Society, Religion, and the BBC

August 25, 2008

I’m reading for my Social Movements class here at starbucks.  I just finished a short selection about the nature of “expressive” crowds, which is basically a spontaneously formed mob of people whose sole purpose is expression.  In the nature of groups, these people feed each other’s excitement and in doing so create a sort of frenzy.  Not surprisingly the author used religious gatherings as a perfect example.

            This isn’t the type of stuff I should be reading, because I’m very inclined to agree with the notion that most all mass religious experiences are subconsciously contrived experiences that have more to do with our social nature than spiritual transcendence.  Maybe that’s just easier for me to believe, maybe it just makes me feel safer to dismiss things I don’t understand.  In either case, I have to wonder if possibly the biblical event that people use to validate such mass experiences (Pentecost) was possibly just more of the same.  A social experience rather than a spiritual one.

            As a young person very influenced by the post-modern movement I’ve been questioning a lot of things like this lately.  I’m unimpressed by answers that don’t explain anything,  theology that has little to do with the way the world actually is.  I was thinking the other day it would be interesting to superimpose a Joel Osteen sermon over a BBC broadcast and see how relevant the gospel sounds.


            Well, this was it.  My first attempt at a completely honest post.  I’m scared…

I also want to verify that not everything I post is really what I Believe, they are really just thoughts that are completely open to disagreement and change.


17 Responses to “Society, Religion, and the BBC”

  1. joelmw Says:

    I’m pretty sure I’m not going to explain anything or at least little other than how I approach this stuff (and probably that not even so well). Consider this a response and by no means an answer.

    Why do they have to be mutually exclusive?

    Other questions that come with the territory (maybe somewhat overlapping):
    What makes something spiritually authentic?
    What is transcendence? How can we be sure we’ve experienced it?

    In the end, I’m not sure that we can quantify or categorically describe these things. I tend to think they remain fuzzy–perhaps in their essence (sort of, but not really; if a thing is transcendent, it is, but I mean it might also be simultaneously several other things that we might reactively and wrongly presuppose to be contradictory) but almost certainly in our perception. Our perception, our comprehension–these things are invariably imperfect.

    No, I don’t like that–at least not completely; I like it a little.

    And, no, I don’t write it off to “faith.” I hate the way we use “faith” to describe anything we can’t justify, prove, measure, quantify, explain, etc. Which is not to say that “faith” isn’t sometimes that way; I just think it ends up being how we define faith, and it’s a pretty crappy definition. Anyway, I kinda feel like this is a feature of life–not that it is life; it’s just the kind of fuzziness that comes with life.

    I just wrote this blog; maybe it’s relevant (maybe it isn’t): A Shifty Universe, Truth that Sometimes Lies

    I guess my take on it is that I don’t trust most of the answers. The people who say it was just God and if you don’t believe it you’re not “saved.” The people who say that it couldn’t be God because we have this other explanation and we like our other explanation because it fits our world view (and, really, we’re not comfortable with God, unless you mean that Deist, Bette Midler, From-a-Distance God who conveniently stays out of the way). You’ve got to watch for people’s presuppositions because, funny thing, they always end up seeping into their conclusions and they can’t quite explain why, except, well, that’s just the way it is. Mine too, I don’t deny.

    But based on my own phenomenological history, even though I’m rarely (not never, but rarely) too sure, I believe that these things happen, whether they’re a mixture or somehow pure. And so I don’t doubt–okay, I do doubt but I end up eventually teetering over into belief–that something happened, some God-thing, and whatever the source of the language, however literally descriptive or metaphoric, it’s beautiful and resonant, so on that ground, too, I’m keeping it.

    But I’m curious to see where else this takes you and I never rule out that I might change my mind.

    I saw a documentary once, on the search for a unified field theory. They spoke of the perhaps unexpected idea that such a theory will be judged largely on its elegance and simplicity, on its beauty, on a certain, perhaps ineffable quality it possesses that doesn’t so much prove as compels. They might have mentioned cohesion, I’m not sure. In any case, I think each of us pursues, in his or her own we’re-probably-not-rocket-scientists-but-by-gum-we-do-what-we-can-with-what-we-have way, a unified field theory.

