News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Shake-and-Bake Christianity

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Shake-and-Bake Christianity

I haven't been to a megachurch, so I have to take the following description at its word. Once a longtime ago, I did visit some of the prototypes for the megachurch back on the late 80s when the evangelicals were first making their move out of a long isolation. (Back then, these churches were sometimes called warehouse churches; this was before the Jimmy Swaggart/Jim Baker/Tammy Faye scandals.) I saw then what this guy's describing now is happening within Christianity. ...

Whats strikes me most about the following piece is the attempt to found a community within the secular world that is not of the secular world. I imagine that many of these folks believe that they are existing in smething like a Christianized environment--a bubble world--that will perhaps serve as the model for the rest of how America might evolve into.

Second, there's that sense of bubbleness--it's reminiscent of the artifical and ersatz reality created by the Bush administration re: the War in Iraq. That is, as Zizek notes, we are at war but it feels like we are not at war. We are isolated from the terrible sufferings of those in Iraq and those who soldiers who are fighting there, who die (no news coverage), or who end up in a corner of a VA hospital ward. The sense of irreality is what is so striking about the megachurch phenomenon--at least if this description is to be believed. It's almost like a Disneyland of the New Jerusalem, but without the rides (or are those only a few years away?).

Born at the Crest of the Empire writes:

First, they represent an effort to build cultural gated communities within the larger city of Houston. Second Baptist, the local mega with the probably most enveloping "community" has within itself itself a complete social structure carrying its members from cradle to grave. They have daycare, a school, mixers, singles functions/matchmaking, exercise facilities, job assistance, social functions, counselling, right up to senior care.

Effectively, a church member can live their life totally within that "Christian" context. It does have a lure primarily among families with children in that it allows those kids a "safe place." But, interestingly to me, that "safe place" isn't only objects in the real world; the megachurch culture also works to construct a safe virtual world, movies, TV, music etc. An entire industry has grown up to serve Christian rock, literature, and Veggie Tales to this "safe community."

The megachurch fully engaged has the effect of segregating church members in a self reinforcing belief system that extends well beyond Christian tenets. So, when you hear wacky polling or absurdist comments around the "culture war" understand that there are people who live within this self reinforcing reality.

Second: The other major shift that has taken place within the structure of the Megachurch is the actual deemphasis of traditional Christianity. The "traditional" Christian virtures, mercy, charity, humility, and love, have been replaced with a narcissistic philosophy of Christian self improvement.

The whole thing is underpinned by a Christian backbone, but if you look at the sermons and products of Joel Osteen as example (the main guy at Lakewood,) they actually have very little to do with Christianity.

This, I think, is one of the reasons for the growing popularity of the megachurch. Listening to bible verse is boring, but "Living at my Full Potential," that has zazz.

I would argue that this populist new Christianity represents a fundamental shift in values from "what would Jesus do?" to "What can Jesus do for me?"

That's not an absolute shift by any means, but I do think it's big and historic change in the interpretation of Christianity and the relationship of God to the individual. I'm not yet sure what the long term implications of this are.
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anomalous4 said...

Going from "What Would Jesus Do?" to "What Can Jesus Do for Me?"....... You got that right. But there's another issue here.

As a veteran of an earlier wave of WWJD ca. 1961-2, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the most recent one.

When we did the WWJD thing in Sunday school waybackinthewayback, we thought and talked about things—really thought and talked about things—in light of the Beatitudes, the Love Chapter, the Least of These, etc.

When WWJD resurfaced a few years ago, it seemed to be all about reciting the right answers according to a particular interpretation.

Now that aggressive, threatening, judgmental Fundamentalism seems to be everywhere, it occurs to me that far too many Christians are losing sight of the example of Jesus during his earthly life, and the real question ought to be "What did Jesus do?"

Grace, peace, and viva la revoluciĆ³n!

the cynic librarian said...

Anomalous, Than you for the comments. I agree in this: finding out what Jesus did means trying to do it yourself. So many--not all--sometimes think that following the word means spouting the words in the Bible. Therefore, you have the parrots who like to engage in a game of verse-quoting. Why arent't they being taught that it's not how many verses you can memorize but how many you can do? Now, I'm as much a sinner as anyone else, so I hope you see that this comes from someone who realizes that doing what the Bible says is harder than most think.