Overheard (after a fashion):
“Did you know that [omitted] was a Christian coffee house?”
“No! Shouldn’t they have to warn people?!”
I lament that attitude, but it doesn’t arise in a cultural vacuum. Charles Blow at the New York Times puts a malignant cultural section under his microscope:
In 2009, the gap between the share of Republicans and Democrats who believed in evolution was just 10 percentage points, 54 percent and 64 percent, respectively.
Last year, that gap widened to a whopping 24 points because as the percentage of Democrats who believed in evolution inched up to 67 percent, the percentage of Republicans believing so plummeted to 43 percent …
When you look at white evangelical Protestants, the evolution denialism gets even worse. Only 27 percent of that group believes in evolution. According to a 2011 Pew report, while white evangelical Protestants make up only 18 percent of the population overall, they “make up 43 percent of Republicans who fall into the category of staunch conservatives.”
We’re in a culture where the most visible and audible Christianity, pervasively present on radio and TV, is Evangelical. They’re not a Christian majority, but historic “whole-body” Christianity – i.e., with incense, candles, kneeling, responding, and ultimately, communing – has never translated well to one- or two-dimensional media. It’s not even a matter of orthodoxy; Fulton Sheen, to the best of my memory, presented as if he were a learned and thoughtful Presbyterian. EWTN occasionally televises Mass, but it’s worse than watching Golf’ – more like The Paint Drying network.
Deracinated ideology that purports to be authentic Christianity – or if you prefer, a Christianity that can say “Electronic Church” without giggling at the thought of a square circle – fits radio and television to a “T,” and Evangelical dominance has only increased in my adult lifetime:
With the gradual reduction of radio and television stations’ “public service” airtime that began in the late 1950s, evangelicals increasingly dominated the nation’s religious programming. By the 1970s most liberal protestants—unable or unwilling to compete with evangelicals in a “free market” media environment—had abandoned radio and television to conservative Protestant broadcasters (many represented by the evangelical National Religious Broadcasters). This set the stage for the success, publicity, controversy, and scandal that surrounded the “Electronic Church” from the mid-1970s on.
(Institute for Study of American Evangelicals) Of course, much of this paid broadcasting is liberally sprinkled with fundraising appeals, ranging from chaste to in-your-face crass.
Add to that the increasing identification of Evangelicals with the Religious Right in recent decades, and you have a really explosive mixture. Blow again on the “denialism” gap:
I believe that something else is also at play here, something more cynical. I believe this is a natural result of a long-running ploy by Republican party leaders to play on the most base convictions of conservative voters in order to solidify their support. Convince people that they’re fighting a religious war for religious freedom, a war in which passion and devotion are one’s weapons against doubt and confusion, and you make loyal soldiers.
Partly because of such confounding of religion and politics, partly because of the apocalyptic end-times fixations of much radio and television Evangelicalism, liberals and secularists (and to a lesser extent Jews and traditional Christians) sometimes feel as much besieged – even menaced – as blessed by Evangelicals presence in public life. The stench has become bad enough to be the stuff of rueful humor.
And this, in popular imagination, is not an aberrant American Christianity, but Christianity simpliciter. Surely, if they are running a Coffee House, they are up to something nefarious.
Evangelicals need to wake up that the GOP is playing them for fools, that it’s cynical about (if not secretly opposed to) the issues it uses to galvanize Evangelical voters, and that it seems apt for “good Christians” to be the first to lay down their arms (bad metaphor alert) in the ideological pissing contest (end bad metaphor alert).
As for what to do about the bad impression left by alternately sensationalist and money-grubbing radio and television, I have no opinion. Figure it out yourselves. Starve it out, for instance.
And as for the coffeehouse critics? They’re not my problem. But for peace to prevail, they must lay down their arms, too. Maybe the Karma Fairy (see below) can intervene.
The local newspaper sampled local religious leaders (disproportionately skewed toward marginal traditions, but never mind) for book recommendations.
Most predictable was the Unitarian Universalist’s list of three:
- Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
- Beyond God the Father: Toward a philosophy of Women’t Liberation by Mary Daly (“unmasks the oppression of the patriarchal God,” but surprisingly skeptical about a female God who “still retains the hierearchical structures that make some people believe that they are better than other people”)
- Waking up the Karkma Fairy: Life Lessons and Other Holy Adventures by Meg Barnhouse.
It would have been uncharitable for me to make up a list like that, but I was spared the necessity. This was not The Onion.
Most unexpected was a fundamentalist Baptist recommending G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy as a “winsome, creative and surprising book which allows the reader to step back and see the sweeping landscape of Christianity in all of its breathtaking vastness and pardoxical mystery. Plus, it’s an old book ….”
Yeah, what the Baptist said. Except Chesterton is not an “old book” in any meaningful sense. If you want “old,” I offer herewith some links to old: Didache, Ignatius of Antioch, Iraneaus of Lyons, Eusebius, the Cappadocian Fathers – heck, even Augustine).
What’s unexpected is a fundamentalist savoring “breathtaking vastness” and “paradoxical mystery” — and longing for “old” even if his criterion is pretty lame. I hope he doesn’t get in trouble for that.
Jayson D. Bradley sends out an APB to Evangelical Pastors: Dude, Quit Telling Me About Your Smoking Hot Wife. Lots of suggestions for hubristic (“see how I conspicuously love my homely wife; aren’t I wonderful?”) or diversionary (closet gay or E.D. sufferer) reasons why a pastor would be so crass as to say such a thing.
Pro tip for the Evangelical Pastor looking for the competitive edge: you’ve so piqued our interest now that some cheesecake photos of Ms. Smokin’ Hot, posted on the Church Website, would be a really good next step. Don’t be too coy; there’s a lot of competition for male eyeballs.
Oddly enough, I’ve never heard an Orthodox Priest boast about his smokin’ hot wife (yes, most of our Priests are married). But then, the tone of our services is actually so worshipful that only the most clueless person would intrude with anything even faintly salacious. Heck, most of our women even come to church (you’re not going to believe this) dressed modestly. And while it would be anachronistic to think that modesty’s the reason, floor-length black cassocks or vestments on the key liturgical actors are a turn-on only for fetishists.
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)