The American Library Association has named The Listening Heart: Vocation and the Crisis of Modern Culture by A.J. Conyers to list of top 10 religion books for 2007.
A culture built upon the ideology of individual choice will be culture of alienation, loneliness, and violence. In a provocative new book, A. J. Conyers shows that Western culture was once informed by a sense of vocation, that men understood life as a response to a call from outside and above themselves. Beginning in the 16th century, however, the sense of vocation began to fade, to be replaced by the modern celebration of the unfettered human will. In such a society, Conyers argues, where relations among men are based on force, true community is impossible.
The idea of vocation is of central importance in the Judeo-Christian tradition, of course, but Conyers shows how it has shaped non-Western societies as well. In every tradition, the divine call to which men respond is usually both arduous and contrary to their own will. When men's responsibility to the One who calls them is replaced by the cult of choice for its own sake, the ties of family, church, clan--the ties of affection that constitute real community--are dissolved. Society is organized but not organic, obsessed with a radical equality that reduces men to interchangeability. In the culture of choice, there is only the individual and the omnipotent state.
In a stunning insight, Conyers shows that the quintessential institution of modernity is slavery, for the slave is the ultimate autonomous individual. Stripped of every human tie, he belongs to no community but to a stranger. It is no accident, then, that the rise of modern slavery coincided with the Enlightenment itself.
This wide-ranging study, refreshingly free of sentimentality, makes the barbarism and unparalleled violence of the twentieth century explicable. For a society that casts off the burden of vocation abandons that which makes it human.
A. J. Conyers (1944-2004) was a professor of theology at the George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University until his death in 2004. His previous books include The Long Truce: How Toleration made the World Safe for Power and Profit (Spence), How to Read the Bible, The Eclipse of Heaven, and The End: What the Gospels Say About the Last Things.
The Listening Heart: Vocation and the Crisis of Modern Culture by A. J. Conyers is available in hardcover (224 pages with index), isbn 1-890626-68-6, 978-1-890626-68-6, $27.95, from Spence Publishing Company, www.spencepublishing.com.