Tag Archives: popular culture

“American Jesus” – The Movie

I watched last night a documentary by Aram Garriga, who I believe is Catalan. The title (ripped off from a book by Stephen Prothero) was American Jesus. Here’s how Garriga describes the film:

The film focuses on a nation-widespread variety of Christian organizations, controversial and relevant figures of the Evangelical community, Christian Pop Culture & Music specialists, secular analysts, Apocalyptic Preachers and the End Times, Prosperity Pastors, Christian Bikers & Cage-fighters, Mega-churches, Snake Handlers, the Creation Museum, Atheists, Christian Surfers and Cowboys, to name just a few. Their personal testimonies and perspectives will draw a map with all of the ideological and social positions covered and properly represented.

The main goal of the film will be triggering the debate and the questioning, from a non-judgmental perspective, on what’s the current state of American Faith and what are its real social and political implications.

“Non-judgmental”–ha ha. That’s a good one.

american-jesus-posterThis film was both intriguing and disappointing. Intriguing because of its whirlwind tour of proliferating American evangelical identities, especially in relation to forms of popular culture: Christian rodeo, Christian bikers, Christian cage-fighters, Christian stand-up, Christian alternative music, Christian outsider art. Although the film didn’t overtly call attention to this, I was particularly intrigued by how many of these forms of evangelical practice were trying to make evangelicalism compatible with some conventional image of masculinity. That is, these are often contemporary iterations of “muscular Christianity.” Judging from this film, American evangelicals are struggling to get men into the pews but take for granted the commitment of women–although why evangelicalism appeals to them, this film has little to offer by way of explanation.

Which is one of the things that’s disappointing about the film. Additional disappointments–thinking especially about this film as a potential resource for teaching–are as follows:

1. The film lands so briefly on the different groups it showcases that there’s not much material to work with for the ethnographic purpose of understanding these adherents’ worldviews from the inside out. That’s because…

2. The film is basically an American evangelical freakshow. The film isn’t really trying to help viewers understand why these evangelicals organize their lives the way they do. The film shows you just enough to give you grounds to think, “Oh my God, these people are crazy!” before hustling you along to the next freak in the line-up. Leading to…

3. The film is ultimately a rant against the New Christian Right. Frank Schaeffer is featured at length–here’s a interview subject on whom the film finally settles down to linger–explaining how evangelicals have become the “fifth column of insanity” in American politics. All those crazy people we saw earlier in the film vote! They’re driving the policies of the Republican Party! They’re gleefully promoting apocalypse in the Middle East! I’m a European filmmaker who had no idea! I must warn the world!

But “from a non-judgmental perspective,” of course.

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“Missionary” horror film

A couple weeks back, students in my “Religion and American Popular Culture” read an essay I’ve published on representations of Mormon missionaries in film. Basically, I identified four trends in the films:

  1. Mormon missionaries provide a model for generic Christian evangelists (an association which should please Mormons, though I imagine evangelicals aren’t happy about it).
  2. Mormon missionaries represent a sectarian style of religion that is treated as annoying or humorous.
  3. Mormon missionaries figure in stories about sexual repression and liberation.
  4. Mormon missionaries serve, in sometimes complicated ways, as moral grounding or agents of transformation (though not in the sense of converting people to Mormonism).

Now someone has forwarded me the trailer to Missionary, a horror film that came out a couple of years ago but which had not yet registered on my radar. It looks like theme #3 is in play. Maybe #4 if the female protagonist discovers reserves of inner strength or learns not to endanger her family by having illicit sex, especially with a repressed young sectarian.

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Stephen Colbert, John McCain, and the New Testament

On December 1, John McCain was on The Colbert Report plugging his new book (in preparation for a presidential run?). As the interview began, Colbert remarked that McCain was one of the last guests who will appear on the show.

“You’re scraping the bottom of the barrel, huh?” McCain responded.

No, no, Colbert assured him. “We have saved the best for last, to paraphrase the Gospel.”

