December 08, 2005

Strange Theology

Stream of consciousness, folks, feel free to criticize in the comments:

During my adult life, I have not felt much of a personal or emotional link to the Deity, so I'm a bit at a loss when I encounter people or churches that really wear their faith on their sleeve. I grew up in a somewhat traditional Methodist church, with appropriate religious and classical music and a fairly academic, scholarly approach to matters of faith and scriptural interpretation. Everyone wore their Sunday best, and the service was a set liturgy.

I first began to notice as a teen and have continued to notice since then a rough correlation between the informality of the church and the fundamentalism of the theology. In other words, the more casual and loose the liturgy, the more fundamentalist the theology. This isn't an axiom, and I can think of the Eastern Orthodox churches as a specific counterexample, but among Protestant Christians, it seems to hold true.

One trait shared by the more fundamentalist Christian sects is active evangelism. The message of their evangelism is usually pretty simple: get baptized and accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior (remember the capital letters!) There's not much room in that message to explore possible contradictions in the text of the bible, to analyze the synoptic gospels or the four-source hypothesis of Old Testament authorship and redacting, or the doubtful historicity of many of the bible stories. Really, your best sales line is not to raise questions but to offer simple answers.

What's interesting to me is to observe how modern evangelism uses current technology to spread decidedly pre-modern ideas. I actually like Veggie Tales (and still have a soft spot in my heart for Davey and Goliath from my childhood), but am otherwise cold on specifically "Christian" videos. I'm definitely offended by televangelists (who I think are among the worst violators of Matthew 6:5-13). I also don't much like when church leaders get involved in politics.

Another area of "modern" evangelism that makes me uncomfortable is contemporary Christian music, mainly because the [substandard] music is made subservient to the [banal] lyrics.

So this is all a long-winded way to express my profound discomfort with Contemporary Christian Porn (as my wife dubbed it) exemplified in JC's GirlsGirlsGirls. I looked through this site and I am pretty sure that they are actually serious. There is a definite amount of earnestness here, not the easy-to-spot smart-assery of a Landover Baptist type of parody.

Sure, these ambassadors for JC are likely to get some attention:


But doesn't this somehow seem to cheapen the message? I would be interested in feedback.

(Hat tip to the Commissar).

Posted by JohnL at December 8, 2005 09:53 PM | TrackBack

While there is nothing wrong with being an attractive person, you are correct in feeling a bit uneasy with this use of carnal lure as if they worked at Hooters.

Posted by: TF Stern at December 8, 2005 11:24 PM

Bethcha can't guess which one I like most.

All kidding aside, it's a poor idea IMO. But then, my journey to Christ began with Carlos Casteneda's psychadelic "Don Juan" books, so you enver can tell what will plant the seed. And, I'm known to appreciate an attractive female, of course. But still, tying sexual attractiveness into a Christian spiritual message seems like a bad idea, since today's youth culture of "hook ups" is creating lifetimes of baggage for kids as it is.

Who would have thought I'd ever look back on the 70's as "more innocent times?"

Posted by: Hucbald at December 8, 2005 11:44 PM

WTF? Porn for 'good' Christians? Since when did God and Messiah need tits and ass to sell the 'product'?

Honestly, as a Pagan I'm offended by the needs to sell sex to get people to want to become a Christian. Cheapen the message? How about throw the message in the toilet!

I wonder if they're site gets hacked, or their 'church' burns down...will they know God is VERY, VERY PISSED???

Posted by: Rhianna at December 9, 2005 01:41 AM

I very nearly got engaged to a would-be/self-described "whore for Christ", so maybe I should recuse myself from this discussion...

Posted by: LDH at December 9, 2005 08:47 AM

Hmm. I didn't go through the entire site, but at least the overt message seemed to be aimed at workers in the sex industry, not at the solitary unsaved male. In which case, the pictures could be seen as "we could still be working, but aren't."

And I highly agree with this thought: "Really, your best sales line is not to raise questions but to offer simple answers." If all you need to do to get into heaven is to recite a prayer from the back of a Jack Crick cartoon, then why bother with complex theology?

Posted by: owlish at December 9, 2005 01:58 PM

I have spoken to a lot of evangelicals, dont undersetimate their understanding of theology, at least if they have been christian for a while. One old guy who handed out tracts in front of a flop house sat with me in a Waffle House and went on for two hours on Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and the difference between Theravada and maranatha Buhddism.

Posted by: Kyle N at December 10, 2005 05:56 PM

John, another exception to your scheme would be the unitarian/kumbaya branches of protestantism, along with the quakers and other quietist sects. They have little or no liturgical rigor, yet are not fundamentalist.

Also, the Eastern Orthodox churches are not fundamentalist, really - in the sense that a fundamentalist is usually trying to get rid of all the extra bits that have glommed onto a faith over the centuries and return to a "pure" version of the faith. Of course, that version in their head and the actual historical reality of said early church rarely if ever match.

Curiously, there is quite a lot of fundamentalist/apostolic/charismatic types who end up converting to Orthodoxy. Sometimes, whole churches all at once. It seems that almost everytime a fundy reads Acts and believes it, they go orthodox. Just met another one last Sunday.

Another odd thing your post made me think of - Catholics and Orhodox seem to always speak of "Christ" but the fundamentalists usually speak in terms of "Jesus." I wonder why that is.

A big problem with Christian art is that it emphasizes sincerity far more than talent. Look at the left behind books and movies. No fundamentalist church would ever hire a Michelangelo do do their art. It would have to be a no talent hack who was sincere in his belief in God. Not that these two are incompatible, always, but it does limit your options. U2 is not a Christian rock group, but a lot of their music makes extensive use of Christian themes.

Well, a rambling post deserves a rambling comment, I guess.

Posted by: buckethead at December 13, 2005 02:44 PM

In general, the opposite is true in Jewish services - the more Reform the congregation, the quieter and more restrained the service.

Orthodox (Shabbat) services tend to have screaming kids running around in the back of the room, with lots of side conversations going on, such that occaisionally the Rabbi will slam his hand down on the podium (equivalent) and SHHH! the room.

Then there's the Hashkama (sp.?) Minyan, an early morning service (the time changes throughout the year, but it's likely to be 7:00 or so)where the service is conducted at breakneck speed, without ornamentation or a sermon. (The reasons for this have to do with the purpose and practice of communal prayer in an Orthodox community - it's a mode of worship that is, arguably, as far from Sunday Morning Megachurch attendance as is animal sacrifice.)

Posted by: Eric J at January 11, 2006 01:33 PM

the Landover Baptist Church sight is a hoax. Thought you might want to know.

Posted by: Matilda at January 15, 2006 03:17 PM

Matilda - of course it is. Did you read what I wrote?

"[E]asy-to-spot smart-assery of a Landover Baptist type of parody."

Posted by: JohnL at January 16, 2006 03:05 PM

I'm not a Christian, so as James Lileks once wrote (in another context), "I don't have a God in this fight." JC's Girls are pretty tame compared to Kellie Everts, the "Stripper for Christ" in the 1970s. I don't know how effective an evangelist Ms. Everts was; I once caught her act and I don't recall thinking about Jesus once during the performance.

Posted by: Bilwick at January 19, 2006 09:40 AM
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