Saturday, October 22, 2005

Christianity: Flying in the Face of Popular Culture, Part II

Good Things and Bad Things about American Culture

Before I can make a case that Christianity should "Fly in the Face of Popular Culture" I need to make some observations here about our popular culture. I will start with my lists, and then elaborate.

Good Things About American Culture
* freedom of expression
* freedom of choice
--- I think all the good things eventually bubble up to those two, but I'll add another anyhow:
* the "Pioneer" spirit

Bad Things about American Culture
* excess consumerism
* excess commercialism
* excess reliance on credit
* "American Bigotry"

Things in American Culture that are a Two-Edged Sword
* Fast Food (this is really more of a symptom of the other issues)
* Freedom of Choice (hey, that was on the "good list" what's up?)
* Freedom of Expression (ditto)
* Consumerism

Now the details:


I've talked about consumerism before (and how the root of all evil in our lives is the desire to consume) {I will try to link, but I don't know how to search through my blog for things}.

At any rate, consumerism has a good aspect: there are many products and things to choose from - it also encourages the Pioneer Spirit (which today is mostly entrepreneurial) - the innovation of new products, and more so: new cures, new ways of conquering death and nature. Also the spirit of competition and open market encourage growth and improvement in society.

Yet, this is a two-edged sword. How we hate the constant bombardment of advertisements, the telemarketers that call us at dinner time. My own perspective on the matter is: (a) If I want or need something I will go out and investigate it and find it and buy it on my own. SO LEAVE ME ALONE, THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

I really do need a "no soliciting" sign on my house, because I have scorched quite a few hearts that have come to my front door to attempt to sell me something. And, oh, if you make the mistake of calling my house to sell me something - you'll get hung up on (at best).

But, the really annoying thing about consumerism is the way that "the powerful" control the markets. An example: There are plenty of great novels that have been written (and some of them published) out there that are equally as entertaining, thought provoking, spell-binding, captivating, suspenseful, etc. as the Harry Potter books, or as Dan Brown's books (to give you two examples), but it is the ones that the publishing companies pour all their marketing dollars into that meet with success. On the one hand you can't blame the publishing companies: they have to make money, and they end up publishing a lot of books every year that are losers, so they rely upon the occasional best sellers to break even. But you certainly can blame it on the concept of commercialism in general, because it encourages this sort of thing: it targets the "least common denominator" because that's where you have the best chance of success, and leaves all the truly remarkable things (the ones that will only speak to 10% of the population or less) out there in the dust.

I think long term this has a demoralizing effect on society and culture. It encourages people to keep their minds in the gutters (because that's what everyone else does.) It is hard to find the "lofty" novels, the things that truly speak to the heart or elevate the mind, because publishers can't make money on those things.

Freedom of Choice
Freedom of Choice is a great thing, until it leads people to butcher their babies because they think that is their choice (whether or not to have a child.) It is unfortunate that the baby-killers have chosen this term as their slogan. But I'd like to look beyond that.

Freedom of Choice is truly a great thing in our society. Nowhere else can you find the Pioneer Spirit, because people do not have the choice to invent something, people do not have the choice to read whatever they want to read, and learn whatever they want to learn, and become whatever they want to become. In a sense, "Freedom of Choice" is what God gave Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Yet, there must be some level of moral restraint to that freedom. A society/culture that allows itself the freedom of the choice of suicide will eventually destroy itself. Why do you think all of the master-minds of international terrorism are educated in U.S. Universities? That's because our own universities are the best places to learn how to destroy us.

If "freedom" means merely: "you get to choose what Mosque you go to" then that isn't freedom. Equally, if freedom means merely "you get to choose what Christian Church you go to" that also isn't freedom.

The freedom of choice in religious expression is, of course, very important to me. But I sometimes get the feeling that among my fellow Christians that's all they care about. There are many more aspects to Freedom of Choice and Freedom of Expression. I so value this freedom that in recent years I've become politically oriented as a libertarian, because I think government keeps taking away our freedoms.

There is no freedom of choice if you have to get a building permit (i.e. make pay-offs to the political authority) to change an electrical plug in your house! It is nothing more than feudalism.

Freedom of Expression

Freedom of expression is closely tied to freedom of choice. Freedom of choice means nothing if you cannot express that. How would it be if you had the choice to be a Christian, so long as you kept it secret? You couldn't go to Church. You couldn't evangelize. You couldn't share your faith. Sound familiar?

