Jul 6, 2015

What's wrong with Christian movies?

Alissa Wilkinson, the chief film critic for Christianity Today, says Christian film makers are making excuses when they blame budgets for the poor quality of their films. The problem isn't the budget:
Low budgets are never the problem with Christian movies. Low budgets are never the problem with bad movies, full stop. What's the old saying? It's a bad carpenter who blames his tools? Most viewers (and certainly most critics) are discerning enough to make allowances for the limitations of technology. "Well, we did our best with a low budget" is an excuse that Christian filmmakers have used for a long time to excuse what is actually shoddy craftsmanship, and it's disdainful of the audience, to boot.

Typically, the biggest problem in Christian films is something that doesn't require money at all: the writing. (Of course the screenwriter should get paid, but it's not like buying a better camera.) Christian films rarely tell stories with anything like nuance ... The single best thing Christians can do as filmmakers is to spend more time on their stories, to workshop them, to develop and hone the craft of writing.
That doesn't mean it's not an economics issue, though.

A lot of times, nuance doesn't sell. But there's a big market for bad art, whatever its religious commitments. The question of why particular art gets made is not unrelated to the question of how particular artists get paid.

There's a scene in "Andre Rublev," the 1966 Andrei Tarkovsky film, where the icon painter complains he wants to paint a picture of redemption but can only get patrons to finance the apocalypse. That might still be true.

Jun 29, 2015

'God is still on His throne'

David Cloud doesn't think Christians should be upset by the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.

This doesn't mean he approves of the decision.

From Cloud's perspective, the Supreme Court was "shaking its puny fist at God" when it ruled last week that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marriage. But this shouldn't be upsetting to those who believe the Bible, Cloud says.

"This type of thing only reminds the true child of God that he is a pilgrim in a strange land," writes Cloud, a fundamentalist Baptist who runs a small publishing company in Port Huron, Mich. "We claim to believe God's promises. Let's act like it in the face of adversity and not be a people who wring their hands at the mere thought of trouble and what might come."

In the days after this landmark Supreme Court decision, many conservative evangelical Christians expressed discouragement and frustration. Some said they feared for the United States. On this major issue, the religious right has suffered a serious loss.

Other evangelicals, the minority who support gay rights and marriage equality, celebrated the decision.

Evangelicals make up about a quarter of Americans. Like the country as a whole, they are divided over same-sex marriage. Opinions have notably shifted in recent years and reactions to the ruling are predictably divided. As the headline of one Iowa newspaper put it, "Ruling brings celebrations, sadness." What is true for Iowa is true for evangelicals, too.

Many evangelicals, however, want to pursue a third option besides celebration or sadness.

Read the full essay at the Washington Post: Why a lot of evangelicals aren't actually that upset about the Supreme Court's gay marriage decision

Jun 27, 2015

The grace that leads us home


President Barack Obama, giving the eulogy of Clementa Pinkney, sings Amazing Grace.

Jun 26, 2015

Respecting marriage

"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."

-- Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the majority opinion in favor of same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges

Women not at church


A new Barna Group study says American women -- traditionally more religious than men -- are increasingly less likely to go to church. According to the poll, 45 percent of adult women haven't been to a religious service in the last six months. 

Most of these women used to participate in worship services but have stopped. 

"It's not that most of these unchurched women are unfamiliar with or inexperience in church," the report says, "but rather that at one point they decided church was no longer for them."

There has also been an increase in the number of women who self report they are skeptical of religious claims. The number of agnostics and atheists doesn't correlate to the number of women not going to church, however. Only 11 percent of women say they doubt or don't believe in God. 

The cultural movement, here, is not towards unbelief. It's a movement towards disaffiliation. 

Even for many women who are religious, Barna found that church is not a top priority. While 46 percent report they have been to church in the last month, only 11 percent said religious activities were most important in their lives. By comparison, 10 percent said personal time was their top priority. 

By far, the number one top priority named by women was their families: 68 percent said family comes first. 

Jun 24, 2015

Richard Nixon and the Mormon, American spirit

Richard Nixon talks on Pioneer Day, the Mormon holiday celebrating Utah's first settlers, connecting the spirit of the early Mormons with the spirit of American conservatism and the spirit of American astronauts.

Circa 1970:


"It is that kind of spirit," Nixon said, "the kinda spirit that doesn't blame adversity on somebody else, but tries to do something about it himself, that's what built this state. That's what built America."

Jun 22, 2015

Billy Graham, 'like rock 'n' roll personified'

Bob Dylan, talking about Billy Graham in a recent interview:
When I was growing up, Billy Graham was very popular. He was the greatest preacher and evangelist of my time--that guy could save souls and did. I went to two or three of his rallies in the '50s or '60s. This guy was like rock 'n' roll personified--volatile, explosive. He had the hair, the tone, the elocution--when he spoke, he brought the storm down. Clouds parted. Souls got saved, sometimes 30- or 40,000 of them.

If you ever went to a Billy Graham rally back then, you were changed forever. There's never been a preacher like him. He could fill football stadiums before anybody. He could fill Giants Stadium more than even the Giants football team. Seems like a long time ago. Long before Mick Jagger sang his first note or Bruce strapped on his first guitar--that's some of the part of rock 'n' roll that I retained. I had to. I saw Billy Graham in the flesh and heard him loud and clear.

Jun 19, 2015

Untitled

The world from here.

Jun 18, 2015

Clementa Pinckney on Mother Emanuel church

The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, speaking of the historical importance of the South Carolina church he served as pastor, Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal:


Pinckney was murdered Wednesday during a prayer meeting along with eight members of his congregation. 

