The PoMoXian

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If we redescribe the world well enough, will we begin to change our behaviors?

Quotes and commentary on good reads.

September 28, 2014 at 1:06pm

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Claims like that of the Sultan or Boko Haram that “Islam” demands implementation of “sharia” ignore the complex reality in which there is not now nor has there ever been a uniform set of identifiable rules that Muslim scholars have agreed on much less that governments in Muslim majority countries have implemented over the centuries.

— Kecia Ali, from Whose Sharia is it?

September 27, 2014 at 10:30am

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Sating the Sexual Desires of White Kept Women, or Why Christian music is so Terrible.

Artists who pander to their fans by trying to make music “for” their fans make empty, transparent art. - Talib Kweli Greene via “In Defense of Ms. Hill

When I came across that comment this morning, it reminded me of what I’ve read over that few months concerning the emptiness of the Christian music industry, both in terms of

  • Contemporary Christian Music (CCM, what the Christian music industry produces), and 
  • Contemporary Evangelical Worship Music (found in everything from small country churches to faux-edgy suburban mega-churches).

I’ve snarkily for years now that I don’t enjoy CCM because I’m not a middle aged housewife.

What I never realized until recently was how spot-on I was.  Come to find out the Christian music industry is empty by design.

The Christian music industry isn’t about worshiping Jesus, it’s about sating the sexual desires of white kept women.

Meet Becky, the Industry Demographic

Matt Papa let’s us in on what’s going on.  He says that 

Bands/Artists who want to be heard write songs for Becky.  Christian radio, therefore, is for the most part an altar where chipper, inauthentic, boring, unscriptural, untruthful, gospel-absent, ear-tickling, man-centered songs are offered to an idol named Becky.

Who is Becky? The affectionate name for the demographic composite whose money the “Christian” music industry is going after. Papa continues, saying:

Meet Becky: She’s a 38 year old soccer-mom with 3 kids.  She drives a mini-van, because if she didn’t, well where would she put all the crayons and goldfish?  She is a loving wife and mother and is actively involved at her church.  She lives in the suburbs but volunteers at the local food pantry.  Becky is pretty awesome.  And one more important detail about Becky…..she listens to christian radio exclusively.  Yep, that’s right.  And you actually already know her.

Becky isn’t one person of course…she is the prototype target audience created by the christian music industry for christian radio.  True story.  She’s been around about 6 or 7 years now.  Christian radio demographic research discovered that “Becky” is the one who is listening, so “Becky” is the audience they relentlessly target. 

This reminds me of what Michael Gungor has said about the industry.  

I have been in the industry for 11 years full time, so that’s a bit of a loaded question! I was pretty naive coming into the industry. I assumed everyone there was just trying to make great art, to glorify God. But it was more than that. I thought that what these musicians were doing was somehow sacred, distinct from the “secular” music that other artists were producing. That is what I had been taught as a teenager, by people that were really influential in my life. 

I didn’t realize how much the industry was geared toward soccer moms, who support Christian radio. 

Also, back in 2013, he wrong in his post, “What’s Wrong with the Christian Music Industry”:

There are a few artists that I know in the Christian industry that are really trying to transcend the inherent limitations and zombying effect of the industry. But the industry as a whole is broken, friends. We call it Christian, but it’s certainly not based in Christianity. It is based on marketing. That’s it. I wish I could tell you otherwise, but it wouldn’t be true.

Sating Becky’s Sexual Desires

Where this gets interesting is when you go to parse the content of the songs. 

Many an observer has complained about the “Jesus is my boyfriend” nature of much of CCM and its use in Evangelical churches.

A few months ago a backup signer for a popular contemporary Christian recording artist did a Reddit AMA wherein she gave her perspective on the matter (among a host of other things).

And sure, all radio stations and all record labels do this, they sell whatever the listener wants to hear, and they hire musicians and singers for their looks, but CCM markets their whole operation as FOR JESUS. Meaning HOLIER than NOT FOR JESUS.

On Top 40 Christian Radio, typically 37/40 songs will be recorded by male artists. Why? Evangelical women listen to radio, and a lot of them are lonely, and it’s all wish-fulfillment.

I talked to the artist I’m singing backup for, and asked him why his latest record has so many love songs with the occasional “because of His Grace” or “Take You to Church” thrown in.

He said flat-out “because I needed a hit”. He’s as jaded as I am, though he still believes in God.

His last record was introspective, dark conversations with Jesus, and the label told him it was too deep for radio.

