Links for today

19 10 2010

Evangelicalism’s Fads and Fixtures: Honestly, I have never thought of the “sinner’s prayer” as a sort of magical incantation, but it makes sense. My only problem with this article is that it seems to pretend that these fads are not what’s normal. Really, this kind of stuff is the future of Christianity; it’s the stuff that is spreading in the Third World, because it is so eminently marketable. Think of it as the religious appendix to Coca Cola and the Wii.

A Salon writer waxes philosophical about the season finale of the T.V. show, Madmen.

But Sunday night’s “Mad Men” finale reminds us of what Matthew Weiner’s riveting drama captures best of all: the particularly modern affliction of dissatisfaction, a sickness that robs us of our ability to savor the moment, to relish the mundane details of our lives and delight in all of the joys that our comforts and conveniences bring. Perversely, the more comfortable we are, the more we want. We’re constantly distracted by the notion that we could do better or have more, that we might become someone new overnight, that there’s magic or a pot of gold around the next corner. Whether it’s advertising or celebrity culture or some twisted mix of radio jingles, cartoons, soap operas, political speeches and suspense thrillers, our cultural marinade makes us fixate on easy answers, shortcuts, and magical thinking. We’re each about to win the lottery; salvation lies just around the next bend, we just have to wait and see what happens.

At first, one’s inclination is to say: “it’s just a television show!” But the thought should be appreciated nonetheless. I read somewhere that Madmen is a show about why the 1960’s had to happen. This season felt more like an interior reflection, with accompanying mental monologue by the protagonist. But one thing that is quite clear from some cultural critics is that when they criticize the cultural radicalism of this period, they seem to be biting the hand that feeds them. Would Ann Coulter have been taken seriously prior to 1965? Were there even lay theologians prior to 1962? Would we even have Republicans with Italian and Spanish last names running for national office prior to John F. Kennedy? How many of us would take advice on how to run society from pundits who have been married and divorced three times thinking that their personal lives have “nothing to do with it”? Conservative backlash against the 1960’s is a form of political and cultural forgetting. It sort of says that such things were grudgingly necessary, but they are no longer: we can now have a more enlightened form of “traditional values”, even though such values were based on bigotry and rigid class/ethnic/racial/sexual hierarchy.

And one last quote, via Titusonenine, about another television show that I don’t plan on watching. I just liked this quote:

“There are a lot of nuts out there,” he says ruefully. “Thomas Pynchon beautifully said in, I think, V, that what we got when we lost religion as a unifying glue in our culture was paranoia. Because we have to have something that suggests there are secret workings going on, and if we decide it’s not God, we have to put something in there. And he may be right: It’s less terrifying to look out into the world and see conspiracy, no matter how kooky it sounds, than to look out in the world and see nothing.”

I believe Zizek would see this as a problem of “Che vuoi?”: what does the Other want? And we have to fill in the void of that threatening, unknown intention of the Other, even though that intention is more in us than it is out there. It says more about what is going on within ourselves.

Lastly, one from the Fearsome Pirate on the role of theology in Christianity:

I was writing some long post about how one of the chief purposes of a church’s theology is self-justification, and I realized I just don’t care all that much. It was probably going to turn into another argument with Catholics, mainly because two of the most poignant stories I know are of people who got steamrolled, and Catholic theology was there to tell them to shut the hell up and stop complaining. One case, which I’ve shared before, was of a Protestant woman whose Catholic husband had an affair with a woman in church. He divorced her after 20 years of marriage, leaving her with the kids, got his annulment, married his mistress, and became a deacon or a catechist at church or something. I am so sick of Catholics using theology to explain why technically everything was okay, because it was all done according to canon law, and theology teaches us that these kinds of unfortunate incidents are necessary to protect the “sacramentality of marriage.”

I’m just trying to imagine this woman, abandoned by her husband, struggling to make ends meet (she’d been a housewife), watching as her ex-husband is basically given the seat of honor at church, going to Jesus, and Jesus explaining to her using canon law and apologetics books why he’s siding with her ex on this one.



2 responses

23 10 2010

I never understood the fascination of some for the 1950’s and early 60’s, as a historical period). My favorite decades have always been the 1920’s and 30’s, far more interesting and exciting times when people actually challenged the social norms of the day. The 50’s were heavily influenced by conformity and a militarist mentality held over from World War II. It always amazed me that many consider this decade as the “normal” way of life in America before the social upheavels of the 60’s swept our beloved culture and values system away. If you really study history though, the 50’s come off as a decade that was anything but normal for America. The staidness of the times were more abnormal then anything else.

19 10 2010

“Conservative backlash against the 1960′s is a form of political and cultural forgetting. It sort of says that such things were grudgingly necessary, but they are no longer: we can now have a more enlightened form of “traditional values”, even though such values were based on bigotry and rigid class/ethnic/racial/sexual hierarchy.”

I think the 1950s and early 1960s were a much more interesting period than people give it credit for; the 1950s began with an economic depressions and another major international war, there was fears of communist infiltration, the Civil Rights Movement began in earnest and there were fears of a second Civil War, the mass marketing of pharmacuticals began, Dianetics/Scientology was “discovered,” the Beatnicks were out beatnickin’, Sputnik was launched, etc. The problem is that our political and cultural discourse regarding this period in history seems to be entirely defined by television. For reasons that remain unclear, “Leave it to Beaver” seems to be regarded as a documentary when it was really intended to be a nice children’s program about growing up, sort of like an updated Tom Sawyer. I guess this is sort of like how the Baltimore Catechism has become a defining document of Catholicism among certain peoplewhen it was only meant to be a textbook for kids. Maybe we think that the 1950s and early 60s were peaceful because the baby boomers were children at that time and weren’t really paying attention to domestic or international politics, so their views of that period are naturally unreliable.

I disagree with the quote from Titusonenine, however. Conspiracy and paranoia are as American as going to church. I might believe the thesis of conspiracies replacing God if the USA ever had a dominant sect, but given the religious diversity of this country, I don’t think so. The name of the suspects change (Freemasons, Jews, the Vatican, the Illuminati CIA, FBI, IRS) but that’s about it. Sometimes religion is actually in on the conspiracy, but not in ways that we expect. How else could you explain that the most subversive movement in American history came not from the CPUSA, but from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church?

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