Alan de Botton, Status Anxiety (New York: Vintage, 2004). (Amazon.com)
Alan de Botton’s Status Anxiety is part social criticism, part philosophical inquiry into “A worry, so pernicious as to be capable of ruining extended stretches of our lives, that we are in danger of failing to conform to the ideals of success laid down by our society and that we may as a result be stripped of dignity and respect; a worry that we are currently occupying too modest a rung or are about to fall to a lower one.”  This phenomenon is caused by our desire for love from others, our expectations in life, the myth of meritocracy, the social snobbery of the elite we admire, and our dependence of oft ignored factors such as luck, fickle talent, or the profitability of our employer. We allow these factors to determine our worth. What solutions might be available?
De Botton finds answers in philosophy, art, politics, religion, and bohemia. For example, many philosophers remind us that the views of others don’t matter if their opinion doesn’t match fact. So if a wealthy person tries to make you feel insignificant because you’re poor, philosophers remind you to rigorously challenge the idea that wealth is equal to worth. Likewise, art, like good novels, challenge our views of social hierarchy. Politics ask us to challenge the status quo. Religion can remind us that all humans are intrinsically worth respect and dignity. Bohemia, even when absurd, reminds us that we do not need many of the things society tells us we need to live “the good life.”
De Botton’s book is exceptionally well-written, insightful, and challenging. Although he is an atheist philosopher—therefore we don’t share the same broad worldview—his insights may have been some of the most helpful I’ve received in a while inspiring me to live a more authentic Christianity where my self-worth is not found in those things society uses to measure us. Obviously, de Botton doesn’t outright advocate finding one’s worth in embracing the love of the Triune God, or pursuing the image of Christ rather than the “image” of a successful person, but the Christian who reads this book will find that many of de Botton’s insights transfer quite nicely toward Christian Spirituality and Discipleship (in fact, I’m presenting a paper on this very topic on Saturday, March 1st). I highly recommend Status Anxiety for anyone who has found themselves consumed or bothered by the need to “keep up with the Joneses” or “climb the corporate ladder”. It has been one of the most edifying, wise, enlightening books that I’ve read in a long time.
 Kindle Locations 73-75
It does sound like a good read. I’ve heard him briefly interviewed on radio (or part of one TED radio hour on PBS, I think it was… GOOD programs!). To me, it sounds like it would be another example, somewhat akin to The Charter for Compassion, founded by Karen Armstrong, of what I would call spiritual people (who usually know religion/Christianity well, as Armstrong certainly does) pursuing a “Christ-like” life. And apparently the “Holy Spirit” works in such people comparably to how “he” works in Christians.
It really is a good book. I recommend it. I’ve read/heard a few things from de Botton and I’m always impressed. He is a very clear headed, insightful public intellectual and philosopher.
You bring up an interesting subject. Christian theologians have wrestled with the role/function of the holy Spirit “outside” the Church. Most creatively in recent years might be the work of Amos Yong, a Pentecostal theologian who has suggested that while Christ is the means by which humanity is brought into relationship with God this doesn’t mean one must be cognitive of it. Instead, the Spirit works outside Christianity, sometimes even through other religious traditions, bringing people into a relationship with God. Some people have found it to be very thought provoking; others have just been provoked (esp. conservative Evangelicals)!
Then we must look at this same topic from the perspective of a non-Christian. Some people might find offense in the suggestion that they’re really pursuing the model of Christ or that the holy Spirit is active in their lives. I don’t know how bothered de Botton would be by such a suggestion, but I imagine he’d reject the idea since for him there is no holy Spirit.
I think your concepts in the middle paragraph simply must be contended with, carefully, by any observant and thinking Christian. However, seldom are they. I think one key reason is that it does at least seem to challenge the idea of Israel as a Chosen People (and/or the Church), through whom specific concepts of how one connects with God have been revealed and which must be believed (and certain practices followed). These issues I see as core to not only Evangelicalism but all of “othodoxy”, at least RCC and Prot…. Not sure I can say for branches of Orthodoxy.
Yes, your middle paragraph, Brian, should be a Duh!, but – alas – it isn’t. Truth is truth wherever one finds it, and goodness is goodness wherever one finds it.
If Christians need a chastening here, one could do worse than go to Mark 12:22ff.. What is the sin against the Holy Spirit? Too many exegetes have gone off on wild-dove chases to discover an answer, which is not in the least obscure. Jesus has done an obviously good thing, viz, he has healed a man (by expelling evil) The Pharisees, however, contest, deny the obvious (indeed call it evil). That’s the sin against the Holy Spirit – to call obvious good evil, whoever does it. Wherever there is goodness, there is the Holy Spirit, there is God at work in the human.
