In the 1980’s, the mainline Evangelical Christian movement decided that we were at war with secular (read: any other) culture. It was widely believed that Saturday morning cartoons were indoctrinating children to be interested in the occult. Secular music was going to convince teenagers to worship Satan. Movies were sinful and their overall significance could be determined by a tally of how many curse words were used throughout them.
I grew up about a block and a half away from a Christian bookstore that was owned by a pair of old ladies that attended our church. I used to meander the aisles, scanning the titles and looking at the posters. As I grew older, I began to take offense at the onslaught of books that waylaid the culture I was growing up in as being inherently evil. None of these books frustrated me more than this one:
The author of this book was saying that every one of our favorite childhood characters were created to introduce children to paganism, satanism, or the occult. I was lucky in that my parents had a level head on their shoulders, but there are a lot of reviews on the amazon page for this book from kids that still have an axe to grind with this guy years later for the purging of their toybox. (I made it my personal mission to assist my fellow children by hiding every copy of this book or any like it throughout the bookstore.)
So if everything that the “secular” culture offers is dark and evil and going to send us to hell, what are we supposed to do? Well, luckily for us, Christianity had us covered. Books, movies, and music with explicitly Christian values began to be produced and made widely available so that we could find some shelter for the evil Satan storm that was raging outside of our churches. The Christian Entertainment industry was born and truly came into its own.
This was my personal context as I grew up, as it was for many 20-something Christians that grew up in the church. We were told that non-Christian art was in some way evil, and that Christian art, was superior. The problem, however, was that the Christian art offered was not particularly superior. Hell, the vast majority of it wasn’t even good. The best a mainstream Christian band can hope for is that they sound like a popular secular band. Christian novels are insufferable. And Christian movies? One just has to check out their scores on IMDB to get an idea how those are being received.
I was recently involved in a discussion amongst some friends asking why it is that Christian art is typically so bad. It seems that if we truly have a connection to the ultimate Source of Creativity throughout the universe, that we should be able to create something absolutely spectacular. And yet… That does not seem to be the case. Why?
Honestly… I think it boils down to the creators of a lot of Christian artists are just lazy. Just look at how much of the content in a Christian bookstore is essentially a “parody” of a successful secular idea that has been re-purposed. The fact is, thinking of a unique story or piecing together music in a new way, or creating a vivid masterpiece requires a lot of work. Secular artists spend years and decades perfecting their technique, learning the ins and outs of their craft. They fight tooth and nail to reach into themselves and pull out something no one has ever seen before, because that’s the only way they’re ever going to get noticed.
The result of the Christian Entertainment industry being what it is, is that all a person has to do is slap a “Christian” sticker to their piece of unimaginative, technically inferior dreck, and it’ll sell like hotcakes because Christians believe they have a duty to buy it. Who wants to spend years honing a skill when you can tag an altar call to the end and make some money?
The best art that exists out there, the stuff that really moves people does so because it somehow tells us the truth about ourselves. When art is doing it’s job, it’s making us think. The problem with Christian art is that it fails to tell us the truth. The world depicted in Christian art tends to be overly simplified, cleaned up, and Pollyanna. We fail to recognize that world because it is not the one we live in. And yet, if a Christian artist tries to depict the true depth of our fallenness they will be chased out of the Christian bookstore for being sinful.
So if the art created with us in mind is without any merit, what are we supposed to do? Where and how do we approach art in this day and age? We’ll discuss that next time…