“What chapter in the Bible is that?” McCain laughed–trying to show that he got the joke. (Hey look, young people–I may be old, but I’m still “with it.”)

At which point Colbert spent a few seconds recounting the story of the wedding at Cana, where Jesus turned the water to wine, and the master of the feast expressed surprise to the bridegroom that he had saved the best wine to serve at the end. The audience cheered as McCain prepared to recover from his embarrassment.

“How are you going to appeal to Christian conservatives if you don’t know your Gospel, sir?” Colbert jibed.

“Now I remember,” McCain fake-laughed. “Thank you for refreshing my memory.”

Click the link to watch the video–the exchange occurs in about the first minute.

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Halloween + Day of the Dead fantasy

So it seems like there’s this unspoken rule that you can decorate your house for Halloween up to, what?, a week early. You can carve your jack 0’lanterns, you can have them sitting out on the front porch. But you wouldn’t leave the jack o’lanterns sitting out lit at night until Halloween. Which means you get to enjoy the fruits of your creativity for only one night. And then if you don’t take the jack o’lantern down, along with any other Halloween decorations, within the next day, you feel like a desultory neighbor, ’cause, you know, Halloween’s over.

Contrast that to Christmas. I can put up a Christmas tree on, like, Thanksgiving weekend, and I can put lights up outside my house, and I can light everything up for the world to see a month before December 25 and then for a couple weeks afterward. Why can’t Halloween linger that way–just a little?

So today I get online, and I see Google’s Day-of-the-Dead-ified logo, and suddenly I’m having this fantasy of a pluralistic future in which Halloween and Day of the Dead bleed together, in popular culture, to form this three-day holiday that starts October 31 with the Celtic jack o’lanterns and trick-and-treating (that is Celtic, right?) but doesn’t finish until November 2, when maybe people add to their jack o’lantern displays–which they’ve kept lighting for the past two nights–some magnolias and votive candles and comical skeleton figurines (which Mexican markets with any savvy should be stocking this time of year, yes?), and sugar skulls show up as a seasonal treat at school and work (because in my fantasy you can buy those now in your Anglo-owned supermarket, even here in heartland America).

I wanna do this next year. I want a three-day, Celtic-plus-Mexican, Halloween-to-Day-of-the-Dead celebration.

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Protestant Christian Values in Country Music

This is the last in a series of guest posts authored by students in an undergraduate course I taught during Spring 2014, “Protestantism and the Development of American Culture.” Each student’s task was to write an informative essay explaining some way that Protestants have shaped (or tried to shape) American culture. Students knew that their essays would be posted to this blog, so they would have a real-world online audience.

Students are entirely responsible for the content and quality of their essays; I am merely the vehicle for broadcasting them (though on the whole I’m reasonably pleased with the results).


Protestant Christian Values in Country Music
By Zachary LeCompte

When you listen to country music what do you hear? Or more importantly what don’t you hear? While you may say, “I hear songs about trucks, girls and farms”, would you believe me if I said one could also include “I hear a Christian parable”? Would you believe me if I said that in country music, we can see Christian themes and ideas reflected in both the lyrics of the songs and the music videos released by popular country artists? Do you believe that this would be possible in a culture where you seem to be encouraged to suppress religious expressions in order to achieve mainstream success?

Religion In Mainstream Music

As detailed in William Romanowski’s article “Evangelicals and Popular Music”, located in the publication Religion and Popular Culture in America, if popular artists want to achieve mainstream success they have to be willing to suppress or minimize the religious influence of the songs. That is to avoid using overtly religious lyrics that may go against the general population’s idea of what popular music should sound like. This can be credited to our cultures increasing secularization, as well as the increasing tendency to avoid explicitly religious expressions to avoid offending those of different beliefs.

And according to Campbell et al. in Media and Culture, country music is the most popular radio format in the United States. That is there are more country music radio stations than any other music format and only talk radio has more across all formats.

