Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ready for the Rapture?—Part 2

As promised, here is my first review of Christian pop culture for the week.

For the past week and a bit I've been reading Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture, by Daniel Radosh. Radosh is a self-described non-religious Jewish liberal, who decides he wants to explore the $7 billion industry that is Christan pop (sub)culture. He travels to 18 cities and towns in 13 states, interviewing a fascinating group of people, ranging from Bibleman, the Caped Christian; Rob Adonis, the founder and star of Ultimate Christian Wrestling; Ken Ham, the country's leading creationism prophet; and Jay Bakker, the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and the pastor of a liberal, punk rock church.

Here are some excerpts from the pages that I dog-eared (much to Mike's dismay, as he hates it when I dog-ear books!):
  • At a contemporary Christian music festival (which was relatively liberal in evangelical circles), Radosh meets author and professor Dan Howard, who talks about his fondness for "transformative" contemporary Christian music and rails against his own "counterculture's" rejection of key dominant values. He says "The only values that we're worried about are abortion and gay rights. That's it. Because those are sins we don't commit; those are sins other people commit. The Bible has more than 2,000 verses about poverty and maybe 5 or 10 that you can interpret as being about abortion, but we're all about aabortion. Those 2,000 verses about Christians' responsibility to widows and orphans and aliens and strangers and the poor? We manage to be blind to al; of that, but we can find those 5 verses about abortion." Amen, brother.
  • Apparently "self-cutting" is a major issue among young Christians. "The creator of one self-injury support group told Christianity Today that the most important message to give a cutter is that "Jesus loves her as she is, and that his atonement is sufficient for her sins." However, how is that reconciled with the evangelical emphasis on sin and evil? Perhaps these teens are feeling awful about themselves, and that they are not worthy, and resort to cutting? It causes me to wonder...
  • A liberal evangelical told Kadosh that he believes that the way for the fundamentalist churches to be transformed from within and to be more inclusive to those on the outside is for them to be grown, like bread rises, gradually and organically. "The problem is that mainstream liberal and moderate churches stagnated and lost their cultural relevance. The Lutherans, Anglicans, and Methodists, they were never the driving force behind the growth of the Christian music industry...the moderate voices never expressed themselves in a commercial way, so their voices are muted today. You don't hear them unless you're part of their flock." This is true--I have heard some wonderful, progressive Christian musical groups, but only within the Lutheran (or other mainstream) churches. The mainstream churches have not appealed to the masses, so most people think of Christian music in only one way.
  • The most poignant part of the book for me was when Radosh discovered a pro-life group at a music festival with pamphlets damning not only abortion, but also assisted reproductive technologies. Because he and his wife had to resort to IVF to have their own twins, he understandably became angered by this group's assertions that they viewed his children as "objects" or "commodities"...or that "assisted reproduction violates marital integrity." This is one thing that angers me about the Catholic church, too: how can the church fight to keep people alive on life support, yet claim that assisted reproductive technology is evil? How is it any different? 100 years ago, there were no ventilators or IV fluids to keep people alive. If you're going to reject scientific methods of creating life, why not also reject scientific methods of sustaining life?
  • Another liberalish recording artist talked to Radosh about his discomfort with the way evangelicals treat the issues of abortion and homosexuality. He talked about how bizarre it is to spend so much time focusing on abortion, while sanctioning killing in war or the death penalty. He also said "Jesus never mentioned homosexuality once. How has it become such an issue? Strange how all the things that Jesus actually did talk about fail to become issues...."
  • Radosh devotes a chapter to the abstinence movement, and discusses how it casts "women as objects to be managed by men: first by fathers and then by husbands," and casts men as lustful creatures who women have the responsibility to protect against lust (by not wearing revealing clothing, etc.). Some in the abstinence movement even suggest refraining from kissing until marriage! Abstinence educators in the past talked about how difficult it is to use condoms, because they have to be inspected for leaks, and then after using them, the genital area have to be cleaned with rubbing alcohol or Lysol! And "premarital sex depletes a chemical necessary for forming permanent a bond with one's spouse (the doctor who came up with this theory was later appointed to run the Bush administration's women's health program!)."
  • In one of the last chapters, Radosh talks about visiting a "hell house" with Jay Bakker (the liberal son of Jim and Tammy Faye), which is a Christian version of a haunted house, with depictions of evil in the world and the sinners here. Baker is suitably horrified at what his fellow Christians are implying about "nonbelievers" or "sinners," and says when he saw "Jesus" at the end of the hell house, he felt like saying "If you really love us, why is this the option--to serve you or torture us for eternity?" That describes how I feel when I read about or experience this perspective of Christianity. I believe in a loving God, not want who will damn us to hell if we don't behave in a certain way. I believe in grace and forgiveness.

Radosh actually forms a lot of positive bonds during his journey and finds much to appreciate in the evangelical movement, once he was able to find his way to the outskirts. There is much out there that is disappointing, horrifying, and just not very smart...but Radosh found some hope for the future. Tomorrow...Jesus Camp!

1 comment:

  1. Next on your reading list needs to be the Wordy Shipmates. A historical(and humorous) perspective
    on fundamentalism, Puritanism, and Separitism which ties many of these things into our present situation, religious and political. Mom