A Christian Nation. Get It?

Featured, Film — By on February 2, 2010 at 12:00 pm

America is a Christian nation. I’m finally coming to grips with that fact. For a while, I wanted to believe this country was built on democracy, not faith, but I just can’t deny it anymore. Christians keep these 50 states running. I’m convinced.

Let’s start by looking at the driving cultural force in the country: the film industry. Over the weekend, Avatar was number one again. Apparently it’s the highest grossing film of all time now, but I don’t care about that. I was more interested by the takers for numbers 2 and 3. The Book of Eli, and Legion.

My friend and I were watching a video on CBN, laughing about an elderly Charismatic woman who claims to be growing new teeth under her gums (a miracle, as a result of praying to God for new teeth at a revival meeting in Kansas City. True story.), when I noticed an advertisement for the Book of Eli just below a banner for the Pat Robertson-founded Regent University.

Now, at first this seems like a juxtaposition. The new Denzel Washington movie being advertised on a site that reports on faith healings and sinful Haitians? What’s this all about? After reading a couple reviews, I was appalled/delighted to find out that the Book of Eli is a post-apocalyptic tale about a man who has the last Bible in the world, and kills to protect it.

Did you catch that? The Book of Eli is about a man who has the last Bible in the world, and kills to protect it. See why this ad is on CBN now? The HOLY BIBLE is the MacGuffin. Christian media outlets will support Hollywood every time when this happens. Believe me, I’ve worked for a national Christian radio network, and a national Christian publication. The bosses love stuff like this. When Christianity shows face in the major market, it’s an exciting day for the station managers and editorial directors. “It’s about the Bible?! And stars Denzel Washington!! Let’s get the producers scheduled for an interview right away! This is big!”

Here’s where it gets interesting though. The Christian media bosses don’t have to try hard anymore to get the producers on the phone. The producers are sitting at home, twiddling their thumbs waiting for the call from them. These movies are made specifically for the Christian audience, because the producers know that Christians gobble this shit up every time. The proof is numbers 2 and 3 at the box office last weekend. After the highest-grossing film of all time came a movie about a man who kills to protect the Holy Bible, followed by a movie about Michael the archangel and a Legion sent by God to destroy the world.

America invests in Christianity. Christianity keeps America afloat. This is a capitalist nation, preserved by the Christian consumers.

The other blatant culture proof of Christianity’s mainstay in capitalism is the music industry.

Throughout the past decade, people stopped buying music. Everyone just started downloading albums illegally, Radiohead released In Rainbows, and, yeah.  I won’t give the history lesson–we all know what happened. The music industry went down in flames.

But, there was a demographic that didn’t stop buying music. Those with holier capitalistic convictions. Those who followed the 8th commandment into the 21st century. The religious kept buying albums while everybody else stole. And what sorts of albums do the religious buy? Why, Christian albums of course.

So now let’s have a look at what may be the most popular band in America right now, Owl City.  This is awful music.  Just pure shit. A glorious rip-off of The Postal Service, coming seven years after Give Up. Except Owl City employs the vocal talents of Christian pop-punk superstar, Matthew Thiessen (Relient K), and acknowledges its influences as “optimism, photography, air travel, vegetarianism, fashion, abstract art” and of course “God.” (and no, there isn’t a hint of irony there either.)

How can such a legitimately awful band be one of the top selling musical acts in the United States of America? Easy: Christians. Christians are supporting their own, getting giddy when their brothers and sisters in Christ have their songs sung on American Idol.

What Christians don’t realize is, they’re not the minority anymore. It’s not like when Jars of Clay or POD started getting play on major market stations. That was exciting back then. Christian bands on mainstream radio wasn’t typical. But now, it is typical. But still, every time Christianity makes an appearance in popular culture, Christians behave as if they’re a minority group infiltrating the system (in the world and not of it).

During my time at a national Christian media outlet, the publicists from Hollywood came directly to us. Hollywood wanted us to talk about their new “spiritual” release. We usually received the packet from the publicist before anybody had even heard of the movie. The marketability of Chrisitanity is very high right now, and Hollywood (and the music industry) knows this. Christians are still spending money.

They don’t steal. And they’ll spend more money on things that seemingly support their belief systems when placed within the popular culture. So if a movie about the Bible being the last, true remnant of man’s hope for salvation opens in theaters, Christians are going to turn out in droves.  They agree with it. Who cares how violent or contradictory the content?

