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We do what we love, not what we think; James K. A. Smith on Philosophy of Action

Evan Baehr

I have recently been very inspired and challenged by the work by James K. A. Smith around "cultural liturgies."  It has me worried that I have actually bought into a number of narratives - stories, really - that form my preconscious knowledge, something of which I am totally aware. So while I think I control my own actions and those actions come from my thoughts, I am deluding myself. This is terrifying if true. It would be like the puppet for the first time leaning back and noticing a set of strings running up to his master. Here is my quick summary of the core of one of his arguments: 

We [modern people in the intellectualist tradition] think that we do what we think - that our actions come from our thoughts.  So to change our action we change what we think; so we consume content to increase our knowledge (read: TED Talks).  But in reality we do what we love.  So to change what we do we must change what we love. Since love is an action that produces a feeling, changing our loves is really about doing actions - doing things that produce love. This attempt to change what we love is called "curating the heart." This is a challenge for intellectualists because, while we know how to consume content and change our mind, we do not really know how to curate the heart.  The only hope we have for curating the heart, Smith argues, is gathered worship.  While intellectualists see worship and community as a source for content, it is rightly seen as a place where narratives are repeated and experienced through ritual such that the participants internalize those stories in their subconscious. To the non-theist critics who have no "formal liturgical community," you too have liturgies you follow, you simply may not be aware of them. Why do you love what you love?  Well, what stories do you believe and where do those come from?  There you'll find your narratives, your liturgies, and your loves, which explain all of what you do. 

For more, check out Smith's work on How Worship Works.