Again, I sometimes feel that Christians I meet would do everything to protect our Christian freedom of expression, but would rather limit or even outlaw the freedom of expression of other faiths. On the contrary, unless you uphold the freedom to chose any religion and the freedom to practice any faith, it isn't freedom.

Again freedom of expression is a two-edged sword. It must have certain moral restraints and cannot be unbounded. As an artist, perhaps, I value the freedom of artistic expression about all other freedoms. I find myself at constant conflict between the good and the evil inherent in that. As a practical example: I think the human body is one of the most beautiful things in all of God's creation. It has been celebrated in art for thousands of years (so I do not think my opinion on that matter is unique). However, I must constantly struggle with the issue: at what point is it art, and at what point is it pornography?

Fast Food and Other Symptoms

Fast food is the perfect example of a practical symptom of our culture. Fast food is very convenient, particularly with our busy lives. We don't have time to sit down and make a proper meal, so we can grab something for cheap that we can gobble down even while we are driving the car. On the other hand, we all know it is killing us.

I think pretty much all of our freedoms, and all of the good aspects of our culture have a negative aspect. The negative aspect comes when the positive aspect is taken to an extreme.

This post is too long, and I'm going to have to split it. More to come in Part III.


Friday, October 21, 2005

Christianity: Flying in the Face of Popular Culture

I posted the Randy Stonehill song "Great Big Stupid World" two blogs before this, because I wanted to lay down a starting point for what I am thinking about here. I landed upon the Strawmen's web site, and Bill (Seraphim's) message board the other day after I got back from the Randy Stonehill and Lost Dog's Concert in Bremerton. It got me going, talking about why I became Orthodox, and two of the main reasons are also the same reasons that I like the sort of music I like.

1) It flies in the face of popular culture
2) It has the element of Mysticism that I always felt was "missing" from my life as a Christian.

I'm going to address #1 in this blog.

I have always been, quite naturally, a loner. Add to that the fact that I've never really had any interest in "doing the coolest, latest thing." So, I find it quite easy to not be immersed in popular culture. Folks at the lunch table talk about this and that football player, baseball player, movie star, latest hot celebrity: and pretty much, most of the time I don't know who/what they are talking about. Talk about religion, history, society, literature, philosophy, and I'm right there. But, anyway, as for "popular culture" - I really don't dig it.

So, I've always found the more "extreme" and more fringe sorts of music to be to my taste. I have a feeling this pushes me even beyond the ordinary "Christian that is not a part of popular culture."

It all goes back to this: Christ said of himself:

"My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36) and also: ' "You are from below," He told them, "I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.' (John 8:23)

And of his disciples, he said:

"If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, this is why the world hates you." (John 15:19)

So, the "not of this world" concept (think: "Only visiting this planet" or "Strangers in a Strange land" ) fits in nicely with Christianity. In fact, you could go so far to say it is one of the more important concepts in Christianity.

How did this influence my transition to Orthodox Christianity? Well, first off, when I started reading about the Orthodox Church, I found out about the Holy Fools (not to be confused - albeit the similarities - with the "Fools of the World" record label). But more than the amazing simplicity of the lives and teachings of many saints (including those off-key folks that were Holy Fools) there is the entire rhythm of the Church: the feast days and celebrations, the daily services and liturgical cycles - a veritable rhythm, that very much does not coincide with the rhythm of the world.

But it goes far beyond that. One of the most exciting and interesting things about Orthodox Christianity, is the fact that it takes every element of faith all the way through to it's logical conclusion. An example for you: a woman gave birth to God. Therefore it is okay now to refer to her as the "Mother of God." This does not imply any of the nastiness some might ascribe to it. It does not imply that she was "before Him" or in any way cosmoligically existed from all eternity, or that she has any God-like features, or that she is a "goddess" or anything like that. No, we would reject such falacy all the way to the perly gates. But, we are admitting that Jesus Christ is True God whe we call her "God's Mother". Hey, we even go way beyond that. We refer to her parents as: "The Grandparents of God." We refer to The Holy Apostle James as "The Brother of God" (though we believe he was merely a half-brother or a cousin.

Anyway, that's just an example of how the Orthodox Church has always (since the days of the apostles) taken what we believe and say seriously.

