Tuesday, May 06, 2008

WWJD - A Fruit For the Church? (By Which They Will Know Us?)

Hanna Rosin always strikes me as a true journalist. She is extremely fair-minded and upright - and particularly in the way she covers contemporary Christianity. Nobody writes better about us in a non-flattery, unblinking, but respectful eye kind of way. She lets us speak for ourselves the way any subject of an article should be allowed to. And she deserves a lot of credit for it. This kind of fairness with Christians has to be the litmus test for the "true journalism creds" of a secular scribe today. I mean, really, 95% of journalists are writing from outside our community looking in, and they are looking in at us as though we were freaks in a sideshow or worse, social havoc wreaking idiots who should be restrained if not confined - and they can't resist letting their readers and editors know they are on the right side of this the last socailly acceptable bigotry.

But back to Rosin... I love the way she writes just from a craft standpoint. She's clear, engaging, and really takes the time to acquire depth of knowledge about her subject.

Here's a review of the recent release Rapture Ready by Daniel Radosh, which Rosin did for Slate. The book, and Rosin's review is cataloging the source of our Christian shame which is the whole universe of Christian schlock which has substituted in our generation for the Cathedrals and gorgeous choral music and astounding works of literary and visual art that our ancestors in faith used to bring into the world. Instead of The Inferno, our generation offers to the cosmos Left Behind. Instead of the Ave Verum, we ask people to believe our faith is true through the degrading awfulness of Clap Your Hands All You People.

Even more than the merchandizing of Christianity, Rosin is wondering what the sub-popular culture of "Christian" novels and comedians and, I would add, movies, adds to the faith of Christians, or the good of the larger world. (My only quibble with Rosin is that she doesn't distinguish enough between Evangelical Christianity and the rest of us in the Christian universe. Not that we Catholics don't have our ugly merchandizing of schlocky stuff - we invented it! But it has never been for Catholics the same urgency to create a parallel pop-cultural universe. Committed Catholics dwell in caves decorated with very un-popculturalar artifacts! No, the problem Rosin's piece is pointing at is a pastoral error that is predicable of American Evangelical Protestantism alone...and I would argue is causing its demise.) Here's a snip...

In the '80s, Christians were known as the boycotters, refusing to see movies or buy products that offended them. They felt about commercial culture much the way a Marxist might: that it was a decadent glorification of money and meaningless human relationships. Then, sometime during the '90s, when conservative evangelicals started coming out of their shells, they took a different tack. The boycotters became coopters and embarked on the curious quest to enlist America's crassest material culture in the service of spiritual growth.


At a Christian retail show Radosh attends, there are rip-off trinkets of every kind—a Christian version of My Little Pony and the mood ring and the boardwalk T-shirt ("Friends don't let friends go to hell"). There is Christian Harlequin and Christian chick lit and Bibleman, hero of spiritual warfare. There are Christian raves and Christian rappers and Christian techno, which is somehow more Christian even though there are no words. There are Christian comedians who put on a Christian version of Punk'd, called Prank 3:16. There are Christian sex-advice sites where you can read the biblical case for a strap-on dildo or bondage (liberation through submission). There's a Christian planetarium, telling you the true age of the universe, and my personal favorite—Christian professional wrestling, where, by the last round, "Outlaw" Todd Zane sees the beauty of salvation.

At some point, Radosh asks the obvious question: Didn't Jesus chase the money changers out of the temple? In other words, isn't there something wrong with so thoroughly commercializing all aspects of faith?

It is way beyond the scope of Rosin's article to figure out theologically - I would say actually, pastorally - the answer to her question, but it really isn't for her to have to answer it. It's for us Christians to ask ourselves why we have created a parallel universe. What turned us from being yeast in the lump, into being hoarders of the gifts we were given, fearful and disdainful of the world outside that we were supposed to love and renew?

How do we fix it? For starters, call, write, and join here.

(Grateful hat-tip to Dawn for the heads up on the piece.)

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