An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Hollywood worldviews: gluttons or anorexics

I'm speaking at 'church' tonight. It's the first in a series inspired by Brian Godowa's Hollywood worldviews. This is the gist of what I'm going to say.

Hollywood worldviews: gluttons or anorexics?

How do we view culture? How should we respond to culture? Are we glutton or anorexics?
Why do we watch films? I won’t embarrass you by getting you to respond; but there are two equal but opposite mistakes that Christian make about culture.

The mistake of the glutton and the mistake of the anorexic.
Take films, how would a cultural glutton and a cultural anorexic respond?

Glutton – it’s just a movie, I wanna be entertained.

Anorexic – movies corrupt our society, they are worldly and a waste of time, why should we bother watching people pretending to be other people?

So, how should we respond as Christians to culture and films?

But before we address that important question we need to take a step back and ask, what is culture?

An Amish boy and his father travelled in their buggy to a mall for the first time. They were amazed by almost everything they saw, but especially by two silver doors that moved apart and back together.

The boy asked "What is this, Father?" This was the first time the dad had seen a lift responded "Jedediah, Son, I have never seen anything like this in my life, I don’t know what it is."

While the boy and his father were watching, an old lady in a wheel chair rolled up to the doors and pressed a button. The doors opened and the lady rolled between them into a small room.

The doors closed and the boy and his father heard a strange noise and watched a small set of lights with numbers on light up in sequence stop and then come back down again.

The door opened up again and a beautiful 26-year-old woman stepped out.

The father said to his son, "Go get your mother."
If we don’t understand culture we can make mistakes!

For many culture conjures up ballet, opera theatre and radio 3! Something the posh and rich do!
But then we talk about the culture of the work place or yoof cultkah.

There are many different levels of and aspects to culture.

A good illustration is a potato.

A potato is something ‘natural’, it can be developed and moulded into various different forms:
Baked, mashed, crisps, chips, boiled, roasted, dauphinois (shows I’m cultured!)

That process of change is culture.

The baked potato can be enjoyed in a meal with friends, in a café with others … that’s culture.
It’s taking the raw material and moulding and shaping it into something else.

Then what about:
  • A potato clock – science
  • A potato market – business and economics
  • Potato stamps – art
  • Potato flute – music

All this is culture

The word culture comes from the idea of a garden, cultivation.

Originally humans were placed in a garden and what were we asked to do?
To tend and keep it – to be gardeners and artists. To be culture makers.

So how do we respond to culture?

There are a number of ways in which we can respond to the culture around us:

Condemn it – like the anorexics. Here the ‘not of the world is emphasised’
Consume it –like the gluttons here sometimes we are ‘in the world’ is emphasised!
Copy it – this is what Christians are good at! We flatter culture by imitating it – but it's usually the culture of twenty years ago.
Critique it – examine where it’s coming from, look at the worldview behind it, think about what idea of salvation lies behind it.
There is however, another way: create and transform culture.

Andy Crouch, in his excellent Culture Making, talks about gestures and postures – as postures these approaches are wrong, as gestures sometimes they may be appropriate.

Culture is inescapable – culture is no option.
What we do and how we do it that is culture – we are immersed in it.
It’s what we were called to do carve and create culture, to keep and tend the garden.

The Bible starts in a garden but it finishes in a city. That means development and a process of enculturation; that is our calling as Christians, as the image bearers of God, to make and shape culture.

Our posture is not to copy, consume, condemn, but to carve culture, to shape and create it.

Why are so many cultural anorexics – condemning culture?
There are several reasons:

The world is not my home – I’m just a passing through; they can’t wait to escape and get to heaven.

However, the earth is our home – we were place here to steward and develop it – and at the end of all things we won’t be going to heaven – heaven is coming down to earth! A renewed heavens and a renewed earth.

In the world but not of it – usually means that they want to escape from the world, it’s a denial of God’s good creation. What they don’t realise is that this position is a worldly one – it coms straight from Greek philosophy and Gnosticism.

Dualism is the mistaken idea that some things are more spiritual than others – some aspect of creation is higher or more important than another. And yet God created all things good.

Dualism arises from the failure to discern structure and direction
Everything in creation has a structure, it is the way it was created and intended by God. That structure is rooted in creation and is good. However, everything in creation is claimed and counterclaimed – as C S Lewis put it.

"There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan."

God’s creation is good – then came the fall and disrupted the good creation, its pulled in opposite directions. Jesus comes to redeem and restore it.

