The Colonialism of Disenchantment: Part 2, WEIRD and White Spaces

One of the ironies of progressive Christianity is how weird and white it is.`

This is ironic in that progressive Christianity is the champion of diversity and calling out whiteness. For example, survey after survey has shown that the people most energetically calling out whiteness are white progressives.

And yet, progressive Christian spaces aren't always known for their diversity. Many progressive spaces are very white spaces, something progressives themselves notice, express concern over, and work to remedy. To be clear, when it comes to progressive gatherings, the speaking lineups tend to be the most diverse. Attuned as they are to including diverse voices, by and large progressive speaking lineups are pretty diverse, especially when compared to evangelical conferences.

But the audiences of progressive conferences tend to very white. So, why is that? Why are the spaces most committed to diversity mostly attracting white attendees?

Two possible answers have been floated.

The first is socioeconomic. Conferences are expensive, so conferences select for wealth, which plays out along racial lines. Diversity of attendance could be helped, then, through things like discounts and scholarships. And a lot of progressive conferences do this.

A second reason is cultural. Perhaps going to conferences is an example of Stuff White People Like. I've also had progressive friends who attend Wild Goose wonder if camping is also a white thing to do.

Beyond these, let me suggest a third answer: the colonialism of disenchantment. 

As we've noted, progressive Christian spaces tend to be disenchanted, spaces where questions and doubts are expressed about the supernatural, miraculous aspects of faith. I mean, the whole point of going to a progressive Christian conference is to know "you are not alone" in your questions and doubts.

By contrast, the spirituality of the black and Latino churches in America is pretty enchanted. God exists. The devil is real. Prayer is powerful. And miracles happen. Given this, why would a doubting, questioning, skeptical, searching, agnostic, disenchanted progressive Christian space have any broad appeal to those espousing a more enchanted faith?

But enchantment doesn't just play out along racial lines. It also plays out along socioeconomic lines.

The socioeconomic margins of American society are very enchanted. Worship with the poor and the incarcerated and you are going to find yourself in a very enchanted space. This is the reason I wrote Reviving Old Scratch. As a disenchanted, progressive Christian I felt the need to bridge the "enchantment gap" when I started leading a Bible study in a prison.

By contrast, disenchantment tends to flourish in educated, rich Christian spaces.

All that to say, disenchantment isn't just white, it's also WEIRD.

WEIRD stands for Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic. Over the last few decades in psychology a conversation has started about how the vast majority of participants in psychological research has come from Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic nations. These studies produce psychological findings we too quickly assume hold for the rest of the world. But do they? How weird are WEIRD participants?

The answer, it turns out, is pretty damn weird. Numerous studies have now been done showing that WEIRD participants behave very differently from the rest of the world.

This, then, is another way to describe the colonialism of disenchantment. Most of the world is enchanted. Disenchantment, by contrast, is both WEIRD and weird.

And that weirdness holds even in WEIRD countries when we move out of educated, wealthy spaces. Again, every city and town in the West is enchanted on the socioeconomic and racial margins. By and large, it's the privileged who are disenchanted.

Which is, again, an irony about progressive Christianity as it's considered to be the stream of Christianity most committed to social and economic justice.

Progressive Christianity wants to embrace the margins, but the spaces they host are disenchanted, placing them, if not in a colonial posture, than in a most definitely weird one.

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