“Christian” as a niche demographic

Timothy Noah at The New Republic laments the use of the term “Christian” to refer exclusively to conservative, evangelical Protestants (and the cultural products that cater to them):

Every morning I wake up to National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition,” and this morning my first stirrings of consciousness concerned the new movie October Baby, about a young womanwho finds out that she was adopted after her birth mother underwent a failed abortion. Ten percent of the film’s profits will be donated to an anti-abortion charity. NPR’s piece about October Baby (audio, text), described it as one of several “Christian” films that Hollywood studios have started churning out. Jon Erwin, who co-directed the film with his brother Andrew, told NPR that he was “raised in the South in a Christian home and family,” and that the values of many contemporary Hollywood films felt alien to him. Quoting The Hollywood Reporter‘s Paul Bond, NPR observed that “Hollywood doesn’t like to leave money on the table,” and noted that Fox and Sony have set up subsidiaries to serve the niche “Christian” market.

As I lay in bed struggling to wake up I thought: Christian? Christians aren’t some twee boutique demographic. Christians represent the majority. About 78 percent of Americans self-identify as Christian, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. What NPR and Fox and Sony mean when they say “Christian” is “Christian right” or “Christian conservatives,” terms that adherents don’t like because they think they’re pejorative. “Fundamentalist” and “evangelical” are imperfect substitutes because a) the two categories, though they overlap a lot, aren’t precisely the same; and b) some of these folks consider themselves political liberals. (The worldly Cold War liberal Reinhold Niebuhr called himself an evangelical Protestant.) What conservative Christians really like to be called is “Christians.” Hence “Christian rock” and “Christian college” and now “Christian film.” This strikes me as terribly presumptuous. Bruce Springsteen was raised Catholic but he doesn’t perform anything these folks would accept as Christian rock. Wesleyan was founded by Methodists and named after John Wesley but evangelicals would never call it a Christian university. “Christian” has become a euphemism for “acceptable to the type of Christian (in most instances Protestant) who frowns on homosexuality and wishes Saul Alinsky had minded his own business.”

When you consider Christianity’s foundational position in Western art and culture, it’s somewhat ironic that “Christian” used in this sense is an almost-infallible indicator of sub-par schlock that’s not worth your time.

Friday Links

–Marvin on the Presbyterian Church’s decision to allow congregations to call non-celibate gay and lesbian pastors.

–Libraries are part of the social safety net.

–“I hated vegans too, but now I am one.”

–On anti-Semites and philo-Semites.

–Mark Bittman asks, “Why bother with meat?”

–Jesus and eco-theology.

–Jeremy discusses Herbert McCabe and Gerhard Forde on the Atonement.

–Your commute is killing you.

–Rowan Williams’ Ascension Day sermon: “The friends of Jesus are called … to offer themselves as signs of God in the world.”

–Grist’s “great places” series continues with two posts on the industrial food system and its alternatives.

–Keith Ward on his recent book More than Matter?

–Russell Arben Fox on the Left in America.

–The Cheers challenge. My wife and I have already been rewatching the entire series. We’re on season 6 now, which replaces Shelley Long’s Diane with Kirstie Alley’s Rebecca. It’s one of my all-time favorite shows, although the earlier seasons are probably the best ones.

–Ozzy’s first two solo albums, which are generally considered classics, have gotten the deluxe reissue treatment. Here’s a review.

Friday Links

–John Cohn at The New Republic on the end of “compassionate conservatism.”

–Should life be more like a game?

– The rise of white identity politics in DC?

–From Book Forum, a collection of links on how we treat animals. (I guess that makes this a meta-link?)

–How Pearl Jam went from being the biggest rock band in the world to a niche act.

–The Thomas Paine-John Adams debate about economic equality in the early American republic.

–I’m not sure the Ramones were the best candidate for an AV Club “Gateways to Geekery” feature. What band could be easier to get into? Just start listening with the first album–it pretty much establishes the template for everything else.

–Joe Klein is shrill.

–More on the flap over Elizabeth Johnson’s book from Daniel Horan, OFM, here and here.