Good thots, Kim. I like the simplification you suggest re. Mk. 12:22. (Tho even while an Evangelical I ceased worrying about it.) Related to this, and something I don’t recall much preaching or commentary on, is that Jesus laid out his strong admonition on forgiveness, without limitation, in a supposedly “pre-H.S.” period. He didn’t qualify with, “Now you may find this impossible now, but don’t worry, after I leave and the H.S. comes, then it will be possible.” (This sending of the H.S. was, of course, pushed as early as late 1st/early 2nd century by at least “Luke” in Acts, and I think John’s Gospel, if I recall.)
As to a comparison of a Jewish concept of how we can do “better” (with no “Christian” H.S.) with a “born again” one, results would be interesting. I don’t think one could do it at all objectively, but I’d be surprised if the results didn’t come out pretty even, if not favoring a Jewish approach (or a Buddhist one, for that matter).
Reblogged this on Natural Spirituality – Loving Forum for Spiritual Harmony & Growth and commented:
You may find this brief review and reaction to “Status Anxiety” by Alain de Botton interesting. I heard him speaking a little while on a radio program and was impressed. He and other careful thinkers like Karen Armstrong these days offer perspectives and approaches to living compassionately that I believe transcend religious particulars, but do not “contradict” all of religion. And their work cannot be brushed aside as merely “New Age”.
@Howard: I don’t think this sort of Pneumatology undermines the uniqueness of Israel’s story and the story of the Church. Rather, I think it refocuses their mission to the world rather than allowing for isolation and an us-vs.-them posture against the world. A Pneumatology that allows the Church to realize that the Spirit works through her, but also beyond her, allows the Church to seek to understand what the Spirit is doing in the world in order to follow suit, rather than sitting back poshly thinking that the Creator has been monopolized and that the world must come to us.
Let’s say that Jesus as the Son of God is the true icon of the Creator in the world, who has brought divinity and humanity together, bring the Spirit of God into greater communion with that of humanity, then the Spirit’s work outside of the Church doesn’t minimize our Christology or our Ecclesiology. Christ remains the one through whom all this has been made possible, so to proclaim the Gospel (“good news” of what has been done in Christ, not bad news) is not to threaten the world, but to welcome the world to know the source of that which they may be experiencing already in the Spirit though ignorant of the identity of the Primary Source.
@Kim: I agree with your assessment. This is why it is dangerous to outright deny that the Spirit is working through people with whom we may have many disagreements (e.g., televangelists). We may rightly say where we think people behave wrongly, but we should be careful when denying that the Spirit of God is functioning through these fragile and fallible conduits.
Agreement/disagreement is precisely not the issue. The issue is doing/not doing good. So are, e.g., televangelists doing good? No doubt one needs to be specific. But surfing through the God channels … Of course, Barth said that God can speak to us even through a dead dog, so I guess we should not discount televangelists (with apologies to any canines who may follow the thread ;)).
True! It is rare to see good coming from a televangelist, but I do like Barth’s words here. Maybe we can alter it to “a dead cat” since (most) cats are evil?
No, cats fit into the “flute concerto” – i.e., the Beautiful – part of the Barth quote!
We may need to call a council to decide this. 🙂
Maybe not “evil” but I vote that cats DO have a sin nature.
I think it is fair to say that if there is any Total Depravity in the universe it would reside in the nature of the cat.
Dog-and-cat theology suggests that because cats are self-centered and dogs other-directed, cats are models of sin and dogs models of love. But the other-directedness of dogs finally collapses into sheer servility (cf. Mark Twain: “Of all God’s creatures there is only one that cannot be made the slave of the lash. If man could be crossed with a cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat”), while cats are not self-centered, they are simply centered, and thus models of prayer.
Again, we value dogs for their usefulness; God gifted us with cats to show us that not everything in nature is useful, let alone meant to revolve around us (cf. the message of Job).
Which leads me to one final angle on the the canine/feline issue: dogs are thus a fitting image for the androcentric/complementarian theologian, for men who want their women obedient, cats for the feminist/egalitarian theologian, for women looking for a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Hang on a minute … Yes, my Betsy says that’s about right and I can hit the POST COMMENT box.
Those are valuable lessons to learn from a cat…though preferably at a distance, far from my home. 😉
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