Of course, Hollywood isn’t creating Christian propaganda. It’s just giving the buyer what it wants. And as long as the Christians feel like they know what the world wants (“absolute truth! eternal peace! glavin!”), they’ll solidify America as a Christian nation for many years to come. As the Coen brothers aptly put it in O Brother Where Art Thou?, “there are vast amounts of money to be made in the service of God Almighty.”  America runs on Jesus. It’s time we swallow that bitter coffee and put the slogan on a t-shirt.

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    31 Comments

  • I’m picking up that you are angry and frustrated by Christian media. There’s good reason for that. But I’m not sure you’re picking good artifacts. Is the Book of Eli pro-Bible, or is it an attempt at commentary on how religions use sacred texts to control people? (At the end of the movie the Bible is shelved next to a Torah and a Koran– it is just one powerful text and not actually revelation).

    The movie Legion is loosely intersects with the Christian Apocalypse, only that there is a God, angels, demons, and judgment. But in this film, God unleashes demons on humanity as a form of judgment and a small band of heroes defy God and fight the demons.

    Neither movie can remotely be seen as Christian or appealing to the Evangelical base. Both movies can be viewed as borrowing and deconstructing Christian themes. But they aren’t pro-Christian by any means.

    I don’t mean to stand between you and a good screed, some of your other points stand. But you might take a closer look at what you are lampooning.

    • JamesW says:

      Well-said, Larry. I have not spoken to a single Christian who regards “Legion” as something they want to see. I find its inclusion here to be very curious.

      I prefer the idea that I first heard from Eldredge (although it surely originated elsewhere) that God’s story is often reflected in so-called secular stories, whether songs, plays, books, or movies, because the author is made in God’s image and therefore cannot help but draw pictures of biblical truth in their work. This certainly helps explain The Matrix, if nothing else.

      Myself, I find biblical principles in Stranger than Fiction, The Legend of Bagger Vance (hint: Will Smith’s character is the Holy Spirit, urging Damon’s character on to be who he was made to be), and that criminally underappreciated Denzel classic “Man on Fire”, in which DW exhibits the sacrificial love of Christ, after, of course, blowing up some bad guys. Seems no story gets it all right. ;)

    • Dylan says:

      not angry, I just find it all funny. I wasn’t arguing anything as “pro-Christian” anyway. But maybe you’re right, I should probably see these movies eventually

  • JamesW says:

    I’m not sure what your point is. If it’s to somehow confuse TBN and real Christianity and say they are the same, try again. If it’s to say that Christians will buy anything that purports to be “Christian”, and pretend it’s good, you are dead on. This is currently being seen in the realm of entertainment, but I suspect it need not stop there. I propose that if someone somewhere will make some Jesus soda, many believers will not only buy it, they’ll swear it actually tastes good. It’s very much an “emperor has no clothes” kinda thing. People don’t want to admit the inferiority of something if it falls into certain categories.

    If that’s your point, then I agree, but under protest. The main objection I have with such a viewpoint is that Christians are not alone in this. People of all religious, idealogical, and political stripes do the same thing. Vegetarians, people of color, Democrats, Republicans, left-handed people, and, for all I know, asthmatics, all are weak in this area. They tend to identify themselves in a way that puts them in line with the maker of (to use your examples) the movie or band on the CD, and say “Hey, Denzel’s one of us!”, and feel they are buds with said maker of entertainment product, and pretend that product is better than it is.

    I guess there is some merit to pointing out this behavior in Christians, but it’s all over the place, in groups of various kinds. And it’s probably silly, but in most cases, it’s not terribly harmful. So they watch Fireproof and think Kirk Cameron is the man. Does that really hurt anything? Really?

    • JamesW says:

      Dang! Should have mentioned Macheads! That’s the perfect example of people who will buy anything with the right label (in this case, the Apple logo) on it.

    • Jordan Green says:

      Good point, James.

      Though I strongly disagree with including Apple products in your list. Apple’s detractors often dismiss the company’s fervent fanbase as religious or zealous in their devotion. To me, as a Mac user, and to the 4-5 people I’ve “converted” to Mac use, it’s about ease of use and the quality of the product, not some mystical pull toward a logo with a piece of fruit.