So on one had we see Romanowski say that popular music has to be secularized and on the other hand we see Campbell et al. say that country is the most popular music form, and yet we see Christian themes in country music. Themes such as individualism and pre-millennialism; Individualism being the focus of the individual’s personal relationship with God and pre-millennialism being the idea that Jesus will return to earth and bring a period of peace and the return of the kingdom of God.

Protestant Themes In Country Music Lyrics

Rich Tiner states in his article “Positively Country” from the periodical Christianity Today, “Non-Christian listeners are getting tired of some of the messages in mainstream country”, showing that many have begun to notice this trend. Tiner goes on to define two kinds of country music that contain theses messages or themes. The first is “positive country” or “implicitly Christian, conveying Biblical values but not necessarily a gospel message” which tends to find its way to mainstream more often. The second is “Christian country” or “overtly Christian with an explicit gospel message” which is often less welcomed on the mainstream stations but enjoys great success on its own.

Individualism

One perfect example of individualism is the radio single from artist Thomas Rhett named “Beer With Jesus”. This song received ample airtime and peaked at number 19 on Billboard’s US Country Airplay. The song paints of picture of what Rhett would ask if he were to garner some alone time with Jesus. In the chorus Rhett sings, “Do you hear the prayers I send, what happens when life ends? And when you think you’re comin’ back again?” Within these words we can see distinctly Christian messages like praying to Jesus, the idea of an after life and the return of Jesus to earth.

Later he asks, “What’s on the other side? Is mom and daddy alright? And if it ain’t no trouble tell them I said hi.” Again we see the idea of an after life. However, now we also see the idea that if you believe in God, you will go to heaven to be with Jesus when you die. This is portrayed when Rhett asks if Jesus could tell his deceased parents that he said hello, implying that Jesus would see them upon his return to heaven.

Another example of individualism is Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel”. This song enjoyed success across the board, peaking at number 1 on Billboards US Hot Country Songs and number 4 on Billboards US Christian Songs. It also won a Grammy Award for Best Country song as well as and Academy of Country Music Award for Single of the Year and a Gospel Music Association Award for Country Recorded Song of the Year.

The song tells the story of a young woman driving to visit her parents in Cincinnati when she loses control of her car. After it comes to a stop she decides to pray and to devote herself to Jesus, asking him to “take the wheel” of her life. We see here the Christian message of prayer as well as the idea that one should devote their lives to Jesus and leave their lives at his mercy.

Another song that carries a Christian theme of individualism is the 1948 Hank Williams song “I Saw the Light”. This song was discussed in the article “Preaching and Country Music” by Lamar Potts from the publication Journal for Preachers. In the song Williams talks of how he lived a life of sin, unwilling to accept change until one day he let Jesus in and it changed his life. We see this in the opening verse:

I wandered so aimless life filed with sin, I wouldn’t let my dear savior in, Then Jesus came like a stranger in the night, Praise the lord I saw the light.

The song also presents the idea of good vs. evil, which is very prevalent in Protestantism in several ways. The first is the more conservative view of the battle of living life morally and spiritually holy and avoiding a life filled with sin. The second view of good vs. evil is more of a liberal view of society trying to combat the evils that plague the community as a whole and trying to eliminate evils such as poverty, oppression and injustice.

In this case the view is more conservative, and focuses mainly on the narrators life and experiences. It is for this reason that the song is a good example of individualism.

Pre-Millennialism

Ted Olsen of Christianity Today points out in the article “Johnny Cash’s Song of Redemption” that the country legend had more that one hit that carried a Christian message. Perhaps the best example of this is his song “The Man Comes Around”. It was one of the most successful songs from the back half of his career, selling 500,000 copies before his death.

The songs centers around a main theme of the end of the world, and more specifically the apocalypse as described in the book of revelation. The song opens and closes with two spoken verses from the book of Revelation, one introducing the first horseman of the apocalypse and the other introducing the last horseman.

