Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tangents and Overlaps

In our most recent discussions, my Bible Study group talked about the relative value of consumable art and how to weigh its redemptive value. There was some disagreement on the subject of satire, which is understandable, because the primary purpose of the genre is to ruffle feathers. Now, I am still not quite sure the matter is settled in my mind, so I will try to explore and explain as best as I can to get a better understanding. Bear in mind that the goal is to get closer to God and live a life pleasing to Him, not to justify the way I already live so I don't have to change.

The question stems mostly from the relative difficulty in distinguishing the difference between a piece of art whose purpose is to expose for rebuke aspects of something (in this case, a method of worship) and one whose purpose is to put down for derision. (Or its negative, one that raises up something preposterous for the sake of looking silly and the ignorance of those who think they are doing right.) I submit two topics whose sources we can only speculate their motive.

On the Genesis album We Can't Dance, there is a track named Jesus He Knows Me. It's a fun tune that is rather irreverent towards televangelists. I don't think that the members of Genesis are Christians, even though their band is named after a book of the Bible. It came in an era of where televangelists, despite whatever good they might have done, earned some irreverent tweaking. Preachers, whether on television or not, definitely depend on requesting money in pursuit of divinely inspired goals, and sometimes they explicitly ask for it. Giving, especially to the church, is a form of worship, so this song is a satire of a fundamental Christian behavior.

Now, looking at something quite different, consider this weekend's Big Game. It seems spiritually innocuous enough; there is nothing sinful about football (thank goodness). Players even pray on field and point towards heaven when they score sometimes. The Super Bowl also represents an unifying American television event that we all share in, even more so than the State of the Union which just occurred last week, so there's a shared experience aspect of this too, sort of leading to an endorsement by societal acceptance. So this event is a rather mainstream and benign happening.

Here's my question -- is there a reason to reject the song? Or sanction the Super Bowl? I think that exposing hypocrisies, failures and inefficiencies in the way we worship, whether done by believers or not, is healthy and necessary for spiritual and societal growth as Christian people. And I think there is no shortage of reasons that the Super Bowl doesn't deserve some sort of derision that is frequently heaped on things that are critical towards Christianity -- the television event itself is an orgy of consumerism, celebration of ego and elevation of storylines that is artificial and self-reinforced: we all accept that this event (and the NFL Season at large) is important because other people thing it is important, and one team will invariably say that nobody respected them. Those complaints, by the way, are not terribly off the mark for outsiders criticizing what we do, either.

On the other hand, you could spin both of those arguments the other way. There are a number of positive messages ingrained in the Super Bowl, from the payoff of hard work, the value of working together, and opportunity to share something exciting with people you care about. Is that sufficient? Does the positive value of the satirical song make up for the clear irreverence intended for people whom, at some level deep down, do have nominally pure motives?

Romans 14:2 is relevant here: "One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on the man who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him." This implies there is some individuality and discretion involved.

It is also important that the valuable message be extracted. Hypocrisy is indeed a problem we face, and Jesus He Knows Me speaks to that. Hearing that song (and by extension, that argument) ought not try to convince us that hope is lost because our leaders are hypocrites. We are all hypocrites. If edification can be seen through the Super Bowl, who am I to say you shouldn't find it?