  2. Julia Says:

    Mike – I love honesty like this. It’s why Crash was my favorite movie. Blue Like Jazz a favorite book.
    And I get the discussion between the thing I wonder and think about as opposed to the things I believe. Write on…without fear! Julia

  3. frazyah Says:

    I had a lengthy response written out, and through my own insolence I have just hit the back button and deleted it. Hopefully it will make an appearence shortly.

  4. frazyah Says:

    Well Mike, I’ve reread your post a couple of time, and thought about it for a few days, and I think I might be able to articulate my response. Forgive me if I fail.

    I am not an “expressive” Christian. Whether it is a result of the way I was raised, or the way I am wired I do not know, but I am not. As such, I can understand a healthy skepticism toward these kinds of events. But it is important to remember that others have grown up in the charismatic traditions of other denominations, and I’d like to think that God speaks to us in the ways we have learned to listen. I may not respond to the emotional “frenzy” of these groups, but I may be much more able to connect with a piece of classical music or a logical extrapolation of a bible passage.

    As to the event of Pentecost itself, I find it hard to believe that an emotional experience could be responsible for the sudden ability of a man to speak a language he had never learned. Sure, it may be easy for me to claim that I can speak in tongues when no one is there to understand me, but the presence of witnesses makes this much harder. And I’m assuming that among all the learned men who gathered to observed this event, there were at least a few who were not set upon by the Holy Spirit who still understood what these men were saying. If not, they probably would not have mocked.

    In rereading your post, I noticed a comment you made about mass religious experiences being subconsciously contrived. My question to you is, what’s to prevent that from being wholeheartedly true? If the Holy Spirit is really as engrained in us as we are led to believe, why shouldn’t it subconsciously lead us to events where we are fed? Not only does it provide a natural want to share our experiences with others, it allows us to create community based on the shared experiences (wohoo, used the community buzzword!).

    Well, I think I got most of my thoughts back. The only other thought I have is that some others get this same experience through a political convention, which I find to be absolutely ludicrous. Is anyone really that happy to be a Democrat or a Republican?

  5. gregroy Says:

    Mike i thought you were being honest. im not sure that was the best thing ever posted.

  6. Courtney Says:

    Ummm….I don’t have a comment about society, religion or the BBC at this moment. I just came over here from Julia’s blog to say that just for the record, I didn’t approve of your footwear at the Grand Canyon either 🙂

  7. brandonmontgomery Says:

    Hey man, great post and good thoughts!

  8. gbeddingfield Says:

    Hey dude… I’ve though a lot about your honesty kick lately. While I think it’s good, I always end up thinking, “Uh… good luck with that.” (Sorry…)

    Recently in church, Keith said that when we open up honestly with people, we think it will repulse them, but instead it always draws them to us. Well, maybe that works for him — but all I ever end up with is a bunch of pissed off people. (Pissed off at me.) Seems like most people (that I’ve met) don’t want or can’t handle truth or honesty, especially if it’s complex. They usually end up trying to “fix” you. So, I’ve given up on it. I’m maintaining the facades.

    “You don’t know me, but you don’t like me.”

    However, it’s really refreshing to get around people that have a healthy tolerance for this sort of openness. Yourself and Joel Wasinger come to mind.

    I’m not saying this to patronize you. “Oh, I remember when I was young and I made that mistake. Ah, youth!” Nope. So, if I’m giving you that vibe, I’m sorry.

    What I _am_ saying is: I *think* a lot of what you said. All the time. I usually keep it to myself because it’s easier. Thanks for sharing it (even though it causes me to think those thoughts any more).

    As for pumping Osteen over the BBC: No, it won’t be relevent. But, Paul wrote the same thing in the bible (I Cor. 1:18 for one). So, insofar as you trust Paul’s writings, it’s actually part of God’s design that the Gospel is irrelevant (even foolish) to the world.

  9. Joel Says:

    Ha. Is it possible to hear “can’t handle the truth” without thinking of Jack Nicholson.

    More on topic, Gabe made me realize something I had glossed over before. You set up a sort of equality (not that I think you meant it to be absolute, but there is an implied identity) between Osteen’s stuff and the Gospel. All due respect (and seriously, I’m sure he’s due some respect), to the extent that that’s valid, I’d argue that there’s an equally valid identity between the BBC and the Gospel.