Open: “And I heard as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying come and see and I saw, and behold a white horse” – Revelation 6:1-2

Close: “And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts, and I looked and behold, a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.” – Revelation 6: 7-8

We also see many other allusions to the Bible in the lyrics of these songs such as “Then the father hen will call his chickens home” as well as “It’s Alpha and Omega’s kingdom come”. Both of these lines stick to the songs pattern of using biblical references to illustrate its story. And it is the use of these references we see not only a Christian influence, but also more specifically a pre-millennialist Protestant influence.

Christian Images In Country Music Videos

We also see Christian messages portrayed in music videos for songs. One music video we see a Christian messages in is Carrie Underwood’s “See You Again” video. Throughout the video we see crosses on the screen in a variety of places. One in an elderly widows living room, and another at a cemetery. We also see make shift crosses left made from debris left after a deadly tornado.

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We also see messages written near sites of tragedies. One shot shows a wall that is spray-painted with, “God Bless Sandy Hook”, referring to the school shooting. Another shows a heart with the message, “keep faith Moore, OK” in response to the deadly outbreak of Tornadoes. We also see a tombstone flash on the screen with the inscription “God heals all wounds”. In addition, we also see people raise their hands towards the sky, as you would see one doing in church or in prayer on multiple occasions.

Perhaps the strongest Christian image we see is a video clip of a father and a son being baptized together during a church service. By placing this clip in the video for the song, “See You Again”, it is implied that the father and the son will eventually meet again in heaven now that they have accepted the Lord as their savior.

Another example of a country song having Christian messages portrayed in its music video is the video for “Hurt” by Johnny Cash. This video actually contains clips of a reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus as well as other images. Some of the other images include a portrait of Jesus and an arch with a golden cross on top.

Other music videos we see Christian messages in include the video for Toby Keith’s “American Soldier” and Eric Church’s “Give Me Back My Hometown”. In Keith’s video we see a soldier praying and kissing a crucifix necklace as he prepares to go into battle, showing the importance of prayer and faith in God to protect you from your enemies.

In Church’s video we see many of the scenes at a cemetery where we see many crosses throughout. We then see the burial plot the main character is visiting, which has a cross placed at the head of the plot and a minister standing and reading from a Bible. The minister is praying for the soul of the deceased to be accepted to heaven.

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What’s the Explanation?

In a culture that is increasingly secularized, and promotes silenced religious expressions in mainstream music, how is it that we can see such distinct messages make it into mainstream airplay? It may have to do with the fact that despite the increasing secularization, we are still a nation with a strong heritage of Christianity in our culture as well as a strong Protestant influence in today’s culture. And due to this influence, many Americans are still accepting of Christian expressions.

Another reason could be that Christian culture had a large influence in the southern United States, a region also known as the “Bible Belt”.

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The Christian influence in the “Bible Belt” is important because the region is the “home of country music” (Nashville, Tennessee) and also produces a large number of country musicians, especially from Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Therefore, the personal beliefs of country musicians, and listeners may also contribute to the tolerance of Christian messages in the music.

But regardless of the reason, country music shows us that the American culture may not be as opposed to religious expression as it seems. It shows that the culture is still tolerant of Christianity. Not much unlike “moments of silence” replacing moments of prayer. We see the secularized context, but we still understand the original Christian concept. And while many still view it as a moment to pray, or exercise their faith, we allow it because it isn’t demanding our participation nor forcing us to alter our beliefs. This is similar to Christian themes being shown in country music, because while they are there, they don’t dominate the landscape. There are plenty of secular country songs to balance out the tone of the music.

In fact we even see this balancing demonstrated inside the genre of country music. Positive country, as described by Tiner, serves as the more toned down, or modest version for mainstream stations, whereas Christian country tends to be more vocal and dominating, therefore being marginalized for niche audiences.