So he wrote a bunch of sappy bullshit and the crowd praises the Lord and sings along desperately to his love songs.

I sit on a stool in the back and sing thirds and laugh at them. These women aren’t at his concert because they’re devoted to God. They’re at his concert because they have a crush on the artist.

Because they wish he would FUCK them like their husbands won’t anymore.

It’s no different than pop culture, but it claims a holier-than-thou attitude that defines hypocrisy and makes millions. 

Let’s recap.

  1. When artists and industries pander to demographics instead of truth, the resulting art is empty (Greene)
  2. CCM panders to Becky, the representative of the demographic of lonely soccer moms (code for white, middle class, “kept” women) (Gungor, Papa)
  3. The desires that CCM actually cater to within “Becky” are her latent sexual desires, not “true religion”. (AMA)
  4. As such, the Christian music industry isn’t about worshiping Jesus, it’s about sating the sexual desires of white kept women.

(This isn’t to say that the overt goals of the people consuming or using the music are aligned in the same way, of course, but this gives us eyes to see how the music is constructed and how it might be really functioning.) 

September 24, 2014 at 12:49pm

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The Emergent Village and the abuses enabled by their “Good Old Boys Club”

I give followers and participants of Mars Hill and Acts 29 a lot of shit for turning a blind eye for many years about the modus operandi of Mark and his ilk (and for copying and transmitting that MO in their own spheres).

But, people who I traditionally have been sympathetic towards, the Emergent Village, has its own pot of shit it needs to sort through.

Please reference the revelations (public) in the comments starting with Julie’s first accusation and on down

Good on the members that have confessed and apologized.

Shame on those that have refused to do so, been silent when confronted (Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt) or punted with non-apologies (Brian McLaren).

Hurrah for those people who’ve shared their stories of abuse and shared their support.

Bullshit is bullshit no matter if I like a group’s theology or not.  And likewise, it needs to be called out no matter what.

September 18, 2014 at 1:09pm

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If Killing is the Same as Letting Die, then basic Marxism is Justified.

In my Bioethics class, we recently worked through James Rachels’ Active and Passive Euthanasia, in which it is argued that the 

  • act of killing and 
  • act of letting die

are morally indistinguishable (and so if we allow for passive euthanasia, we should allow for active euthanasia).

Killing = Letting Die

Among the lines of argumentation for this point is a thought experiment wherein we image two terrible people, Jones and Smith, who stand to receive a sizable inheritance if a child, the current heir, is to pass away.

Both Jones and Smith share the same motivations and outcomes but 

  • Jones actively drowns the child, making it look like an accident
  • Smith witnesses the child slipping, bumping her head, and falling face-down in a tub and does nothing (but could easily and quickly saved the heiress).

Rachels claims that his case demonstrates that the killing/letting die distinction of the case determines its moral outcome, but the motivations and outcomes.

Most of the students were strongly persuaded by this (as am I).

If Killing is the Same as Letting Die, then basic Marxism is Justified.

I asked the students what the implications were if killing were the same as letting die.  Restated, I pressed them to answer: 

  • What are the implications on a social level, if letting someone die is equal to killing them?

If we let people die by not ensuring that they have their basic needs met (however defined), then that must be the same as actively killing them.

And if it is morally wrong to actively kill the unproductive, then it follows that the notion that 

from each according to their ability (production)
to each acffcording to their needs

seems to be a necessary moral obligation.

December 4, 2013 at 2:31pm

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What is the Bible? →

A fantastic series by Bell.


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MICHAEL GUNGOR On The Problem With The Christian Music Industry →

December 3, 2013 at 9:44am

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"Christian Worldview as Bounded Inquiry

I’ve been reading Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism by Molly Worthen.  I’m only 20% of the way through it thus far, but it’s been a great read on the history of Evangelicalism with a focus on the various (conflicting) authorities the (thus far) early Evangelicals tried to honor and how they coped, remixed, and reacted to those various authorities.

The Cult of the Christian Worldview

Peter Enns, one of my scholarly heroes, has just finished the book and gives a discusison of Worthen’s conclusions. He quotes Worthen as saying:

Evangelicals are idealists, yes. They are also pragmatists. They talk so much of the “Christian worldview” because they believe in it–but also because it is a powerful rhetorical strategy. It curtails debate, justifies hardline politics, and discourages sympathetic voters from entertaining thoughts of moderation or compromise….

