Rapture Ready!

Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture by Daniel Radosh

Have you heard about this book already? It's becoming more well known, in part because it is being promoted by The Ooze, the alt-Christian website. They sent it to me for review.

Yes, the book is funny. And not in a mean way. The author is pretty open about his biases going in and he openly admits how he changed his mind about certain people once he got to know them a little, closer up.

He lays out the stream(s) of thought that led to the Rapture mentality (doctrine?) in Chapter 5. From the arrival of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909 to the website www.raptureready.com – you’ll have to make your own way there – I don’t want you to be confused with Radosh’s site www.GetRaptureReady.com which has all kinds of photos and music and video from his journey while writing the book.

But his eventual point is that mainstream Christianity, particularly in its pop culture forms, can save the world from fundamentalists.

I don’t know about that, especially as someone who doesn’t participate much in pop culture, for some of the same reasons as the fundamentalists. (Gasp! Horror!)

I’m not completely opposed to pop culture. I have consumed some over the last forty years. I occasionally go to a movie. But I’m just not comfortable with most of what passes for a grown-up, rated R film these days. I don’t want to watch other people having sex or killing each other.

I wouldn’t say “Quakers should never go to movies,” although early Friends certainly would have. I wouldn’t say that “Quakers should only go to PG, Christian-themed movies,” although some contemporary Friends would. But I do think we have to be very careful about how much pollution we consume.

The worst example for me was last year when I saw the latest James Bond movie on an airplane. “Great,” I thought, “I’d never go see this in a theater but as long as I’m here, I might as well enjoy it.” I even paid the two bucks for the headset. But I was very disturbed by the scenes of torture: of Bond onscreen and the verbal description of what happened to one of his lovers. All I saw was the edited for the airplane version, so I don’t know if it got worse or not in the original. But the idea that torture is titillating is disgusting to me. And yet it passes as mainstream entertainment these days.

But back to Rapture Ready! I was intrigued by the categories of Christian music, as outlined by Jay Howard (p. 164). There’s the separationals, who think Christians should only write and listen to Christian music, the more JPM (Jesus per minute) the better. The integrationals think that by playing regular music with tangentially Christian themes, they can have more of an influence on the wider society. The transformationals think that their role is just to live Christian lives while creating the best music they can.

Frankly, I don’t care if musicians pray between songs or not. I don’t see that pop music (or movies or chick lit or skateboarding) are going to be good media for the anti-materialist message. Musicians who are trying to sell as many albums or tshirts or downloads as possible are less likely to promote the “don’t buy more stuff just because it’s new” philosophy that matters to me. Radosh’s conversation with the dumpster diving, biodiesel tourbus driving, lead singer of the band mewithoutYou, Aaron Weiss (pages 192-199) was great about this conflict. It may be my favorite part of the whole book. This is Aaron Weiss talking:
“It’s really a question of what do you do when rebellion becomes the norm, when you’re wearing a stylish new shirt with a cross on it, where the cross represents a dying to all the things of the world, and a rejection of the powers and the comforts and luxuries and values of the world? I’m not sure it can be done. At the same time, if you go about two hundred feet that way, you can find our T-shirts for sale for something like twelve dollars, and it’s something I wrestle with and something I don’t feel content about. Does the world need more T-shirts? Well, maybe somewhere. Not in America. But yet, we print them. When we started five or six years ago, I had no problem with T-shirts. In fact, my main concern was how do we get the biggest profit margin. So we got the cheapest shirts we could and sold them for the most we could respectable and reasonably sell them for, just to make the most money. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I started to think, Maybe that’s not what we should be doing, is trying to make the most money.” (p.197)
So, there is self-awareness in Christian pop music. But have you ever heard of mewithoutYou?

I enjoyed reading Rapture Ready! I mostly agreed with Radosh’s reactions to the various elements of Christian pop culture. (Except for Christian pro wrestling. I really don’t get the attraction of live action cartoon violence, with or without plotlines of eternal redemption.) But I kept wondering why someone like Radosh wanted to write this book. So I asked him. (Another advantage to being an Ooze Select blogger is access to authors. Well, that and his email address is on his website.) Here are his answers:

R: So my main question is simply why did you want to write this book? Was it a joke at first? "So this Humanist Jew walks into a Christian rock festival and decides to write about Evangelical Christians and their Jesus junk…" (I'm sure there are comedians who could come up with some great one liners here, but I'm not one of them.) Or were you already looking for ways to write about how our society can escape the influences of fundamentalist Christians?

D: I know that joke. It ends, "And the publisher says, 'humor books don't sell well, can you make it witty cultural criticism instead? Or something about a plucky dog?'" Actually, I didn't even give them a chance to say that. At the very beginning I did think the book would be mostly me running around having a laugh at all the weirdness. But my intellectual curiosity quickly overcame my love of snark. If I just went looking for comedy I wouldn't actually learn anything, and I wanted to. There are still a lot of comic moments in the book, but they're more firmly grounded in an understanding, and in some cases appreciation, of this world that I really got to know well.

As for the politics of the book, I never wanted to write a polemic. I was willing to share my own political and social views when it was relevant, but mostly I wanted to observe, decipher and entertain. It's true, however, that when I began the project I thought I'd be talking mostly about Christian pop culture as an incubator for fundamentalism and conservatism. The original subtitle included the phrase "religious right." One of the things I came to understand was how much more diverse the evangelical scene is than the media -- and some of its own self-appointed leaders -- would have people believe. To the extent that I have written a book about escaping the influences of fundamentalist Christians, that only came about because I realized that Christian pop culture itself is already serving that cause in many ways, whether intentionally or not.

R: And the related question is more about craft. At what point, or how did you decide this was a topic for a whole book as opposed to a magazine article or two?

D: There have been thousands of magazine articles about various aspects of Christian pop culture. I'd already written a few myself. But even the best of these are inherently superficial. A society is more than just the sum of its discrete parts. The meaning of Christian pop culture lies in the interconnections among people and ideas, in the path from past to present to future, and, importantly, in the vigorous and wide-ranging debates among Christians themselves. Readers can decide for themselves whether I did justice to all of that, but I did realize right away that a book was the right format if I wanted to say anything that people hadn't already heard.
So a thumbs up on Rapture Ready!

Actually, don’t read it if you are easily offended, because something in it will bother you – whether it’s the mere existence of Christian pro wrestling, or Radosh flagrantly doubting the effectiveness of the witness potential of t-shirts that say “Be a camouflage Christian … Hunt for God” or “Arrest me. I prayed in school today.” If you don’t want to think about that, don’t read this book.

But if you are interested in the intersection between living a faithful life and participating in culture, this is a great book to articulate the questions, compromises and commitments that come up.

And did I mention? I laughed a lot while reading it.

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