James K A Smith recently published a collection of essays called The Devil Reads Derrida. The title article, which I think is the same as this one, addresses the question of why Christians should engage with secular philosophy. He uses an example from the film The Devil Wears Prada:
In a key scene, Miranda (played so devilishly by Meryl Streep) is presiding over her entourage, trying to select just the right belt to accessorize the cover ensemble for next month's magazine. They are passionately deliberating between two belts, which, to the untrained eye, look almost identical. Her fashion-averse assistant Andy (played by Anne Hathaway) stumbles into the gathering. Growing impatient, and with a flippant disdain for fashion, she refers to the rack of designs merely as "stuff." Miranda, in that calm, satanic stare that Streep nailed so well, pauses and quietly says:
"'Stuff'? Oh, OK. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet, and you select, I don't know, that lumpy blue sweater because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue. It's not turquoise. It's actually cerulean. You're also blindly unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St. Laurent, wasn't it, who showed cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in collections of eight different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs, so it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry, when, in fact, you're wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room ... from a pile of 'stuff.'"
Smith uses this example to talk about the way that culture is shaped by the thinking that goes on in the sort of academic contexts that most of us look at and say "Wuh?" Derrida, Foucault, Zizek, Lacan, Kristeva: you may not even have heard of these people, and if you can understand everything they say, you're a smarter cookie than I, but these are (some of) the thinkers who shape what we think now and what we will think in the future. Pretty much everything we do, think, want and feel is affected by the discussions that experts have in language that 99% of us find totally impenetrable. I'm typing this in a blog application, on a computer, using the internet and I have no idea how it works. And you know what? That's ok. I don't need to know binary, or even html, to get the benefits of computers. You don't need to understand couture to get dressed in the morning. You don't need to understand John Milbank to have your life transformed by Jesus. But just don't say this: 'I just can't see what all this has to do with the lives of ordinary people.' This has everything to do with the lives of ordinary people.