Ok, I think that theological treatments of pop culture phenomena like movies, music, and such are fine as far as they go. Some of them are quite good indeed. However I’m a little annoyed about how ‘Theology and Popular Culture’ is becoming some sort of theological genre. Frankly I think its the kind of obsessing about seeming cutting-edge and cool that only makes one look obsolete and silly within a couple of years.
I call to the stand Barry Taylor’s new book Entertainment Theology: New-Edge Spirituality in a Digital Democracy. First of all, I have no idea what a “New-Edge Spirituality” might be and even less of an idea how something so described could ever be a good thing in any sense. Anyways, sure, there is plenty of interesting cultural exegesis in the book, but that said it seems to just be waiting to become useless. It’s already stopped being cool to talk about the theological/philosophical aspects of The Matrix, let alone Kevin Costner’s Waterworld. He who marries the coolness of today is destined to become the dateless nerdlinger of tomorrow.
I’m not trying to bag on Taylor (though, the book’s dedication, “To everyone, everywhere, I have ever met” seems to me to be perhaps the most vacuous and lame platitude I have ever read). What I’m irked by is the way in which so many of these sort of cutting-edge pop culture theologies seem to think that Christian dogmatics in and of itself is uninteresting. For theology be be engaging, relevant, and authentic (which by the way may be my most unfavorite word to ever hear coming from Christian’s mouths) we now have to find the spiritual and theological center of the latest films, music, clothes, and technologies. Certainly it isn’t bad to talk about these things as theologians, but lets not let the faddisness of these “The Gospel according to ______” enchant us too much.
After all, would we even be reading Aquinas and Augustine today if all they wrote about was how ancient Mediterranean architecture actually had theological implications or how the latest performance of Homer’s plays have some sort of Christological undertone? And does not finding God hidden within various cultural phenomena inevitably enshrine a new sort of natural theology? Does it not make God necessary to the world rather than, as Jüngel would say, “more than necessary”? Many of these theological engagements with contemporary cultural often seem to be little more than attempts to show how Jesus fits seamlessly into the spiritual longings and intuitions of our culture. Any Jesus that could really fulfill this function would certainly be a false Christ.
Frankly, the constant attempts to engage contemporary culture seem to me to often simply become the pedantic attempts of insecure theologians to appear cool enough to be taken seriously by the college-populating hipsters of late-capitalist America. And in so doing they actually debilitate much of the potential for theology to be a dynamic force in our world, questioning the very presuppositions of contemporary cultural forms rather than simply expostulating on them in some sort of suave way. Give me John Howard Yoder any day. Never could you meet a more socially awkward and relationally weird fellow than Yoder, and yet his Jesus, far from being something found at the center of the latest Wes Anderson movie is the intrusive apocalypse of God who calls into question rather than hides within the multifarious social constructions of humanity. I don’t think it gets more culturally relevant than that.