Scruton vs. Carson on Culture

Roger Scruton, Culture Counts (2007) 1-2 and 106:

By “culture” I mean what has been called “high culture”–the accumulation of art, literature, and humane reflection that has stood the “test of time” and established a continuing tradition of reference and allusion among educated people.

[T]he attempt to build a realm of intrinsic value–and that is what a culture really is.

D. A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited (2008) 1:

Not very long, “culture” commonly referred to what is now meant by “high culture.” … Today, “culture” has become a fairly plastic concept that means something like “the set of values broadly shared by some subset of the human population.” That’s not bad, but doubtless the definition could be improved by a bit of tightening.

To which Scruton replies, 2:

The culture of a civilization is the art and literature through which it rises to consciousness of itself and defines its vision of the world. All civilizations have a culture, but not all cultures achieve equal heights.

Carson again in a footnote, 3:

Here I am parting from many older treatments [i.e. T. S. Eliot], which, despite their heuristic value, subtly assume some notion or other of “high” culture.

But Scruton defends Eliot, 13-14:

A culture consists of all those activities and artifacts which are organized by the “common pursuit of true judgment,” as T. S. Eliot once put it. And true judgment involves the search for meaning through the reflective encounter with things made, composed, and written, with such an end in view.

As I referenced previously and as these two men demonstrate, there are two sides in the church’s culture wars. Scruton’s side allows him room to oppose pop music (for one among several examples see pages 60-65 in Culture Counts), but Carson’s leaves music alone. The first camp makes judgments about architecture, art, and literature while the second seems quick to find reflections of common grace in inferior works.

This debate enters the church every Sunday in the form of musical styles, architecture, and personal appearance. It touches economic and political philosophy (though the two sides probably have most everything in common here).

But what we shouldn’t deny is that the tension exists. Rather, the times call for a sober investigation of first principles surrounding–it would appear–even the very definition of culture and the fabled existence of that dreadful beast, high culture.

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