Miscellany 10 Part 2: Subversion, Art, and the Bible
Subversion remains the theme of this Miscellany, but we now turn to art more specifically. Does what we read affect how we live? What has happened to Christian contemporary music? And why does the King James Version matter?
First we have a connection between sex and art… or not, depending on your point of view. A recent academic study reported finding that the heavy reading of romance novels tended to have a negative influence on relationships. From the Guardian article: “Writing in the latest issue of the academic magazine, published by the British Medical Journal, Quilliam said that the messages of “the post-sexual revolution bodice rippers of the 1970s”, which typically see “the heroine being rescued from danger by the hero, and then abandoning herself joyfully to a life of intercourse-driven multiple orgasms and endless trouble-free pregnancies in order to cement their marital devotion”, run “totally counter to those we try to promote”.” Not surprisingly, the main publisher of romance novels in the UK responded with the comment “Our readers are intelligent enough to understand the difference, just as the many fans of rom coms and chick flicks would not choose to mirror in their lives what they see on film.”
I find it interesting that there’s a distinct double standard about media influence on people’s behavior. Smoking is one of the most popular targets for criticism; consider that Winston Churchill had his iconic cigar edited out of a recent photo, and that no movies today will show a protagonist (or probably anyone at all) smoking. It’s not that the habit has disappeared, but that the Do Gooders of the Western World are adamant that we must not create a situation in which someone will be influenced by a movie star to pick up a cigarette. (But surely there is no one who is not aware of the health hazards of smoking cigarettes?) However, when sex-as-recreation and sex-as-transcendant-fulfillment are the messages being presented in the media, and someone posits that this promotes harmful behavior, the response is that people can perfectly well tell the difference between fiction and reality. So why don’t we see smokers in the movies any more?
OK, that’s it for sex. Let’s talk about music and subversion: specifically, the way that Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) can be subverted without even realizing it. Here is an interesting reflection by a young woman who seemed to have based most of her faith on emotional responses backed up by Christian music, and who then became jaded and cynical, and walked away from the faith. (An object lesson in why emotions and feel-good worship songs are a weak basis for a lifelong commitment to Christ.) What’s most notable here is that the CCM scene is a perfect example of good intentions subverted by marketing and the chase after that will o’the wisp, “relevance.”
Speaking of relevance, this year marks the 400th anniversary of the King James translation of the Bible. Malcolm Guite notes that “as the year has continued I have had a gradual sense of unease about the way it is being celebrated, at least here in England. It seems to be touted more and more as a cultural artefact, a piece of marketable heritage, a source book of common phrases, a decorative back ground to literature, but never as sacred, challenging, or life-changing. The whole year seems to have been about manner not matter, about style not substance, as though we could honour and praise a book without ever considering its actual content!”
From that standpoint, he gives an incisive sermon addressing the role of the KJV in our lives as Christians. Most notable, I think, is the line that I scribbled down as soon as I heard it, knowing it was worth thinking, and writing, about in more depth: We should not let the Gospel be subverted by the nostalgia industry.
Take that home and think about it for a while.
Nostalgia is always comforting – it’s soothing, blandly sweet, easily digestible.
Of course the culture wants to subvert the Gospel. It always has, it always will. But are we participating in that subversion?
The next time you go into a Christian store, take a good hard look around at the tchotches, the fridge magnets and t-shirts and wall plaques with Bible verses on them. At the best-selling Christian books and at the Jesus figurines.
And ask yourself: Are we letting the Gospel be subverted by the nostalgia industry?
Now go listen to Malcolm’s sermon, if you haven’t already, and think about what it really means to have an English Bible.