The anti-intellectual inclinations in evangelical culture stem not from wholehearted and confident obedience to scripture, or the assurance that God will eventually corral all nonbelievers, but from deep disagreements over what the Bible means, a sincere desire to uphold standards of modern reason alongside God’s word–and the defensive reflexes that outsiders’ skepticism provokes. The cult of the Christian worldview is one symptom of the effort by many evangelical leaders to fold competing sources of authority into one, to merge inference with assumptions. The evangelicals who adopt this soft presuppositionalism hope that it might prove to be a viable political currency, one that can buy cultural capital where proof texts and personal testimony fail.

These habits of mind have crippled evangelicals in their pursuit of what secular thinkers take to be the aims of intellectual life: the tasks of discovering new knowledge, creating original and provocative art, and puzzling out the path toward a more human civilization. When the neo-evangelicals set out to resuscitate the evangelical mind seventy years ago they shared these goals, but they also harbored another set of ambitions. The purpose of Christianity Today or the Evangelical Theological Society was not to unite conservative Protestants and earn secular intellectuals’ respect for the sake of unity and respect alone. Cultural influence was a means to an end: the ultimate end of converting the world–in heart, mind, and action–to Christ.

THAT gives voice, vocabulary, and explicitness to what I’ve seen, felt, thought, experienced wrestled with, etc. the last 20 years of my life.

Worldview as Metanarrative

At the same time, however, the naked notion of a Christian Worldview doesn’t seem implicitly problematic.  I have a worldview, a metanarrative that orients and infuses my world with meaning, as well as provides me with a set of “givens” with which I live, move, and find my being.

And this is a good thing, an inescapable thing.

Everything, everyone, operates within metanarratives. Our metanarrative is our coherence.

As a person who teaches world religions at the college level, a discussion of metanarratives and their giving of the givens, their coherence, and the problem of judging the merits of one metanarrative from inside a different metanarrative is one of the most helpful tools I have in teaching students how to understand and respect the other without demanding they us or us becoming them.

And thus I wrestled with the end of Worthen’s work.

Worldview as Bounded Inquiry

BUT, I don’t think that Worthen is using Worldview the same way that I, as a post-conservative post-evangelical anti-realist linguistic pragmatist uses the word.

Instead, Worthen is using “Christian Worldview” as a set of gatekeepers in Christian thought and inquiry, chief among which is Inerrancy.

The Public Transcript must be Sanitized

Instead of chasing after “truth” for truth’s sake, Christians have to operate within a bounded set of questions and answers.  If they find a question or an answer that is out of those bounds, a problem occurs.  

Somehow, someway, the public transcript must be sanitized, must be cleansed, or the whole fabric threatens to unravel. 

So, the questions, the answers, or the person must be expunged.

And that is what I think Worthen is talking about when she talks about the “Christian Worldview”.

And that is why our inquiry, the intellectual air we breathe, is so malformed, so toxic, so backwards, so… small.

And that is one of the reasons why I’m leaving Evangelicalism, at least for a time, to see what the air is like within other Christian camps.

October 15, 2013 at 8:48am

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According the The Oatmeal “this guy” was Bartolomé de las Casas, a 16th-century Spanish missionary perhaps best known for denouncing the Spanish treatment of American Indians and his call for the end of the Indian slave trade. Las Casas is also known for advocating the use of African slave labor to replace the lost work of the Indians. Like all historical figures, las Casas is a problematic character.

Recognizing this fact means acknowledging that the conquest and subsequent colonization of the Western Hemisphere were not a series of acts committed by bad people; they were, and are, indicative of a worldview of empire, ownership, and globalization that led to the destruction of many ways of life. It’s quite hard to find a figure who wasn’t somehow complicit.

October 13, 2013 at 10:15am

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As the sources of dignity and meaning of adulthood of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations—the daily toil of the shop floor, the making of a home and family—slip through their fingers, the young men and women I spoke with are working hard to remake dignity and meaning out of emotional self-management and willful psychic transformation.

— Silva, Jennifer M., Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty, loc. 237-239. Kindle Edition

October 12, 2013 at 6:45pm

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Rather than turn to politics to address the obstacles standing in the way of a secure adult life, the majority of the men and women I interviewed crafted deeply personal coming of age stories, grounding their adult identities in recovering from their painful pasts—whether addictions, childhood abuse, family trauma, or abandonment—and forging an emancipated, transformed, and adult self (see Illouz 2007, 2008; Smith et al. 2011).

— Silva, Jennifer M., Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty, loc. 234-237. Kindle Edition