The way we do culture is a matter of direction – do we use it obediently to God and his norms, or do we use it for our own ends or the ends of others?

Often we look and see fallen culture and rightly condemn it, but the dualist doesn’t see the creational aspects of this culture, it is culture being done disobediently. Culture doesn’t have to be sinful; it has a creational structure that is good and it can be done obediently, obedient to the laws and norm that God has placed in creation for culture.

The need for a biblical understanding of spirituality.
Being spiritual doesn’t mean praying, reading our Bibles, evangelising or walking two inches off the ground with a halo around our heads! Being spiritual mean being led by the spirit – and that can include watching films, critiquing films, producing films, writing about films and enjoying films. Our false ides of spirituality often arise out of a false idea of what it means to be human – which comes back to worldviews!

The relationship between religion, worldviews and culture
One important relationship we need to examine is the relationship between culture, worldview and religion. Think of it as an onion, with many layers – the outer layers are the different facets of culture

All cultural artefacts come from a particular worldview – but culture can also shape the worldview. Behind this worldview are religious convictions and commitments.

Worldviews consist of four things:

stories – an overarching theme by which we are guided;
praxis – a way of being in the world;
symbols and
key questions – the answers to which rest upon religious commitments.

We all have a worldview, it is inescapable. These worldviews permeate all that we do. Worldviews are the spectacles through which we view the world and the way in which we interpret the world. Like a map they are the way in which we navigate through the world.

I want us to look at two cultural icons: Farmer Bell and Windy Miller two characters from Camberwick Green, a children’s programme from the alte sixties and early seventies.

Watch this clip and think about Farmer Bell and Windy Miller they would answer these worldview questions.
Episode 5

Farmer Bell – is a typical modernist.
Bell might not be able to articulate all this, but it does lie behind his approach to life.

The story upon which Western culture and civilisation rests is that of progress. We are continually evolving, progressing, into something better.

The idols of our culture are the false trinity of scientism, technicism and economicism; these idols are reflected in the symbols of agribusiness instead of agriculture, the latest farm machinery, large shopping galleries, science research centres and parks, and leisure complexes.

Praxis is investment in science so that we can develop and then buy the technology, such as forklift trucks, to solve all present and future problems. We consume the latest technological gadgets to give meaning to our lives: "I shop therefore I am", has become the creed of our age.

Who are we? We are the products of energy/ matter, 15 billion years and chance. Trying to overcome nature to make our own way in the world.

Why are we here? There is no ultimate meaning to our existence. It is due to a number of fortuitous chance events, such as the distance of the Earth from the sun and the value of the gravitational constant. These values need not be as there are, it is a pleasant coincidence, they have the values that enable life as we know it to exist. Farmer Bell may not be an atheist or agnostic, but the way he does things suggest that. He may well have a Christian faith, but it would be a dualistic one – he may well attend church, but it has nothing to do with the rest of his life.

Where are we? We are in the universe, on the edge of a galaxy called the Milky Way., on a planet called earth. The earth is a source of raw material which we are to exploit. We are also at the point of the culmination of the evolutionary process.

What is wrong? Essentially nothing that we can't solve given enough time money and scientific know how. One problem is that the earth's raw materials are being slowly depleted.

What is the solution? Investing enough time, money and expertise in scientific investigation so that we can develop the technology to solve all problems. Raw materials will be replaced by specially developed artificial ones.

Windy Miller
We are a part of nature, the problem is we don’t live in harmony with it, small is beautiful, The solution is to become more in tune with nature – avoid technology where possible. Use natural resources, don’t exploit the environment; get back to nature.

As Andy Crouch says, The only way to change culture is to make more culture. We are to be culture makers not culture gluttons or anorexics.

Pray for the writers, the film makers, the website designers, the artists, the flower arrangers, the gardeners, the poets, the musicians, the photographers. Support them. They too are missionaries, taking seriously the mission of God to work and keep the garden so it can become God’s city.

We are all called to be creative – to be makers of culture. Let’s do it in whatever way God calls us to.

Books for further reading

How do you eat an elephant? One bit at a time – how do we create culture – one bit at a time.


Jake Belder said...

Excellent material, Steve. I hope the talk went well. I like how you've formulated the material. In a few weeks I'm teaching a Sunday School class at the church I attend on the relationship of the Church and culture and I'm going to bookmark your post here and maybe borrow a little of it (if that's okay!). :)

Steve Bishop said...

Thanks Jake.
Please do use what's useful - anything decent I've nicked from other places!