      Granted, if Apple started dropping off quality-wise, it would take some time to convert back, if only because I’d be used to a certain way of doing things. The point is, sometimes certain products are just flat out better than others, and some of Dylan’s point might be that Owl City is just simply a bad product.

    • Dylan says:

      yeah, Christians buy anything that purports “Christian”. and sure, they’re not alone in this. nor is it harmful. but i just find it funnier how christians ride both sides of the fence in this country. the rant is more about faith in capitalism, or capitalistic faith. i just get a kick out of that dichotomy.

    • JamesW says:

      Jordan, I put that Apple reference in there specifically because of the iPad, which seems to be a piece of crap. Also, I got my first Apple product, an iPod Touch, for Christmas, and it’s majorly defective, and even Apple reps haven’t been able to help me make it work. So it’s kinda personal. My other examples are more balanced.

    • Jordan Green says:

      From what I’ve heard on the iPad, devoted Mac folks have been initially disappointed, but anyone who’s spent time with the actual product seems to like it a great deal. (I’m thinking primarily of this rave review on Gizmodo.)

      http://gizmodo.com/5457757/apple-ipad-first-hands-on

      But don’t let that iPod Touch situation sour you…if you’re halfway as inept at computer use as I am, Macs are a great way to go.

  • luke says:

    i think the last paragraph in james’ comment only proves the point–we can look to find biblical themes in whatever we want. every pastor/youth pastor/worship pastor/college pastor and their mother went for that over the matrix. sure eldredge has a true point but then the other movies came out and all those pastors suddenly gave a collective “oh crap.” because it wasn’t “christian,” whatever that means. but through a few images in and themes that they can relate to and they’ll eat it all up. they all saw the matrix.

    we do it even when it’s unintended. the legend of bagger vance was based on a book where the bagger character does not resemble the holy spirit hardly at all. the book has a lot of new age tint to it and yet we pick out the pieces that fit with our story and we use them as sermon illustrations.

    i do think that other groups do this too, but are we supposed to be just like them? i think the point is that we choose a fabricated affinity over the (probably) deeper christian truth that there are some pretty fundamental differences between capitalistic consumerism and christianity–not to mention spending all our time being entertained.

    • JamesW says:

      I think you misunderstood. I wasn’t reading Christian content into Bagger Vance. I’m very aware it was written by a Hindu (not specifically a new ager). I was saying specifically that non-Christians end up writing truth that comes from God because they were made in the image of God. Ecclesiastes says God set eternity in our hearts.

      As for the Matrix, I think it’s pretty hard to miss all that is in there. But I don’t have time to type it all out. I’ll just say that people do read Christian content into some stories, but some of them are so obvious that it’s hard to fault them for seeing it. I believe that the movies I mentioned fall into that category.

    • Jordan Green says:

      Steven Pressfield is Hindu?

    • JamesW says:

      Pressfield is not, but his book was, by his own admission, based on an old Hindu story. That partly explains why Damon’s character was named the unusual name of Junuh.

      Always take wikipedia with a grain of salt, but here ya go:

      ———
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagger_Vance

      The film has many parallels to the Indian spiritual text Bhagavad Gita in which the ancient Indian prince and warrior Arjuna is instructed on how to conduct his life by the Lord Krishna. In fact, the name “Junuh” in the film derives directly from “Arjuna” in the Gita, as “Bagger Vance” is a variation on the Indian word for God (which Lord Krishna is considered), “Bhagavan”.

      The idea of discovering one’s Soul and True Self as Bagger suggests Junuh do is an essential teachings of the Gita, and the Field is directly related to the ultimate Reality that one connects to when one discovers one’s True Self. I.e. through inner silence (as Junuh is instructed) one finds one’s True Self, which enables one to be One with the Field, which allows ultimate success and right action (the “One Authentic Swing”) in life.

      It was author Steven Pressfield’s intention to make the correlation between his book and the Gita as indicated from this summary of the book at Amazon.com: “In 1995, Steven Pressfield decided to introduce the Bhagavad-Gita to a contemporary audience, so he restructured the Gita in terms of a golf novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance.” This was Steven Pressfield’s attempt at bringing the Gita to a wider audience. Explicit parallels between Pressfield’s novel and the Bhagavad Gita are brought out in a book called Gita on the Green: The Mystical Tradition Behind Bagger Vance (Continuum, 2000), written by Hinduism scholar Steven Rosen with a foreword by Pressfield.