So while religious messages may not be supported in mass, from time to time, they are still welcome in moderation. And this shows us that Protestantism has shaped American culture to be tolerant of religious expressions in mainstream culture, as long as they don’t dominate the landscape.

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The Christ Figure of Superman and the Protestant Gaze

This is one in a series of guest posts authored by students in an undergraduate course I taught during Spring 2014, “Protestantism and the Development of American Culture.” Each student’s task was to write an informative essay explaining some way that Protestants have shaped (or tried to shape) American culture. Students knew that their essays would be posted to this blog, so they would have a real-world online audience.

Students are entirely responsible for the content and quality of their essays; I am merely the vehicle for broadcasting them (though on the whole I’m reasonably pleased with the results).


The Christ Figure of Superman and the Protestant Gaze
By Keelan Jamison

There seems to be a dominance in Western story telling in trying to display the messianic or Christ figure. The Christ figure can be found in multiple stories and especially in film. If we were to look at the most recent representation of Superman in Man of Steel there is a clear story telling of the Christ Figure which follows the same tropes while there’s also some gaze theory happening as well in what I would like to call the Protestant Gaze.

According to Catherine Albanese, a professor of Religious Studies, America has a sense of sacred stories, or a creed in narrative form. A creed is something which gives people a basic sense of their human condition. To basically say that certain narratives or stories give a meaning for American citizens to share. American Protestantism mostly shares a belief set of individualism (a sense of self-reliance and self-worth), higher law (belief that God’s law trumps human law), and millennialism (mostly pre-millennialism which is a belief that Jesus will return to save us before the end of the millennium).

With the Christ figure is where doom has been brought about to the world when all of a sudden an unknown figure appears to bring about peace or a better world. The figure tends to be a bit mysterious at first and there also seems to be this idea of a sacrifice from the figure that helps bring about peace. Also this figure tends to take a pre-millennialism action which basically means the world was doomed unless this figure comes to save it.

The Man of Steel as the Christ Figure

The most recent adaptation of superman being the Man of Steel there is this obvious sense of a Christ Figure taking place in the film. Clark Kent is “out of this world”, he will “save it”, and it tends to follow a certain Christ like path. He was the first natural born of his species in centuries, he comes from a no name town in Kansas, he has revealed his powers, but doesn’t want to grab attention to himself, he doesn’t reveal himself until he finds it necessary, he’s about 33 years old, and he’s there to save all of humankind even if it means to go against his own people (that being General Zod).

Throughout the film though we don’t just see a powerful Christ Figure, but also a struggling Christ figure as well. He struggles to figure out what’s the right thing to do at what time and when should he then reveal his powers? There seems to be this set of morals that Superman must figure out for himself yet he does get a better idea and guidance when he finds a Kryptonian Scout space ship and finds his father’s consciousness which then tells him his origin and the capabilities or powers he holds.

Where much of the question of sacrifice comes in is when General Zod invades Earth and asks for them (people of Earth) to bring forth to him Kal El (Superman or Clark Kent). Superman has trouble over whether or not he should give himself up for the fate of humanity because although he doesn’t trust General Zod he also has some issues with trusting humanity as well. Superman does though in fact give himself up/reveals himself to the public and is then taken by General Zod. Much of the film is then taken in the form of action pack scenes and then the eventual last conflict between General Zod and Superman. They fight it out until Zod begins to threaten civilians with his laser eyes which then Superman decides to snap General Zod’s neck and in effect kill him which in turn Superman has just killed the last of his people for the sake of humankind.

What makes this protestant is the fact that there seems to be this sense of no matter what actions we may take Superman is still our guiding light to a better world. Only Superman can save us and help bring peace to the world. There’s this pathos of only through Superman (Christ) alone can we be saved. There’s an emphasis of higher law as well since Superman does go against certain rules, like when he saved the bus full of kids which in turn revealed his power, because it was the right thing to do. A sense of a higher morality exists. There’s also this protestant pre-millennialism placed where the world was in shambles until Superman came to save the day.