    From another angle, maybe the dissonant waves you’d hear would have more to do with subculture and various strata of extrabiblical crap (again, due respect: I spew it too) than with the relevance or ir- of the Gospel.

    Yet another . . . You remind me one of my favorite things to do: juxtapose the differing cultures and sounds and streams. One of my best experiences in college involved the three-legged stool of the Word of God, the poetry of Wms Blake and Yeats and the lyrics of The Heads, U2, et al. So maybe you just need one more to make a threesome and you’d get something fun out of the Osteen and our friends with the funny accents. And by “fun,” I mean potentially life-changingly revelatory, among other things.

    I think you’re being called to that superimposition. If you don’t, I might. You surely have better sound equipment than I do. Indeed, you could make some music with it, I’m sure.

  10. Mike Says:

    My reference to the “gospel” was more referring to the presentation of the gospel, the possibly skewed western presentation of the gospel, than to the biblical gospel that I would argue is absolutely relevant to world events.
    I think I am going to mess around with that superimposion stuff, I got some other ideas for it too…

  11. Joel Says:

    Understood (not that I was completely sure before–not that I doubted your faith in my being unsure; just because one believes, as Gabe implied, doesn’t mean one finds it relevant; yeah, it gets messy). And actually “how relevant the gospel sounds” could imply a thing once removed. I guess it was just a fun bit to pick on.

    I’m looking forward to hearing what you come up with. Indeed, I’m loving your thoughts on the page, if that’s not already obvious.

    One of the things I like best about the juxtapositions is that sometimes the Bible ends up saying things that are bizarre and troubling (well, duh)–ends up really and truly saying these things–and it’s only in the odd light that we see them. Indeed, I’d say that’s one of the purposes of art: to cast odd light into dark corners, or something like that.

    I think I already said that in the other comment, but it felt worth saying again. Honestly, I had already re-said it before I realized the duplication, and I like the second version. The “saying again” is true, but not consciously intentional, I thought I should admit, yaknow, since we’re being transparent.

  12. Josh R Says:

    hey buddy… i’m glad you’re being honest now… you were such a liar before.


    good thoughts and i love you

  13. Gabriel Says:

    Thinking more on the topic… I don’t mean to say that “the Bible says the Gospel is irrelevant, so don’t even try.” But, there’s a level where the Gospel *is* always going to be irrelevent, and the power of the Holy Spirit is supposed to compensate.

    Some would say that Osteen is a poor representation of the Gospel because he’s *too* relevant, at the expense of some important parts of the gospel.

    But, it *is* important for postmoderns and internationals to re-translate the gospel in a way that make sense to them. This has to be done for every generation, and in every culture. Billy Graham is mostly irrelevant to my age group, where Osteen *is*. Osteen is irrelevant to 20-somethings, where Miller, McLauren, and Jones *are*.

  14. Mike Says:

    Gabe, I think I get what you’re saying, but at same time I’m not really sure. And to clarify, when I say the “gospel” i don’t exactly mean the plan for salvation. I don’t mean the “if you haven’t accepted Jesus in your heart I encourage you to repeat after me…”. I mean more of the overarching gospel, God’s plan to redeem what has been messed up, Jesus’s attempt to show us what love really is. And Love will always be relevant I think.
    Maybe that’s not what “the gospel” refers to. But I’m thinking in broader terms than mere salvation. Or maybe I’m thinking of salvation in broader terms than just a way to heaven.

  15. Gabriel Says:

    No, I would say that *is* the gospel. But I’m also saying that (as far as I understand it), God has set up The Cross as the focal point of that Gospel. That before I can understand the message of love, I have to understand that I’m a jerk, and repent. The Cross will always sound dumb and irrelevant. But, I think if the cross is removed from the gospel (in order to make it relevent), then that’s a Big Mistake.

  16. steve Says:

    Dude…15 comments. You went all honest on us and now you’re a blog star.

  17. joelmw Says:

    You guys ever see “Crazy People”? Easily the best Dudley Moore movie ever, IMO. Was never a big fan of his, but that movie rocks.

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