Smith, James K.A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009.
Chapter 3, “Lovers in a Dangerous Time: Cultural Exegesis of ‘Secular’ Liturgies” pp. 89-129.
Because of the formative nature of activities, Smith suggests in this chapter that it is necessary to take care in interpreting “secular” liturgies. “The first question in cultural exegesis is discerning the shape of the kingdom toward which cultural practices and institutions are aimed” (Smith 2009, 89). The same kind of questions need to be asked about Christian worship. What is it accomplishing? How does it form us? Smith concentrates first on exegesis of some secular liturgies (Smith 2009, 90). By seeing the underlying values and goals of several of our secular liturgies we are better prepared to understand our culture.
Smith first considers the mall, consumer space (Smith 2009, 94). Through the process of marketing, the image of happy people, made happy and fulfilled by what they buy, is created (Smith 2009, 96). These people are in contrast to normal consumers. To resolve our unhappiness or other lacks, we are led to believe we must emulate the advertisements (Smith 2009, 97) To do well, we compete to have more than others (Smith 2009, 98). Success in consumer events is fleeting. We soon find we need more goods to compete (Smith 2009, 99). This level of consumption is ultimately unsustainable, a fact we like to ignore (Smith 2009, 101). Smith points to marketing practices which are clearly and openly making disciples (Smith 2009, 102).
Another secular liturgy is that of nationalism (Smith 2009, 104). Smith identifies this in the United States not through governmental events so much as in sporting events and education, with the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem in common use. The expressions of national identity have a religious fervor and do not allow for loyalties above them (Smith 2009, 107). The liturgy found in daily school exercises and also in popular films asserts a view of political communal life in which God is subservient to a glorified and victorious State (Smith 2009, 109).
Smith next considers the liturgy of the University (Smith 2009, 112). The more secular Universities are places with creeds, confessions, and rituals aimed at shaping hearts and minds (Smith 2009, 113). The wide variety of spaces and services at a university serve to create formative and communal experiences (Smith 2009, 115). Academic experiences are often secondary, and regularly are encountered only after considerable non-academic orientation (Smith 2009, 117).
Smith concludes that the liturgies in life are quite real, whether they pursue legitimate or illegitimate goals (Smith 2009, 122). Humans have a natural desire for some sort of worship, but it is normally idolatrous (Smith 2009, 123). Smith illustrates this concept through the frustrations of numerous very believable characters in classic literature.