The Protestant Gaze

Gaze theory is the idea or view of how something is being looked at. So for example with the male gaze there is this view that females are always just objects to be looked at for the male viewing pleasure. The gaze usually can happen in three forms as well with camera, character, and audience. The camera and character gaze can be easily distinguished for we can tell if we were meant to look at something or someone from the eyes of the character or not (not being the camera), but with audience it’s much more subtle. The audience gaze tends to be more of an inner response of the audience (those viewing) towards what they may be seeing.

Now then with an obvious Christ figure narrative taking place in Man of Steel there’s also this cinematography aspect that takes form in what I would like to theorize as the Protestant gaze. The film does tell a story of a Christ Figure, but there is also some Christian imagery that takes place to showcase this as well. One of the most obvious times a Protestant Gaze may be occurring is when a character does the Christ pose. The Christ pose being like Jesus crucified.

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There are two Christ poses with the first pose happening in the beginning, he is in the water, and the second time he is in space. The film nearly stopped it’s pacing just to have us gaze at super man with his arms out in the crucified Christ pose which we take in a camera gaze form, but us as the audience feel or sense the Christ figure when looking at these two scenes. The placement for these scenes almost signify as if Superman is saving us from the depths of the Earth while also saving us in the Heavens. As if Superman is everywhere or always present to protect us.

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Possibly another obvious scene in where Superman is a Christ Figure and the Protestant Gaze is occurring is when he is in the Church. This is a vital scene as well within the movie since Clark Kent is questioning whether or not he should give himself up to General Zod. He is looking for guidance to this question of whether to sacrifice himself and of course behind him is a glass window pane depicting Jesus praying to God on a rock.

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Where the Protestant Gaze occurs here is we can clearly see the glass window of Jesus praying to God and it may be Jesus asking God for guidance. We see Clark Kent looking for guidance of whether to give himself up to Zod and almost as if looking for an answer. It’s this depiction of Clark Kent next to the glass window depicting Jesus do we then equate Clark Kent as Jesus.

Although the previous scenes are very obvious images of Christ, the one scene where I feel as though a protestant gaze is taking place is when Lois Lane follows Superman into the Kryptonian Space Scouter. She comes into contact with a robot like thing which then zaps her which she then proceeds to scream in pain and fear until Superman runs to her to calm her down. Where she then calms down is when she looks at Superman. When she looks at Superman we then see through her gaze the face of superman. There’s then this gentle mood that takes over the screen and we are left with looking into the face of Superman or the Christ figure.

The scene with Lois Lane being saved by Superman is very similar to a scene we would see in renaissance art depicting Jesus. The painting Christ Healing the Paralytic by Palma Il Giovane is a good example of a scene where we would see Jesus healing. By comparing the painting and the saving Lois scene it grants a good comparison of the two figures. Because we can see the similarities with both scenes we can then see the Christ figure and of course when we look through the eyes of Lois we see the Christ Figure. It is here where the Protestant Gaze is most prominent.

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So with that Man of Steel is an obvious example of the Christ figure which takes a prominent role in our societal narratives especially with the pre-millennial Christ Figure. Because of the gaze we take upon the character of superman this influences our notion of Superman being a Christ Figure and gives us a certain way of not only telling Superman’s story, but also gives us the ability to gaze upon Superman as if he were Christ.

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Klingon for Pesach

So I’ve been trying to think what ProjectilePluralism-ish topic I could post about in honor of Pesach–and just now I saw the following exchange on my Facebook wall. I’m copy-and-pasting the comments but omitting names to protect the light-minded.

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Qapla’! In case you are invited to a Klingon seder tomorrow night, here is the first of the Four Questions restored to its proper Klingon: Chay’ raMmey latlh pIm ramvam?

Next question: how to modify the scansion to fit the Mah Nishtana melody.