  • Jo says:

    Not sure how well I get this all and that is not necessarily reflective of the author because I’m not real smart but from some of the feel I get I feel like sharing this story.

    This guy I know not long ago told me about something that the Lord showed him. He said that he didn’t particularly care for these two people and although he didn’t elaborate (and I didn’t ask) I got the impression it was regarding how they see their faith.

    Anyway, he said the Lord showed him those two people. What the Lord showed him was those two people praising and adoring him. Yes, He said they were praising the Lord and adoring him. He felt the Lord was telling him, “You see what you see, this is what I see.”

    I believe it because that’s the God I know. Also, this person has no reason that I know to lie to me and reveal something that would not make him look too good. I thought it was very humble of him to share that with me.

    Love in Him,
    Jo

  • dave montei says:

    Yo Dylan..you need to chill!! Sounds like you could use some humoring up.. go checkout a Madea movie!

  • I saw Book of Eli sitting between two Christian friends of mine who are both simultaneously reading Going Rogue by Sarah Palin. (They may be in a book discussion group together.) So yeah, I’d say Eli at least appeals to a certain swath of evangelical Christianity. I liked it, by the way, though the violence was incredibly distressing. But I think people are missing the point: the notion that we’re a “Christian nation” is evidenced by the fact that we regularly and enthusiastically consspiritual themes with Christian cultural referents (the Bible, the apocalypse, etc.) no matter how far they stray from orthodoxy. No one’s saying we’re a particularly “good” Christian nation, but we do share some common, albeit largely unconsidered, cultural points of identification.

    Incidentally, I’d argue that the end of the movie (spoiler alert, although it’s already been spoiled), in which the Bible is shelved alongside the Q’uran and other texts, is an indication that civilizations, not religions, use sacred texts as vehicles toward the consolidation of power. Religions are often willing accomplices, but in Eli both good and evil forces are “using” a religion that they’re standing over in order to reshape the world according to their vision.

  • Joe says:

    What keeps popping up in my mind throughout this conversation is something Rob Bell says in “Velvet Elvis”…that “Christian” is a great noun, but a lousy pronoun. In the youth group I work with, we spend a lot of time looking at “secular” representations of the reality of Jesus. We do that so our teenagers will understand that something doesn’t have to have a “Christian” label on it to be of value to God’s kingdom. And that we can see the reality of the kingdom wherever we look. I’m more interested in music/movies/books/ideas from the creative minds of followers of Jesus than in products either branded or endorsed by the institutional church.

    • Joe says:

      Sorry…the Rob Bell quote should have been “Christian is a great noun and a poor adjective.” Should have looked before I typed.

  • Sorry for the spoiler. Wasn’t thinking.

    And Rosebud is a ….

  • Troy says:

    can’t really say if this is one of the best…
    but this is definitely one of my favorite articles so far on burnside.

    great job dylan.

  • You should read “The Divine Conspiracy” by Skye Jathani.

  • Matthew says:

    The Christianity shared in popular culture is the same as the authenticity of Italian food found at Olive Garden.

  • Jo says:

    Per Dave’s comment. I love Tyler Perry’s movies. He’s got a good mixture in his movies (great message, gospel shared, drama, humor) and his characers are wonderful. He also deals with basic struggles to humanity and relationships. He makes some good movies that shares gospel messages too. I hear he used to be homeless and his own story is a wonderful testimony and inspiration. May the Lord continue to use him wonderfully for his glory.

    Love in Him,
    Jo

  • Andrew says:

    Wow, this article has some good points. I just don’t like cheap way in which it is all delivered.

    If your judging “Christianity” by what you see in the media then you certainly are deceived. If you walk into a Christian Retailer much of what you said is true, but, The Book of Eli and Owl City did not originate in a Christian market. Yes, It is true this country contains a lot of self-proclaimed Christians, but just because these films and music are so well received does not mean that Christians are in a definite majority. The nature of this topic is also extremely subjective. The focal point of this article would have been more effective if it was about how the Christian market is so quick to gain profit out of highly successful mediums (i.e. Book of Eli, Owl City). Owl City is an excellent Pop artist. In my opinion, its probably the best. You gotta give the guy credit for the work he put into it. He toured, self-produced and promoted his music just like any other “indie” band. He only became so popular because he was so well received. Two years ago I was following him and hardly anyone knew about him, but now shortly after being signed He is a “household name”.

