We can protect our deepest convictions without closing ourselves off.
I teach at a Christian university located in a rural community in the midwestern United States. Our student body is more diverse than you might imagine, and yet many of my students testify to the experience of living in what they call a “Christian bubble.” They’re aware that their life experiences have been uniquely “local”—insulated from the larger world.
Sometimes, students lament what they perceive as a narrowness of vision within the bubble. Other times, they express gratitude that they have solid ground on which to stand. But the admission of a bubble includes the recognition that there are other ways of being in the world that are not only possible but often desirable.
For many of us, contact with other webs of meaning can make our own web feel much more fragile, endangered, and exposed.
In his three-part magnum opus, Spheres, German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk tells a story of humans in search of “immune system bubbles” that allow them to feel stable and safe in an inhospitable world. He sees the story of modernity as the effort to create new, industrial-grade immune systems to replace the (theologically inspired) spheres of meaning that we’ve lost. Displaced from the insulating safety that theology once provided, we now find ourselves exposed to the elements, without a shell.
In other words, what makes us feel secure? It’s no longer religious stories of our place in a meaning-filled cosmos but rather what Sloterdijk calls “industrial-scale civilization.” This civilization is a globalizing force, but paradoxically, our overextended connectedness makes us feel less safe.
Mimicking Marx, then, Sloterdijk re-narrates the human story not as a series of …