Just add some extra syllables. You can add “qoH,” meaning “[you] fool” as an interjection at any point. I would add it at the end and repeat “ramvam qoH” twice. Note that “latIh” is two syllables, “LAT-IH.”

Major life regrets: I never got my dad to translate the four questions into Hindi for me.

Sadly, Klingon will not be spoken at tonight’s Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Memorial, since contacts with extraterrestrials are regarded as occultist and demonic!

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Muslim Punk

The_TaqwacoresLast week, the Comparative Religion Student Association at my university showed the documentary Taqwacore, about Muslim punk bands. My understanding–i.e., this is the impression the documentary gives–is that these bands were inspired by an imagined Muslim punk subculture created by writer Michael Muhammad Knight in his novel The Taqwacores, which has also now become a film (not to be confused with the documentary). Both films are, for the moment, available on YouTube; click the hyperlinks.

Watching the documentary–which you should see for the segment where the bands crash open-mic night at the annual ISNA convention–I found myself wishing that the filmmakers would tell us more about the grounds on which these young people identify themselves as Muslim. It’s a variation on a question I explored in one of my first AAR presentations: How do people with unconventional religious identities go about persuading people to ascribe the desired religious label to them? I examined that question in the context of gay Mormons: If people are going to call themselves gay Mormons, what do they need to do–or what do they think they need to do–to convince people that they are, in fact, entitled to the label “Mormon”? By the same token, I wondered: If you were to ask these self-identifying punk Muslims on what grounds they can be considered “Muslim,” what would they say? What, in their minds, defines “Muslim” identity?

I’ve begun watching the fictional film The Taqwacores, which does more with the “What makes you a Muslim?” question than the documentary did.

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Exorcism, Skype, and the U.S. presidency

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A few days ago, The Daily Beast ran an article about Bob Larson, an Arizona-based minister who performs exorcisms via Skype. He’d been featured in The Huffington Post a few days before that. The Daily Beast piece wasn’t quite as snickery as the Huffington Post‘s: the Daily Beast author, Scott Bixby, noted that exorcism has a “relatively mainstream presence in most Christian sects (ever been baptized? Congratulations–you’ve had an exorcism).” Huffington Post author David Moye ended his piece with a little whipped-up controversy by getting a rival exorcist–head of the International Catholic Association of Exorcists–to cast doubt on the authenticity of Larson’s exorcisms, on the grounds that a truly possessed person wouldn’t sit still in front of a computer screen.

A couple questions that occur to me:

1. Presumably I, the online reader, am supposed to be snickering that there are people living in the modern age–as driven home by the fact that they’re Skyping, OMG–who nevertheless believe in demonic possession. But what does it say about contemporary American culture that these online news stories treating exorcism as laughable exist simultaneously with a film industry that seems to be advertising yet another horror flick about possession every time I go to a cineplex?

2. Did you know that the Book of Occasional Services of the Episcopal Church–the church so modern that it can boast having ordained the first openly gay bishop in the Christian mainline; the church so socially respectable that it runs the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. and has produced more U.S. presidents than any other denomination–did you know that that church’s Book of Occasional Services, as published in 2003, includes a rite for exorcism? Well, more precisely, it contains a page explaining that exorcism is a rite of the church, so if a priest believes that someone is possessed, not mentally ill, then they should contact their bishop for directions about how to proceed. I would love to see those instructions.

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Family Guy: Cleveland’s Church

I encountered this Family Guy clip recently. My understanding is that it’s an unfinished, unaired gag. I like how it digs at one of my pet peeves: the essentializing of a certain charismatic worship style as authentically “black” religion. (What peeves me is when scholars of African American religion become complicit in the essentialism.)

MEG: Well, Brian, if you won’t let me guide you to God, maybe you’ll find him in Cleveland’s church.

BRIAN: Huh. Not what I expected. It’s Cleveland and a bunch of white people.

CLEVELAND: [peeved] Oh, I bet you thought this was gonna be one of those “la la la” jumpin’ up and down churches…

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