Tag: Tom Krattenmaker

Emile Durkheim Likes “Man of Steel”

Fourth of July we went to see Man of Steel with our son and daughter-in-law. Overall, a good retelling of the the Superman legend with some interesting twists. I particularly liked the flashback scenes where young Clark learns the power of his special gifts and struggles with not-fitting-in; an awful thing for a teen, even if you are a superhero. And I didn’t hate Kevin Costner!


Crowe

I was a bit leery to see the movie because the previews had made a great deal of the Messiah references. Every time Russel Crowe speaks as Jor-El, you learn that Clark was supposed to be the model who would tell humans how to live. He came from another place and had powers that nobody understood. His family crest means Hope. And he came to earth but they didn’t understand him.

The backstory of Krypton was particularly telling. The planet had not cared for its environment and had so overused their natural resources the planet was destroyed from the inside out.

A critical point of the story is the presence of the Codex. All babies born on Krypton were genetically developed to fulfill specific roles: soldier, scientist, politician, etc. It’s a remarkably rigid class structure. There was no individual choice as General Zod observed — all he knew was to be a soldier for that’s what he was created to be.

Superman (Kal-El) was different. He was born in freedom because his birth was unlike anyone else’s (miraculous?) — apparently his parents made a baby the old fashioned way that no one had successfully done in hundreds of years. Somehow the entire Codex was merged into Kal-el’s genes so that he individually represented all aspects of Krypton society. It survives in him even though the planet doesn’t survive.

I won’t give away the rest — although Lois Lane is there,  Superman doesn’t die, and the military is inept. (One surprise is that something made Larry Fishburne really heavy unless I was supposed to be watching in HD!)

The contrast between Superman and General Zod made me think of Emile Durkheim and The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Using Marcel Mauss’ data on Australian Aboriginals, Durkheim observed the overlap of community (clan) values with those reproduced through religious ritual. Through some detailed analysis, he comes to his conclusion that “Religion is Society Worshipping Itself.”

I’ve always explained to my students that while I don’t hold to Durkheim’s analysis with regard to Christianity, we must be vigilant against the elevation of cultural values to sacred realms.

It’s interesting, then, that the backstory of Krypton is between class immobility and the freedom to be fully human. When we create a Messiah-type of Superman, the language we use in describing him is about hope and freedom, individual achievement, overcoming obstacles, and being able to use your gifts for good. That’s set against the no-choice, bull-headed, selfish, brutal Zod (not his fault — he was created that way and can’t be anything else).

The Messiah imagery breaks down at several points. Russel Crowe isn’t a creator per se. The love interest is well done (interesting that Amy Adams is way smarter and braver than Margot Kidder in the original). And there is a key point where Superman tells a minister that he’s the guy they’re all looking for (after Zod gives his “Surrender Dorothy” message to the world) and there are huge stained glass images of Jesus.

But the Messiah imagery DOES work as a Durkheimian Civil Religious symbol. Superman is the expression of American ideals set against a totalitarian vision. His shows us what it means to be free and the pursue individuality even at the expense of all the innocent victims in the streets and in the buildings that were destroyed.

There were a number of media reports about the religious connection. Tom Krattenmaker did this interview on how the movie was promoted to evangelical churches. But it strikes me that more insidious than the direct Christ-parallel story is the substitution of American individualism, which is then somehow morphed into a Christ figure. The implication is that Christ would celebrate the individualism represented in Russel Crowe’s vision. As Durkheim would suggest, we’ve made our religious figures endorsers of our values — thereby worshipping ourselves.

And I still thought the movie was pretty good. Miles better than The Lone Ranger, which had too many holes to analyze.

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Hosea: The Reality Show

Today provided an interesting convergence of stories on the Huffington Post. Tom Krattenmaker wrote this piece which is a summary of folks from his book The Evangelicals You Don’t Know (my Amazon review is here). Tom points out that for all the media coverage given to folks like James Dobson, Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell, Westboro Baptist, and the like, the real story of influence is about folks like Gabe Lyons, Jim Henderson, and Kevin Palau. They are taking a very different approach to evangelicalism that is just as orthodox but less combative. It’s a positive sign for the next decade. Why don’t we know those names? How can thousands of people gather at Gabe Lyons’ Q LA last spring to explore new understandings of evangelical engagement and receive so little coverage? (I couldn’t find anything on the LA Times website but only did a cursory look.)

Tom tweeted about this HP story by Skye Jethani. Skye, who works at Christianity Today, explored the myth that evangelicals have been too political and that, in the wake of DOMA and Prop-8 decisions, may have learned their lessons. He correctly identifies the negative association that Kinnaman’s You Lost Me picked up. But he goes on to suggest that it’s not evangelicals in general that are encouraging the positions that drive folks away but the vocal minority the media likes to play on (the HP is notoriously guilty of this — they should read Skye’s article that they aggregated).  Skye observes that Meet the Press had Rachel Maddow and Ralph Reed in a DOMA discussion on Sunday — and surprise — they didn’t agree! It makes for conflict TV but misrepresents reality and slows collaboration.

Last month, Sarah Palin returned to her spot on Fox News. That night, John Oliver (filling in for Jon Stewart) fretted for a bit and then concluded “we could all just [expletive] ignore her”. I loved it. It was going to be my new mantra for all of the folks listed above who become divisive evangelical voices. Just Ignore Them. Hard work for sure — but way better for the blood pressure.

But today’s third story got me thinking that ignoring, while satisfying, was inadequate. In that piece, fellow Despised One Zach Hoag wrote about Christian Celebrity. He shares a picture of Joel Osteen praying with the producers of The Bible miniseries. He discusses the connection between Grand-Canyon-Wirewalking Nik Wallenda and Justin Bieber. And he shares an absolutely frightening vido clip advertising a reality series about LA prosperity preachers (scarier than zombie movies!).

I realized that ignoring the celebrity wasn’t enough. So I spent time thinking about how to co-opt the media fascination.

I’ve decided that we need a reality show based on the Old Testament prophet Hosea. We’d take some nice evangelical pastor, freshly out of Christian college and seminary, and have him start a nice little church. Then he’d marry a drug addicted, undereducated, flamboyant, abrasive, streetwalker. I see the concept as a Ryan Gossling type as the pastor and Snookie’s less stable little sister as the wife. Each week we’d tune in to see what would happen. Could he change her ways? No, she’s letting him down again. Having children with another guy. But somehow, our pastor keeps loving. He forgives and shows what it means to stand in as God’s agent for compassion and justice. He’d explain his longsuffering attitude and his commitment to Christ. They wouldn’t have money. Lindsey Lohan wouldn’t drop by. Just neighborhood folks and family members who keep telling him to dump the wife but he remains faithful in taking her back. Viewers would wonder why he keeps letting her come home. We could have them phone in votes on what he should do like American Idol or Do You Think You Can Dance?. But regardless of the vote, he’d take her back. And he’d explain that he’s doing so because that’s what God does with us.  This is the Good News.

Maybe then we’d get to know the evangelicals that Tom, Skye, and Zach want us to pay attention to.