Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Christians and Hollywood

Just when I thought that relations between Christians and Hollywood couldn't stoop any lower, I read this headline:

Rick Santorum to head new Christian film studio

Kirk Cameron must be licking his lips.

Monday, June 24, 2013


You have heard it said by one of the defining philosophers of the 20th century, Ludwig Wittgenstein, that the limits of my language are the limits of my world. But I say unto you, the limits of my finances are the limits of my world, for the limits of my finances are the limits of my language.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Comic-Book-Hero-As-Type-of-Christ Dollar

There is a new Superman film in cinemas these days. Since it's a comic book movie at a time when comic book movies are almost guaranteed to make big money (even Green Lantern made $219,000,000) it ought to be treated with suspicion. But what is more suspicious is a company I came across while reading about Man of Steel.

The company is called Grace Hill Media, which describes itself as "a dynamic, full-service PR and marketing firm originally established to reach an enormous and underserved population – religious America." Is there nothing profane? Is there nothing that Christians won't Christianize? If Bill Hicks is anywhere close to being right then marketing is not a practice worthy of the gospel. That a company like this exists is just further proof that western Christians are blind and numb to the ways that we try to serve both God and mammon. Just to rub salt into the wound, here is what a member of Grace Hill Media is quoted as saying at the end of a piece on the company:

I don't know if you've seen a contemporary church service lately but they're pretty big, modern places with lots of TV screens, definitely not your grandfather's church with an organ. If you're a pastor and you just paid $35,000 (£22,000) for a massive hi-tech screen, you don't just want to screen out the lyrics to 'Our God Is an Awesome God'. Now, if they want to tell a story about hope they can use a clip from The Shawshank Redemption.

 If you are a pastor and you just heard or read one of your flock talking like this, it is high time for some pastoral care - full cavity search. The plot has been lost, and a clip from The Blind Side will not save souls.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

What if the IF Campaign Does Not Represent the Climax of History?

Those closest to me have heard me ranting senselessly about the IF campaign, though I stop short of saying that all involved should be sent to a gulag. I'm aware that I tread on dangerous ground when I criticize such a project, which is why I have kept the criticism close to home. Besides, Boff's question of "what have you done to liberate people?" stands in the way of armchair critics like myself. Who am I to critique the work being done to feed those whose lack food is not unrelated to my abundance of food?

Bertrand Russell said that Christians would rather die than think. I am nothing if not a thinker, and the IF campaign is a campaign of action. Tearfund tells us that there will be enough food for everyone if we "act and pray" (or, at least, that can be the church's role in the campaign.) Adhering to the false dichotomy between thinking and acting (and, indeed, praying and acting), I will operate under the Slavoj Zizek mantra of "Don't act. Think." Here, then, are a couple of thoughts on Christian participation with "IF":

- We can all agree that starvation is not a good thing. The people in the YouTube videos are not wrong to be outraged by the fact that 1 in 8 go to bed hungry. But what do we know of the relationship between our abundance and their poverty? Of our going to sleep with full stomachs and their going to sleep on empty ones? Do we not sense that there is something awry when there is an IF banner hanging on a church whose car park is full of Mercedes Benz's and BMW's? We may want David Cameron to do something about the issue, but are we prepared to pay the cost? And I don't mean give a monthly donation to Tearfund. I mean giving up the things that we think make our lives and the lives of our children secure. There is a precariousness to peace and a precariousness to justice that defies security and riles against our well-intentioned acts of charity. Do those participating in the effort to eradicate world hunger know what they are doing? To take an extremely cynical view, participation in the IF campaign may well allow some people to go to bed not only with a full stomach but also a clear conscience. The same applies to those wealthy enough to afford organic or fair trade goods.

- There is a sense (I'm using that word a lot. Must be the Pentecostal in me.) from Christians that the IF campaign is bigger than Jesus. From what I've read and heard from Christians involved, it is as if "this generation" stands on the cusp of doing something truly history-making. Yoder's critique of a certain type of Christian social ethics is immediately relevant here. The IF campaign is deeply constantinian. It is about getting a grip of the handles of history so that we can make history turn out the way it is supposed to. In this instance, the handles of history are represented by the G8, which is meeting in Northern Ireland this week. That Christians in Belfast see this G8 summit as being more significant for world history than the PCI General Assembly (which (I believe) was held earlier this month) tells the story of where we think true power lies. It lies not with Christ and his body, but with the rulers and authorities of this world. If Christians do not discern something troubling with the headline "Church leaders demands PM ends hunger", then we have forgotten not only correct grammar, but the identity of the Messiah and our identity as a messianic community.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

An Incidental Catholic

Enda Kenny said today that he is "a Taoiseach who happens to be Catholic but not a Catholic Taoiseach."

You could write a dissertation based on that quote.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Theological Aesthetics

Much of 20th century philosophy was to do with language. The limits of our language are the limits of our world, said Wittgenstein, with Derrida bringing this linguistic turn to its logical conclusion: There is nothing outside of the text. Theology today employs much of these insights in one form or another. Lindbeck's The Nature of Doctrine proposes a cultural-linguistic approach to understanding religions and their doctrines, with many others displaying the influence of Wittgenstein and co. in their work.

This turn made good sense to theology, especially to a theology concerned with the incarnate Word. But I fear that something is lost when we make of words the be all and end all of existence. There are "truths beyond speech" (to borrow a phrase from Hannah Arendt, who, it must be said, seemed to have no interest in such truths), and the word-work that is theology must always keep in mind (that is to say, in sight) that which transcends the limits of our language. David Hart writes that "the good can be known only in being seen, before and beyond all words." He even speaks of a moral truth revealed in the music of Bach that could not be known otherwise. I think he is right to do so.

Knowledge is not owned by words alone. Our bodies are not mere breathing machines for our speech, with our eyes or hands less valuable than our tongues. Truth is as visual as it is verbal; it is as much a seeing as it is a saying. On a personal note, I remember little of what I said or what was said to me as a boy, but I have a whole array of wordless scenes stored in my memory. The truth of my childhood is a truth that could only be properly communicated in images. This is why The Tree of Life is, quite literally, a must-see, for it is a reminder that we have eyes, and that they are a gift.

In the end, however, word and image are not in opposition. The Word is the image of the invisible God. God speaks to us through Christ, a prophet mighty in word and deed. Yet before and beyond all human words is the glory of the triune God - a glory named to us when the Father declares that "This is my son, whom I love" as the spirit connects Father and Son to each other. In the face of this glory we can and must speak doxologically, but only as we behold in wonder. The gospel, according to 1 Corinthians 15, is not only that Jesus died, was buried, and was raised. It is also that he appeared and was seen. "And we beheld his glory."

Thus begins and ends theological aesthetics.