From time to time I will be blogging on things related to faith and popular culture—and by popular culture, things in television, film, the internet and indeed, culture generally, as it’s harder than ever to see the boundaries.
Casual reading, watching or listening to the vast torrents of stories, news and commentary in the entertainment field alone indicates how hard it is to separate real-world issues from supposedly escapist content — just read through a typical issue of Entertainment Weekly to get a sense of how inescapable real-world news, views and causes penetrates the writings of many articles.
I will be commenting on the stories we consume and sometimes create — contemporary Christianity doesn’t have a great track record of cultural contributions so when I think I’ve found worthy aesthetic creations, I will try to give them their due. But, though Christianity was once the wellspring of Western culture, we no longer live in a time where we can expect great work of Christian artists to be the norm — there are many reasons for this but by and large this is because many Christians removed themselves from involvement in the larger culture long ago.
The 19th century saw the conscious departure of evangelicals from the consumption and production of content intended for large audiences, from theatrical to literary after preachers, such as evangelist Charles Finney, decried “worldly amusements,” that would distract church members from the pursuit of pious living. The consequences of this disengagement have followed for over a century as believers lost an understanding of the purpose of art and settled for an ever-thinner gruel of sentiment and mediocrity while gradually surrendering throughout the 20th century to the rising mass media of movie, radio and then television.
Having forgotten the blessing that art can be, and how to create that art, we have often settled for much less.
Of course it wasn’t always that way, as any PBA student in Humanities II should be able to tell you: Western culture was suffused with art pursuing the glory of God. The art and narratives were steeped in a biblical vision that seeped into the consciousness of the European and then American audience.
Just one example: How many of us over the holiday period recently ended listened to over or even sang Handel’s Messiah? This perennial Baroque favorite traces salvation history with choice scriptures set to unforgettably beautiful music. It’s one of the most splendid examples of the way we have told ourselves and others our greatest story —the foretelling of and revelation of the Son of God’s appearance, His life, death and resurrection, bringing salvation to a dark world.
Now of course, we understand, sometimes reluctantly, that we live in a post-Christian society, increasingly resistant to any authentic expression of the Christian faith so richly presented in the Messiah and so much of Western art.
In future blog posts I hope to discuss examples of where good things are happening, where great efforts, large and small are coming forth, where our stories express a Christian vision both to ourselves and to those with ears to hear and eyes to see.
-- Dr. Alex Wainer
Dr. Alex Wainer is Professor of Communication & Media Studies in the School of Communication and Media. He is author of Soul of the Dark Knight: Batman as Mythic Figure in Comics and Film.