The mass shooting appears to be an act of racial terrorism.

This church has long been offensive to white supremacists. It has long served as a site of refuge from and resistance to racist rule.

As the Washington Post reports
This historic congregation, the oldest of its kind in the South, had already seen more than its fair share of tumult and hate. It was founded by worshipers fleeing racism and burned to the ground for its connection with a thwarted slave revolt. For years its meetings were conducted in secret to evade laws that banned all-black services. It was jolted by an earthquake in 1886. Civil rights luminaries spoke from its pulpit and led marches from its steps. For nearly two hundred years it had been the site of struggle, resistance and change.
One piety, commonly expressed in times of tragedy, is that such violence is beyond comprehension. There is always the danger, however, that it is beyond comprehension only because it's easier not to comprehend.

Shock is sometimes a form of denial.

In this case, the violence comes in a context. It follows a long history. Violence against black churches is not new in America; violence against this specific church isn't new either.

"Many are shocked at not only the grisly nature of the shooting, but also its location," writes Benjamin Park for The Junto. "Yet this experience is unfortunately, and infuriatingly, far from new: while black churches have long been seen as a powerful symbol of African American community, they have also served as a flashpoint for hatred from those who fear black solidarity, and as a result these edifices have been the location for many of our nation’s most egregious racial terrorist acts."

As Jamil Smith puts it in The Atlantic, "The black church hasn't been safe since there has been a black church."

Whoever has ears to hear, Jesus said.

Jun 16, 2015

A philosophy joke


From xkcd
More on the ontological argument, here.

Jun 15, 2015

R.J. Rushdoony and theories of historical change

Rebecca Rushdoony once condemned a cat as a heretic.

The eldest child of R.J. Rushdoony, an American theologian dedicated to helping Christians learn to build God’s kingdom on earth, Rebecca was mad the stray cat wouldn’t stay put. So she pronounced the cat damned, much to her father’s amusement.

This is one of only a few family anecdotes in Michael J. McVicar’s book, Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, the first in-depth history of Rushdoony and the religious movement he started. This might not seem remarkable. McVicar’s highly anticipated work is an intellectual history. It examines Rushdoony’s theology and the influence that theology has had on Christian conservatives. The focus is not on the small, intimate moments of family life.

It is worth remarking on, though, because Rushdoony was deeply invested in the idea of the importance of the family. His life’s work was aimed at changing the world. He thought that change would happen through Christian families.

Read the full essay at the Religious Studies Project.

Jun 11, 2015

Untitled

The Heidelberg Center for American Studies.

Jun 9, 2015

Preacher Has Failings; Ditto the Congregation


A headline one sees with some frequency, though not normally so bluntly put: "Preacher Has Failings; Ditto the Congregation." This story, a report on a sermon, comes from the Los Angeles Herald, and was published Feb. 12, 1906.

It is not as sharp-edged as the headline.

Jun 4, 2015

Gender construction (in two fundamentalist tracts)


Jack Hyles, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist who pastored a "superchurch" of more than 20,000 in Hammond, Ind., wrote and published 49 books. These two, about Jesus' masculinity and the evils of homosexuality, are here paired in one volume.

Hyles was known for his bus ministry and his emphasis on Sunday school. He also had a reputation as an authoritarian, exercising extensive control over the lives of members. The environment fostered abuse. There were scandals involving money and, of course, sex.

A Chicago Magazine report tracked a dozen men with ties to Hyles church "who fanned out around the country, preaching at their own churches and racking up a string of arrests and civil lawsuits, including physical abuse of minors, sexual molestation, and rape." Consistently, the church protected the abusers, maintaining its reputation and image however it could.

Hyles died in 2001. The Indiana church was taken over by his son-in-law, Jack Schaap. Schaap is currently spending 12 years in federal prison, convicted of transporting an underage girl across state lines in order to have sex with her. The girl's father told the court "The rule of our house was that the pastor was God's representative on Earth. Always do what the pastor says."

Jun 1, 2015

Michael W. Ryan, 1948-2015

Michael W. Ryan, one-time leader of a racist religious group preparing for the end of the world, has died in a Nebraska prison. He was 66.

Ryan reportedly had brain cancer, though it is not known if that killed him.

He had been on death row since 1986, when he was convicted for torturing and murdering a 26-year-old man and a 5-year-old boy.

Ryan was last scheduled for execution in 2012. The sentence wasn't carried out because of problems obtaining sodium thiopental, one of the three drugs required for Nebraska's lethal injections. Nebraska's governor announced in mid May that the state had finally gotten sufficient quantities of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride to resume executions. Nebraska legislators, however, voted to abolish the death penalty.

The death penalty was discontinued days before Ryan died.

One of the arguments for ending the death penalty came from religious groups. Eight evangelical ministers, for example, said the state should give prisoners every chance to repentant. "No one is ever beyond redemption," the ministers wrote. "Yet the death penalty risks cutting short the process of redemption in the lives of those imprisoned."

Ryan was apparently unrepentant at his death, however.

He spent some of his time in prison re-writing the Bible, making corrections, he said, at God's instruction. Over the years, Ryan told journalists he rejected the legitimacy of Nebraska law. It wasn't Yahweh's law, he said.

"People say two people died out there, well big fucking deal," Ryan told a public radio reporter in 1989. "Go back to the Old Testament. Moses wiped out a whole god damned family, babies and all. Now that's pretty god damned hard way to go, but he got rid of them."

Before he was a religious leader who believed he received messages from Yahweh, Ryan drove a truck transporting livestock in Kansas.