Saturday, September 27, 2008

Stepping back a few feet

A good friend of mine gave me a book recently and wanted to know my reaction to it. The book is Rapture Ready! by Daniel Radosh. From the inside cover flap: "Written with the perfect blend of amusement and respect, Rapture Ready! is an insightful, entertaining, and deeply weird journey through the often hidden world of Christian pop culture. This vast and influential subculture--a $7 billion industry and growing--can no longer be ignored by those who want to understand the social, spiritual, and political aspirations of evangelical Christians."

The book delivers on that promise. Each chapter describes the author's exploration of a different facet of American Christian culture, from Christian bookstores to CCM to Christian theme parks. Radosh, a self-identified liberal New York Humanistic Jew, is self-aware enough to acknowledge that there are nuances of this world that he simply cannot "get" as an outsider, but his insight is often painfully keen:
"The largest subset of Christian gifts is apparel. Christian T-shirts are the uniform in which evangelicals under thirty suit up for battle, and the companies that make them are constantly scrambling to come up with slogans and designs that appeal to today's youth, generally to embarrassing effect: 'God is my DJ'; 'Jesus has skills'; 'I'm like totally saved.' The marginally more ambitious shirts attempt to impart a lesson: 'Life would be so easy if everyone read the manual'; 'Friends don't let friends go to hell'; 'Modest is hottest.' The tangled rationale of that last one--we can persuade girls to dress in a way that does not attract sexual attention by telling them that doing so will attract sexual attention, especially if they wear this form-fitting shirt--begins to hint at the tension in bending Christian messages to pop-culture forms." p. 12.
Radosh raises an obvious question that Christians themselves seem to be too close to see: What is the relationship between the gospel and the medium? Where does one end and the other begin? Is there even a line between them?

I don't know the answer to those questions, but I have to wonder whether in the context of the gospel, distinctions between message and medium are irrelevant, or at least futile. I'm no rhetorician (and some of my friends are, so I have to tread lightly here), but it makes sense to me that a "message" addressing fundamental world-view carries with it so many basic assumptions even about media that its very expression begs questions it seeks to answer. I know that sounds vague, but I'm not sure I understand it precisely enough to describe it better. Maybe it can be likened to cross-cultural communication barriers: two people speaking the same language from different backgrounds and with different life experiences attach different assumptions and nuances to words, so that they can carry on a whole conversation and each come away thinking that they understood each other, but have entirely different ideas of what the conversation was about.

The conversation Christians are trying to have with nonchristians, and vice versa, is just like this--the proverbial two ships passing in the night. Radosh starts to see the distance between the ships when he chats with a fan at a Frank Peretti book-signing:
"'What do you think of the villains in his books?' I braced myself for a blast of vitriol.

'I think he has a little bit of mercy towards them. He doesn't really paint them as totally evil.'

What?

'It's the perspective he brings,' Terri explained. 'They just, you know, are pawns. We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers.'

I had been reading Peretti through secular eyes. To a Christian, the dastardly liberals are not so much villains as victims. It's not their fault they're possessed by demons. But if I felt a slight diminishing of hostility, I also saw any hope of mutual accommodation go up in a blast of sulfurous smoke. It may shock Peretti, but these days, much of what liberals really anguish about behind closed doors is how to find common ground with people of faith. And now I realized that for at least some people, common ground will never be possible because they don't object to specific ideas that can be reframed or adjusted. They object to Satan, whose bidding we are doing. They may not hate us--they may believe they love us--but they hate him, and they won't negotiate with him either. We want to persuade them, reason with them, listen to them, and accommodate them. They want to save us. It's not even the same playing field." p. 110-111.
If you've ever wondered what "we" look like to "them," this book is my number one recommendation. If you haven't, well, you should. You might learn something.

HT to Eric G. for the book. Thanks a ton. So far I think it's spot-on.

1 comment:

Kold_Kadavr_flatliner said...

How I'd love to be your friend in the Great Beyond, so beautiful, wonderful, adorable. God bless you. Pray for me as vice-versa. Deal? Cool shoes, girl.