"Let me make it clear . . . I am a Christian. Jesus is who saved me.
He’s what keeps me full and whole."- Miley Cyrus
He’s what keeps me full and whole."- Miley Cyrus
Unbelievable, isn’t it? But none of this is happening in a vacuum.
Once upon a time some of the greatest secular music artists came out of the Church- and many of them never left. Artists as diverse as Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley, Marvin Gaye, and Sam Cooke did some of their most fiery and passionate music in the Gospel field. But can you name a single modern Christian Contemporary artist? There are some popular artists - the Oannes Brothers come to mind- who are Christian and work in a pop idiom but what about in a religious one?
it’s punk rock in robes. But wouldn’t listen to a CCM artist if you tied me a chair. What the hell- or in this case, what the Heaven happened? I think the answer to that question might tell us something about where my country has gone wrong.
Every Christmas I peruse the local Evangelical bookstore looking for presents for some family members and I am always stunned by the derivative nature of the items on display. There isn’t a single original idea to be found. Everything is a Christianized imitation of some secular genre or style. Christian sports stories, Christian detective stories, Christian sex manuals, Christian heavy metal, Christian self-help books- it’s all second-hand recycling of old mainstream ideas.
But Christian pop is by far the worst offender here- no style, no matter how profane in its origin is off limits. I’m still waiting for the Evangelical Lady Gaga- and I have a feeling I won’t be waiting long. We heard an army of Evangelical Britney Spears clones, many of whom were as scantily dressed as the original. But the point is that you can’t Christianize that kind of slut pop, or death metal or punk- because the assumptions of the music itself are based explicitly in transgression, whether it’s sex or violence. Writing vaguely devotional lyrics isn't going to change that.
So, why is it that Evangelicals seem so unable to produce their own original pop culture phenomena that they need to appropriate any work they can find produced by a nominal Christian? The Evangelical movement is a multibillion-dollar goliath that boasts at least 100 million adherents in the United States alone- can’t even one of them produce something on the level of popularity of a Star Wars? The only thing that comes close is the Left Behind series, a case of preaching to the converted if ever there was one (and preaches non-Biblical doctrine as well). But given the tens of millions of dollars Left Behind has put in Tim LaHaye’s pockets, why can’t he get a decent movie into the mulitplexes?
The answer may have something to do with the way Evangelicals communicate. The Evangelicals’ native medium is the spoken and written word (or Word), hence their thinking is usually linear. The immense pressure to conform and submit to authority might also destroy any native creativity a young Evangelical might have. This is the why the fiction, films and music they produce are so derivative and impotent. Great art comes from breaking the rules.
They have honey-tongued preachers that can talk the money out of the most hard-bitten atheist’s wallet (using very ancient NLP techniques), but since most American Evangelicals are relentlessly discouraged from thinking as individuals ( a problem that's gotten much worse since Obama's election), their powers to create original work are stunted. There are plenty of very capable musicians and craftsmen that are Evangelicals, but most of the work you see they produce is usually a weak imitation of superior secular work.
So when the secular world comes knocking, the most talented Christian artists are probably going to answer. And since what we call pop these days is like Jean Genet’s and Michel Foucault’s most transgressive wet dreams come true, we’re inevitably going to end up with that display up top.
You can spin all kinds of interesting theories about where it all comes from- and you might make a fortune running a website devoted to it. But what it really speaks to in my mind, is not so much sorcery as creative bankruptcy and desperation. Some guys might see the hatching of evil millenia-long plans, I just see flop sweat. I only see prostitution. (And seriously- if anyone out there is really afraid of a Jay-Z or a Lady Gaga video, go change your god-damned diaper).
If you bring this up state of affairs to an Evangelical, they always cite Tolkien and C.S. Lewis in response. But does that make any sense? Never mind that both of these writers were part of a much, much older, high-church tradition that would see modern American Christianity as the spawns of the deepest pits of Hell. But then again, there’s yet another point to be made here.
Having both read the Lord of the Rings books and seen the movies, I am dumbstruck- what exactly is Christian about them? Elves, fairies, trolls, wizards, talking trees- this is pure Anglo-Saxon paganism. Is Gandalf a Christ figure beause he resurrects himself? Christian doctrine reserves that power for Jesus Christ alone, and according to Christian dogma, anyone who claims that power not expressly bearing the name of Christ is antichrist. At least that’s what I was taught, back when you were taught to read the Bible in church, and not The Purpose-Driven Life or the latest Ann Coulter book.
The same goes with Lewis. Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia is said to be a metaphor and parable about Christ (which it really isn't, as we’ve seen), but again- claiming Christ’s power without explicitly glorifying the name of Christ is forbidden as idolatry in Christian theology. Where is the name of Christ glorified in Lord of the Rings or Narnia? How is the fact that Gandalf practices occult arts - expressly forbidden by the Bible - overlooked by his Christian apologists?
Despite what a lot of people might think, I'm not anti-religion. I'm anti-junk religion. And sadly, junk religion is all we got these days. Maybe this is what happens when great ideas die.