Monday, November 06, 2006

By any means necessary?

But first, a plea from your sister:
Registered voters: If you have not yet voted, and you are reading this on Tuesday, stop. Now. Get your keys. Leave home. Find your polling place. Vote. Then come back and read. I promise you, this blog will still be here when you return. Barring a cataclysm on the Internet that is beyond my control.

OK. Thank you for engaging in that exercise in civic responsibility. Now, to the question for the day: what are "appropriate" cultural influences to be used as grist for public theology? In a recent class, Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ' was part of the background material assigned for our reflections on violence. At the time it was released, I took a stand that I was not going to support Mr. Gibson's work by allocating my time or my money. Publicity on this film was so ubiquitous at that time, though, it was hard to avoid. Even the promo clips gave me nightmares. I was seriously disturbed by the professor's assigning this work.

Speaking of civic responsibility, though: in doing public theology, should we go by the "any means necessary" school? Go with what catches public attention? I.E., if the public conversation is on Mel's The Passion, do we have a responsibility to address it? Do we propose alternatives? Or avoid it altogether? Can we stick with the sanitized/pretty versions? The fact is that no unbiased version of the story exists. How can we responsibly engage with the 'spin' that's already in the marketplace of ideas?

If The Passion were released today, I'd have to say that I would use it, despite my squeamishness and theological disagreements with the filmmaker. I would try to offer resources for processing the sights, sounds, and ideas viewers encountered. Frankly, after that level of violence, I think we move beyond the field of education and into the realm of pastoral care.

I think anything in the marketplace of ideas is fair game for public theology. Particularly if it makes me uncomfortable, it needs my attention. Sure, I'd rather spend my days practicing my interpretive skills on Veggie Tales. But, we have a penchant for moving from the bright Saturday morning cartoons to the ominous mood music of The Da Vinci Code, Mel's version of The Passion, the Left Behind series. In class discussion, I called The Passion pornographic, in its use of violence to stir the viewer. I used The Matrix in a Pizza & A Movie video series at church a few years ago. Extremely violent? Without a doubt. But powerful, potent in its ability to engage the imagination around themes of faith. I don't think we get to stay in 'G' rated films. Our world is not 'G' rated, our imaginations are not 'G' rated. Even when we like to pretend they are.

Call for comments: what's fair game in public theology? If public theology is everyday God-talk, what's usable from our cultural melange? TV? Books? Video? What tools do you use? Do you consider anything off limits?


Becky said...

I have to preface with a disclaimer. I caught a lot of crap for using "The Gospel According to the Simpsons" at one point. And so I am pretty conservative when it comes to using film and other media.

I have stumbled over theology in some pretty unlikely places. I hate to admit it, but much as Sponge Bob Square Pants bugs me, the funky yellow thing has introduced some pretty interesting theological discussion around our family dinner table.

There are awesome opportunities for theological reflection in mainstream media. The Matrix rocks, even though I have to suck up my own distaste for it's violence. The Star Wars films, Harry Potter films, and Lord of the Rings films, are great places to begin theological reflection. As well as "Holes," "Patch Adams," and "Crash."

I like the way you have embraced the reality that pop culture and media are not our enemy when we engage in public theology. They really should be our starting point!

Thanks for helping me get past my own bias on the Gibson film.

Ben G Bundles said...

Of course nothing should be off limits when engaging in 'public thoelogy'. Today more than ever, we are bound into the world around us by TV, internet etc which forces so much more external influence into our spiritual lives. An American Christian's sphere of influence of only 20 years ago would no doubt have been more limited than today - the disemination of ideas/cultures/other faiths and beliefs via the internet, not to mention the ridiculous number of TV channels, means that we're entering an age where 'religion' does not need to include a God as the controlling power, because 'information flow' has taken its place. Whereby lifes questions and quandries were answered by religious scriptures and teachings, they can now be answered by Google.