    Capitalism isn’t bad, but I would strongly agree with the statement that Christianity with capitalism is not always a good thing.

    I also

  • Sonnet says:

    Interesting article. I take it that your point is for Christians to be more careful about what media they praise and invest in? If so I definitely agree. Not everything that is labeled “Christian” is worthwhile, while many things that are “secular” are very notable. I put the quotation marks because when we come down to it, everything is just a label, and anyone can come away with their own personal interpretations of anything.

    Might I risk being called a prude and say that I was a little offended by your language in this article? I think that using four-letter words can be fitting in some contexts, example’s being the song What Matters More by Derek Webb, since that was derived from a powerful quote, or when C.S. Lewis says damn and means it. No offense those cases; the language was justified by the point which was being made. I just don’t think that in this context it was completely neccessary, though I certainly stand to be corrected.

    I heard a talk by Donald Miller once where he was asked to defend Christianity and he refused, saying that the term Christianity meant so many differnt things to so many different people, how could he possibly defend it? He could only defend it for himself and what he believed individually, not across the board. What a wide board it is … when Owl City is revered, anyone can find a church to match their personal brand of beliefs, and we all want to be together in one big Christian boat. Uniquely, of course.

  • carol says:

    Great article Dylan. I agree very much with this article and reminds me of an episode of south park we all know and love called “Christian Rock Hard”

  • RMB says:

    Thanks for a great post. The following was posted this morning at “Thought,” http://www.rmbpcola.blogspot.com.

    How limited we are if we rely only on our own understanding. Being evidence based in my thinking – this can be a difficult concept to keep at the forefront of my being. If I cannot see, touch, and understand something – I am apt to disregard or throw it away. I have at times found solace in the fact that years ago we would have rejected understandings that are now common in science and that our empirical abilities change. I accept that the divine is constant. Remembering that our minds are so limited in their capacity is dualistic. Clearly, people profess faith in ways that we do not understand. But the concern becomes framing our own faith in the context of self alone.

    I have been wrestling lately with my own understanding of God in a more profound way than I have in my lifetime. I have become so disillusioned with the commercial nature of modern religion. As has been mentioned by one of the characters in O Brother Where Art Thou?, “there are vast amounts of money to be made in the service of God Almighty.” I have danced with something resembling mysticism. Accepting that there is divinity about us but attracted to the rejection of man’s interpretation of just about anything having to do with God.

    On occasion, I’ll take a mental health break and go see a movie and generally clear my head for a few hours. I took in Book of Eli last night. It was an excellent movie and one that – albeit fictional – got me thinking and reflecting on my own weakness and lack of faith. For those who can find any reason to reject the underlying message in the film (including the apparent conflict with turn the other cheek and slaughter the wolves when it is appropriate), I’ll defer to others and simply say – consistent with my comments here – to focus on that narrow issue misses the point.

    It is not enough to look at the weakness and failures of others and accept that mankind is so devoid of good that we might as well also live recklessly. It is not enough to look at the failure of so many church bodies to recognize that the essence of God does not dwell in structures and predictable financial interests, that there is so much more to true faith than tertiary adherence for social reasons.

    Washington’s character, in fiction, exhibits a level of faith that I think many of us wish we had. And his character reminds us that there will be wolves at the door. And perhaps even that sometimes we will be forced to defend ourselves and others.

    I found myself thinking and praying that God would show me his path. It was no coincidence that I came home and did some reading before falling asleep in 2 Peter. In this text, Peter is speaking of false teachers and prophets. How they mesmerize the weak and feeble minded with their big words and attractive philosophies. I had to wonder if I have been weak and feeble minded. In my requirement of understanding everything that I adhere to, I have rejected much of faith. But something deeply buried within me, akin to a flame – flickers when I can surrender enough to turn my face to God. When I surrender to the stubborn requirement that I be able to understand everything.

    It is unfortunate that so many are more concerned with aligning faith and political agendas. But alas, it is a tale as old as history. And a theme screaming in Eli. People will try to control people. And what better way than to appeal to their need to connect to the divine.

  • I really love this post, and often find myself agreeing with what you said. There is quite a bit of money to made in service of the Lord almighty, and I think I might slap the slogan on a t-shirt and make my own share.

    Well done!

    -Jonny

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