Saturday, May 19, 2007
Baudrillard and Megachurches
One of the classes I have taught this semester is called Cultural Heritage of the West--a survey of Western literature and philosophy from the Renaissance to the Postmodern (a lot to cram into one semester, I tell you). Several of the final essays I received are particularly commendable as the students really engaged with the conceptual recommendations of those who think very differently than themselves about the nature and substance of reality. Rather than dismissing the claims completely, slapping on a pat "Christian" answer in order to quickly label and dispose, they were able to see how these critiques and questions were importnat to their own understanding of faith. This honesty, desire to ask serious, hard questions as Christians about our participation in and relationship to culture, is a far more Christian approach (in the truest sense of the word) than spewing out what often becomes dismissive formula in a Chrsitian subculture.
One fascinating essay is a discussion of Douglas Coupland's Generation X alongside Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulations and America. One of the author's most interesting points relates to Baudrillard's claim that God, like everything else, is a pure simulacrum (image with no ultimate, grounding reference point). Baudrillard claims that the church smashed its images of Christ, not for fear of idolatry, but because the production of the image blatantly indicates that God Himself is only an image, a view that they wish to keep hidden. In her paper, the student asks, "Can God Himself really be replicated and condensed to the signs that compose faith?" She continues by saying that "simulation is death, because it never moves forward." If reality is simply a flattened image, there is no progression, no room for depth--only stagnation in the guise of gloss. Although the author's paper indicates a clear desire for and belief a transcendent "Real" that gives shape and substance to the things of this world, she also cleverly notices that perhaps we, as Christians, have often reduced our faith to the very depthless signs of our consumer culture. She writes: "We show we love Jesus by the t-shirts we wear, the self-help books we read and the endless circulation of CDs that seem to give glory not only to God, but to the companies that mass produce them. We almost numb ourselves to original thought, thinking that if John Piper did not say it, it's probably blasphemy. The new religion of consumerism bleeds into Chrsitianity so flawleesly that one cannot see the distinction. Hyppereality effects the church as well. Mega-churches that bring in over 10,000 people keep them there with the alluring scent of Starbucks brewing in the foyer and the ecstatic rumbling of 15 piece drum kits, 4 lead guitars and Christian pop stars belting out radio-hit hymns. This dose of what America loves (lights, noise, gratifications) infiltrates even temples which were built to give God glory." This student's observations concerning the pat, nonoriginal replications, the fear of originality and "free thought"--another indication of stagnation-- in many corners of "Christian" culture show us EXACTLY why it is important to read Baudrillard.