A World of Desires

Leithart makes a good observation:—

John’s suggestion that the world is made up not only of “things” (TA EN TO KOSMO, v. 15) but of desires is a rich insight. He doesn’t limit the world merely to the artifacts that are evident in the world, nor to the institutions and practices of the world. The plural reference in verse 15 covers these multiple manifestations of the world, but at the heart of what John calls the world, the source from which the world flows, is desire. To put it more sociologically, (sinful) human culture – its institutions, practices, products – are all embodiments of evil desire or boastfulness. John hints that we should evaluate the world not only on the basis of what’s done or what things it contains, but on the basis of desire. And desire has a multiple relationship with culture: Desires are the “contents” of culture – culture is made up of embodied dreams, aspirations, lusts; on the other hand, the world is the source of desire, evoking certain kinds of desire. John’s sociology thus encourages us to ask what desires are embodied in roads, buildings, automobiles, iPods, coffee, customs, schools, and so on. John encourages us to seek to penetrate below the surface of cultural life to the desires that are provoking and provoked by the world.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in NT Theology, Quotations, The Blogosphere, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A World of Desires

  1. Dana Ames says:

    Hi Al-
    I wonder if desire really comes from “the world”- I wonder if it doesn’t come from within us, and if inordinate desires aren’t aberrations of whatever it is within humans that desires what is appropriate- sort of a “hooking into” what is already there which may be manifested in turning toward good or not. Otherwise I think we drift into (what little I understand of) the Buddhist idea of attachment.

    I have a problem with labeling ALL desire as bad.

    Dana

  2. Al says:

    Dana,

    Thank you for your comments.

    I don’t think that Leithart is arguing that desire comes from the world. Rather, he is arguing that the world is constituted by desire.

    I think that one important point that Leithart would make is that desire is generally mimetic in character and does not merely spontaneously arise in the individual’s heart. Furthermore, the ‘world’ is not some pure object, over against human subjects, but is a reality that is constituted in a large measure by human desire and imagination. What we refer to as the world is continually formed by the human act of imagination.

    Looking at things from the other side, we can say with Owen Barfield that ‘our thinking is as much out there in the world as in our heads.’ What we call the ‘world’ is the figuration of reality by the human imagination. Consequently, when we refer to things in the world we must always recognize that these things are formed in part by a creative act of imagination by which we perceive them to be what we perceive them to be. Such a world can never be neutral, but shares in the corruption of man’s imagination. This world is in large measure a manifestation of human desire and imagination and given the mimetic character of human desire, this world calls forth evil desires in us as well.

    I do not believe that Leithart believes that all desire is bad.

    I hope that this helps to clarify things a bit.

  3. Dana Ames says:

    Yes it does. Clearer than Leithart!
    Thanks-
    Dana

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