Traditional marriage hasn’t existed for a long time

This article from the WaPo clearly lays out why the supposed threat to “traditional” marriage posed by same-sex marriage is based on a misunderstanding:

We are near the end of a two-stage revolution in the social understanding and legal definition of marriage. This revolution has overturned the most traditional functions of the institution: to reinforce differences in wealth and power and to establish distinct and unequal roles for men and women under the law.

Over time, marriage largely ceased to have safeguarding property or making alliances between powerful families as its primary function. Instead, people came to believe that they should marry for love and happiness. The feminist revolution followed, and we gradually came to understand that marriage didn’t have to mean prescribed roles for men and women either. Modern, heterosexual companionate marriage is, therefore, “traditional” only in a very attenuated sense. The most radical changes are already behind us; gay marriage is simply one more step in the institution’s evolution.

Christmas is awesome

Christmas has been getting flak from all sides this year. Conservative Christians think it’s too secular or “multiculturalized”; secularists think it’s too religious, or they make what they seem to think is the devastating point that Jesus was probably not actually born on December 25th; “radical” Christians think Christmas is too sentimental or commercialized; liturgical nit-pickers complain that Christmas has eclipsed Advent; and no one–at least no one in the commentariat–seems to be actually enjoying it.

Which is why you should read Marvin’s post. (Actually, the accompanying graphic alone is worth the visit.)

Pre-Christmas odds and ends

The ATR household is off to visit family for the better part of the next week, so blogging will be light–well, even lighter than usual.

Here’s a sampling of what I’ve been reading ’round the Web lately:

Christopher has several posts on l’affaire Rick Warren that are, as usual, very much worth your time. (See here, here, and here.)

Congrats to John Schwenkler, whose blog Upturned Earth has been absorbed into the ever-expanding conservative media empire that is Culture 11.

Lynn reflects on the movie Milk and how different the atmosphere for gay rights in California has changed since the 70’s (n.b.: a couple of f-bombs).

I thought this article on St. Joseph at Slate was neat.

Jennifer reminds us that it’s T-minus one month till the Lost season premiere! (And don’t forget Battlestar Galactica on January 18th!)

Alan Jacobs and Noah Millman discuss intereligious dialogue at the American Scene. This is something I haven’t given as much thought to as I’d like. (See here, here, and here.)

Tom Engelhardt writes on publishing and reading during a downturn. Also see this: “The Tyranny of the ‘To-Read’ Pile”

George Monbiot on peak oil.

This is interesting: Meat Consumption and CO2 Emissions

Not surprisingly, beef has the highest CO2 emissions per pound, but surprisingly high also are cheese and shrimp. I wonder if transportation was included in the figuring.

This talk
from the E.F. Schumahcer Institute was delivered in May, but it still seems entirely relevant to our current predicament.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring you Christmas wishes from Ronnie James Dio (along with the rest of the Dio-era Black Sabbath line-up).

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

 Conrad von Soest, Nativity (1404)

Conrad von Soest, Nativity (1404)

Environmentalism for the rest of us

I meant to link to this piece from Orion magazine earlier (via Russell I think). It’s all about cultivating an environmentalism that can appeal to working class people (specifically white ones in this case), not just by appealing to their interests, but by understanding and sympathizing with their culture.

It’s no secret that much of the explicit appeal of American-style conservatism to working class voters has been made by bashing the “liberal elites” who disdain working class culture and values. And it works because in a lot of cases it’s true. I know that I embraced conservatism to some extent because being a kid from a working-class background I found several of the upper-class liberals I encountered in grad school to be insufferable snobs. (I still find this to be the case sometimes, however much my “conservatism” has mutated since then.)

Tammy Faye Messner (Bakker), RIP

Tammy Faye, one of the symbols of the corruption of American televangelism lost her battle with cancer.

A few months ago my wife and I watched the documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye. I have to say that I came away from that much more sympathetically disposed to her. Obviously the kind of fundraising she and her husband engaged in was inherently dubious, but it really did seem that to a great extent she got caught up in events beyond her knowledge and control. And the machinations of Jerry Falwell in taking over their network come across as extremely cynical.

I also was impressed with what seemed as far as I could tell to be a very deep and genuine Christian faith. And her outreach to gays and lesbians in contravention of all the norms of that community was genuinely touching and seemed to be rooted in sincere Christian love. For all her troubles she certainly seems to have touched a lot of people’s lives in a good way. R.I.P.