When I wrote the book, Bursting the Bubble, five years ago, it was three chapters too long, so it was trimmed to fit page count. Going through some files, I discovered one of the chapters that hit the cutting room floor: Contrary Counter Culture. Though now five years out of date (who talks about The Passion of the Christ, Harry Potter or Jerry Springer anymore?) I thought I would offer it here (instead of taking the time to think up anything new…)
Watch about ten minutes of an evening news cast or scan the first few pages of any newspaper (well, maybe not USA Today…) and you will find overwhelming evidence that we live in a broken, violent, and frightening world. Wars, school shootings, tainted food, terrorist attacks, gang violence, global warming, bridge collapses, fires, earthquakes, floods, and who got booted off this week’s American Idol are proof positive that something is very wrong. Disaster – human-made and natural – lurks around every corner. We stand at the brink of absolute and total annihilation.
This is not news to Christians. Ever since Adam bit the apple/fig/pomegranate (scholars are unsure), the world has been going to hell in a hand basket. This is what our faith is all about: that despite what our eyes and brains tell us, our hearts know better. God is in charge, and all things work together for good for those who love God. We have been given the assurance of salvation and rescue. We know a deeper truth than that offered us by secular culture. Even in the face of severe persecution and the threat of bodily harm, we have reason to rejoice, right? It doesn’t matter if the mass media does everything in its power to scare the living daylights out of us. We’re not shaken by an elevated terrorist threat level (orange, no amber, no crimson, no BLOOD RED!), because we possess blessed assurance, amazing grace, and a friend named Jesus. The culture may tell us the world is a horrible, angry, awful place, but the Christian counter-culture has a more important story to share with the nations: our God is an AWESOME God. The rest of the world may go nuts with fear, but not us…
Why is it, since we do possess such a fantastic, positive, grace-filled, love-driven, mercy-based, hopeful gospel, that we succumb to the same soul-numbing terror tactics as the rest of the world? Why do we so happily abdicate our foundation of faith to build instead on a platform of fear?
For example, the incredibly popular Left Behind series of books and films, authored by Tim LeHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Loosely based on the book of Revelation (the book at the back of the New Testament right before the maps), this incredibly endless series graphically describes the blood-thirsty and brutal end times (Apocalypse) where the people of light and grace, slaughter with intense conviction bad people (i.e., people who don’t follow Jesus). Beginning with a calamitous and gruesome rapture, the series details all the tortures, torments, punishments, afflictions, and horrors (all well deserved) suffered by those “left behind” (get it?) as some strive toward redemption and others slide further into the fiery pit. Now, Revelation has some scary bits, and it is a wake-up call to apathetic Christians and non-believers alike to join the winning side before it is too late, but the Left Behind series – which fills in the gaps of the book of Revelation to the tune of approximately 5,000 pages, total – enjoys itself way too much. There is a sadistic glee that shines through the cautionary tale. There is real satisfaction in watching the unrepentant get what’s coming to them. The message here is not what joy and fulfillment can be found in the Christian life, but how important it is to escape the wrath to come. These are books of diabolical manipulation and perverse distortion. Under the façade of fiction, these books become coercive weapons of mass-hysteria destruction. There is absolutely nothing redeeming or edifying about them. They are one of the best examples of Christian pornography.
Another example of the pornographication (I made that word up) of the Christian gospel is Mel Gibson’s, The Passion of the Christ. If you saw this film, you know how shocking and powerful it is; if you did not see it, watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre and multiply the blood, gore, violence, and brutality by 3 and you will begin to get an idea of how over the top and depressing this film is. By all artistic measures, this is a remarkable film. The acting was fine, the production values incredible, the direction, lighting, staging, cinematography all first-rate. The fact that the quality is so high is actually part of the problem – once you see this film, its images stay with you for a long time. The grossly inaccurate storyline displaces the real gospel accounts as the way it must have happened. The sickening brutality looks so real; it must depict what it was actually like (because Hollywood would never embellish). The inhumane cruelty (of the Jews, the film wants to make perfectly clear) and the rabid hatred motivating torture (also the Jews – Rome is kind of incidental in the Gospel According to Mel) and crucifixion displace any possible positive message from the film. Viewers are left stunned and angry that the Son of God could have been treated this way. It is revisionist manipulation at its most sinister and disreputable. And it was presented to the world in the name of Jesus Christ.
It is interesting to me that Jesus did not weep more often in scripture. He lamented the waywardness of Jerusalem and the loss of his friend Lazarus, but knowing what he did about the trajectory of human history, it is a miracle he did anything but weep. Jesus attempted to get human beings to focus on something good and positive and beautiful. Jesus offered hope, redemption, and second chances. His promise was to wipe away tears and make all things new. He invited people to become light and salt and a bright, shining city on a hill. He did not encourage us to paint horrific pictures of hell, torture, damnation and to foster hateful bigotry and prejudice.