Now, I could talk about how faith exercises itself in life, but I won't because that would make me a hypocrite. We call it "Orthopraxy" (the practice of Orthodoxy). It refers to acting upon what you believe, and I wont' say I'm any good at it, but I
will tell you the experts (those I read about in the lives of the saints) agree that it is primarily things like:
* Living Simply
* Loving Others and always sharing with them God's Grace
* refusing to judge and criticize others (because we are worse than them)
* a continual struggle (salvation in the scriptures is an active verb .e.g "being saved")

(Okay, it is the "continual struggle" part that I have difficulty with. Particularly the fasting and asceticism. But I'm on a diet right now, and that may help out in the end...)

That's another thing about Orthodoxy. The holier a person is, they less they have to say about how other people should live their lives. Boasting is strictly out-of-bounds, and it includes talking about how "well you are doing spiritually" and other such things. There has never been a single saint canonized by the Church that thought himself or herself worthy of that title.

Well, you can see how all that flies in the face of popular culture, can't you?

I'm going to have to split this into a second post, I see.

Up next:
- what is good about American culture
- and what is bad about American culture


Thursday, October 20, 2005

Blogging my way into the future

Well, the "Great Big Stupid World" blog has a very definite purpose.

I'm mulling over some ideas in my head right now, and I will be blogging in the near future on the following topics (definitely starting with the first topic, and proceeding on to the others however seems to work out best):

1. Christianity: Flying in the Face of Popular Culture
-- good things about American culture
-- bad things about American culture
(tied into the song by Randy Stonehill...)
----> what about various Christian sub-cultures?
---------<> various Protestant cultures?
---------<> various Orthodox cultures?

2. What would a Christian Nation Look Like?
-- will there ever be one again?
-- what about Russia?

3. How do I raise my children to recognize that Christianity Flies in the Face of Popular Culture {this includes choices and options for School}
(those last two may be in reverse order)
-- choices in terms of school, and personal education / entertainment, etc.

4. Which would be better (or easier, or preferable, etc.)
(a) living as a Christian in a free, pluralistic society, or (b) living as a Christian in a highly restricted Muslim society. (Oh, James, you are going to love that one. I'll actually be talking about Islam!!!!)

I will probably be working on writing these blogs for several days here, and probably all about the same time. Then I will publish each when it is ready.

I have some other thoughts on things to blog about, but not sure if I am ready or will ever be ready. One thought: "Why would anyone ever want to be a Muslim?" But, if that blog ever comes, it shall come after these 4.

Great Big Stupid World
©1992 Words and Music by Randy Stonehill Terry Taylor
Recorded by Randy Stonehill for his album "Wonderama" (1992)

From :

Well we worship at the shroud of Elvis
And we're waiting for that money from Ed McMahon
And we're drinking from the Perrier fountain of youth
While we follow what the daily horoscopes saying
Taking lethal doses of MTV
Delving into pet psychiatry
Trying to treat cancer with a fruit juice cure
And waiting for the Beatles reunion tour

'Cuz it's a great big stupid world
And we're feeling kinda queasy as it turns around
Great big stupid world
And we're never really sure if we're up or down
We're on a dirt clod out in space
Where it stops nobody knows
If Jesus came back today
They'd try to book him on the Oprah Winfrey show
'Cuz it's a great big stupid world
Great big stupid world

Well we're hot on the trail of Big Foot
And we're wearing the crystals to feel the power
We're hoping that the creatures from outer space
Come to set us free in that final hour
Trying to tell the future from the lumps on our heads
Getting melanoma from our tanning beds
Channeling Houdini with Shirley MacLaine
And trying to figure out what the dolphins are saying


Well it's a Great-Big-Stupid world
Dumb dumb da dumb dumb baby it's a stupid world
It's a great big stupid, great big stupid
Great big stupid world

Well we're studying the National Enquirer
Is it true Sonny Bono is the Anti-Christ
We debate if T.V. wrestling is really a sport
While we're testing rock 'n' roll and it's effect on mice
Bonding with our little computer screens
Getting anorexic on our Lean Cuisines
Turning plastic surgeons into millionaires
So everybody finally gets to look like Cher

It's a great big stupid world
And we're feeling kind of queezy as it turns around
Great big stupid world
And we're never really sure if we're up or down

It's a great... big... stupid world Dumb dumb da dumb dumb baby it's a stupid world etc., etc., etc.