Posted by: Dan | October 21, 2008

An Abundance of Manifestos

I’ve noticed that more and more manifestos are being published these days.  We have an ‘evangelical manifesto‘, an ‘emergent manifesto‘, a ‘new Christian manifesto‘ and I’m sure I could multiply examples (heck, one of the blogs I link to is called ‘Jesus Manifesto‘).

Now, by definition, a ‘manifesto’ is ‘a public declaration of principles, policies, or intentions, especially of a political nature’ but I think our recent love of manifestos goes beyond the dictionary definition of the word.  Indeed, in contemporary discourse, I believe that this term carries ‘radical’ or ‘counter-cultural’ connotations, largely because of the work we must commonly associate with the notion of manifestos — The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels.

Thus, by publishing this range of manifestos, I believe that the various authors are might be appealing to these connotations, in order to brand themselves as radicals, or counter-cultural, or cutting-edge, or whatever.  This, of course, is just another way of pro/claiming an higher status than others.  To be radical is, primarily, to be more radical than others.  To be counter-cultural is, primarily, to be more cool than others.  To be cutting-edge is, primarily, to be more advanced than others.  It’s a move made in comparison to others — it’s a power-play.

Furthermore, this use of language is often both a symptom and a cause of the drift from living genuinely different lives, to claiming ‘radical’ language while continuing to live lives that are little different than others.  Hence, the use of ‘radical’ language becomes of means of claiming higher status, while not actually changing one’s own life.

It’s a sweet deal, no?

Unfortunately, even those who are genuinely attempting to integrate what they say with how they live, still often fall into this brand-status trap, by continuing to use language that has been so thoroughly co-opted.  It is not necessary to call ourselves ‘radicals’, it is not necessary to call our publications ‘manifestos’ and yet we continue to use this language and by doing so — whether we intend to our not — we engage in an act of self-branding that carries repercussions related to our own status and, particularly, how others perceive our status.

It’s a sticky situation, eh?

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Responses

  1. Yes! I can’t stand this kind of posturing. An end to it, please!

  2. Yeah. In my defense, those other manifestos weren’t out when I named jesusmanifesto.com. And I wasn’t attempting to claim higher counter-cultural status for myself…the whole point is that Luke 4 is Jesus’ manifesto and it should, therefore, be ours.

    The glut of manifestos in the past couple of years has made me consider renaming Jesus Manifesto…but then what would be the point?

  3. And Mark your ministry is great, to be sure.

  4. Yes, Mark, to be clear, my intent was not to take a shot at you in this post. I didn’t imagine that you were trying to claim higher status for yourself by using that language — but that might be an unintended consequence. I really do think that negotiating issues of status is at the core of living Christianly today (as it was at the core of the messages of Jesus and Paul), so it is worth thinking about these things.

    And, yes, renaming your site would probably just pave the way for further elitism — perhaps you find the language of the ‘true’ radicals, thereby increasing your brand-status… and of course this language simply becomes the language of the next wave of pseudo-radicals! I wasn’t joking when I called it a sticky situation.

  5. Dan. I think you are right. I have been using this kind of language myself, but are trying to move away from it. It seems to be a way of climbing upwards and building our platforms etc, which we should avoid as much as possible as followers of Jesus. It also seems to come close to the divisive tendency Paul is confronting in 1 Kor 1.

    Mark. Interesting, I think you have a good defense there… :)

  6. Or perhaps we just need a few more manifestos to balance things out?

    How about “The Christian Establishment Manifesto,” “The Nominal Christian’s Manifesto,” and “A Manifesto for Following Jesus Moderately and Comfortably?”

    I could write the latter, I think.

  7. Brent,

    Man, that sounds really fantastic. I really think you should write up your manifesto and post it.

    Reminds me of some time ago when I wrote a satirical post on God’s lesser known preferential options (gay marriage, that sort of thing). Other people contributed ideas in the comments, and the best contribution I heard was: “Me.” Yes! God has a preferential option for me, just as I am.

  8. […] those folks mean it in less-than-revolutionary sort of ways. Of course, when I use these words, I always use them correctly. […]


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