Not everyone, though, focuses only on the negative by trying to scare people into the Christian faith. No, others use their time and talents to go looking for trouble, and to weed out potential threats to our delicate and fragile faith. No better example of this exists than the furor over the Harry Potter books and movies. Harry, along with friends Hermione and Ron (I am not going to recap the series – if you don’t know what I’m talking about, where the heck have you been for the last decade!!), use magic. Some of it is good magic, but magic – being what it is – has a dark side. Evil, demons, dark arts, and Dementors (not to mention Malfoys) threaten the forces for good. In epic fairy tale form, this is classic good against evil, and in the tradition of the best children’s literature, good defeats evil every time. A wonderful message, right?
Not so much. See these books talk about the occult. They treat fantasy disrespectfully, therefore opening the door to the devil himself. Once again, the gospel of bondage and fear kicks in when we approach this phenomenon of young adult fiction. Ignore the fact that J.K. Rowling motivated millions of children to pick up books and spend countless hours reading. Disregard that the morals, values, core messages were consistently positive and encouraging. Discount the fact that she safely addressed in her fantasyland dozens of developmental issues that young people have to face in the real world. Instead, focus on the fact that the Bible forbids sorcery so that good Christians everywhere should pick up pitchforks and torches and rustle up a witch roast. Give me a break. Is our God so weak and silly that we fear that Harry Potter can destroy him? Have we done such a lousy job teaching our children the difference between fact and fantasy that we actually think they’ll sneak off to Hogwarts? Is our fear so much more powerful than our faith that we adopt cave-dweller mentalities to burn books, DVDs, and Magic 8-Balls?
The Harry Potter debate almost makes sense, due to the fact that a slim segment of the Christian community operates from a mythic/magic, premodern worldview. Occult powers can be scary. The parallel debate that defies logic is that over C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. Narnia is a fantasyland cut from a different swatch of cloth than Hogwarts, but nonetheless it is magical and mystical. However, Lewis was a Christian, and by design his Narnia tales are Christian allegory. They are filled with Christian symbolism and metaphor. They reinforce and retell classic Christian teachings. They also provide morality tales aimed at the world of children and youth. Beloved by millions, mostly Christian, even these sweet and lovely tales come under attack… because there is a witch (and a lion with supernatural powers, but he’s Jesus, so that’s okay).
In Narnia and Hogwarts Academy, the bad guys are bad guys and the good guys are good. In both worlds, the forces of light defeat the forces of darkness. J. K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis (good fantasy writers only use initials – think J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings… oh, no; Christians weren’t too crazy about him either…) both offer messages of comfort and hope to the young who are navigating the turbulent waters of childhood and adolescence. Oh, yes, and one more thing – these are just stories. They aren’t real.
Christians waste a lot of precious time being upset about unimportant and irrelevant things. Every Christian makes a fundamental choice – to focus on what we have been saved from or focusing on what we have been saved for. Those who stay focused on everything that is wrong, everything that is dangerous, everything that is scary, and everything that is evil are governed by a gospel of fear and loathing. Those who stay focused on where God is leading, on the possible good that can be done, on building the kingdom of God, and on sharing light and love with the rest of creation are governed by the grace and Spirit of God. The second group has learned a simple but valuable lesson – when you spend all your own time doing good, there’s no time left to worry about the bad others might be doing.
The Christian church has the unique opportunity to create a counter-culture – to live by values, attitudes, practices, and processes that are different from those the rest of the world employs. Where the mainstream media exploits our fears, we can offer comfort and hope. Where corporate America fuels the flames of materialism and rampant consumption, the church can help people find satisfaction with what they already have. Where popular entertainment force-feeds us a steady diet of programs about conflict and competition like Jerry Springer, Survivor, Desperate Housewives, and American Idol (four of the most popular shows with conservative Christians in the United States), we can reflect on the messages of unity, reconciliation and collaboration that form the core of our faith. Where the secular culture wants to focus on the negative, we can choose to stay positive.
What part of our world did God not create? Who is exempt from the loving redemption of Jesus Christ? Name a place in creation where God’s Holy Spirit does not dwell? Is our Lord the Lord of all or not? Why then do we allow fear to occasionally push us to such ugly and faithless behaviors? We have been blessed by the greatest news on earth. It’s time we started acting like it.
 Romans 8:28
 When I say “loosely,” I mean almost not connected in any possible way, shape, or form!
 I realize that the original meaning of pornography is “writing about prostitutes,” and it is with slight license that I use it to refer to the prostitution of something good and holy for selfish and base purposes.
 Isn’t it interesting how you don’t get in trouble for calling the devil “him,” but you do with God? I have yet to have anyone challenge me to be more inclusive and stop using sexist language when I refer to Satan/Lucifer as a male…
 Yes, re: creationist theology, I know we can’t act like cavemen, since cavemen never existed, however modern Christians do burn books, DVDs, Magic 8 Balls, Ouija boards, tarot cards, and My Little Ponies (I guess they’re magical…)