hegemony of that vision of the good life in the west has only become more totalizing, and the consequences for the Christian faith, as Bartholomew points out, have been devastating. The rank individualism of American Christianity has been facilitated by our willingness to move so easily for a better job or slightly better conditions without due consideration given to how such a move will diminish us and the communities of faith from which we are departing. It is hard to see how hyper-mobility could give rise to the material conditions necessary to foster costly discipleship and not merely moralistic, therapeutic deism.

Bartholomew asserts that ‘We need a spirituality that will undermine Western individualism’. Part of that has to be what Bartholomew is calling ‘placial stability’, a willingness simply to stay put. Necessary to our personal transformation and the transformation of the communities of which we are a part is a stronger sense of what we owe to one another in terms of our embodied presence in the body of Christ. Personal and communal transformation requires longitudinal, spiritual friendships characterized by loyalty and vulnerability.

Clearly this is an issue that requires some nuance, since discipleship requires attention to the given possibilities of one’s culture. In our globalized economy, it is often difficult to be rooted because our jobs have become impermanent. And it is obviously not a sin to move. But where we are given the choice, we should consider soberly and in community such decisions, and in the conditions of late modernity we should prioritize stability where it is possible.

On a related note, check out the sermon entitled ‘Transformation in Everyday Life’ from this past Saturday by a good friend of mine, Fr. Kenny Benge, on the importance of rootedness.

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