Soundbite: Pop Christianity

An interview with Rapture Ready! author Daniel Radosh

In 2005 Daniel Radosh visited his wife’s family in Wichita, Kansas, and tagged along to a Christian rock festival. It was a bizarre experience for a journalist who thought he knew every cranny of pop culture: He was surrounded by fans screaming for bands he’d never heard of. “The key moment for me,” Radosh remembers, “was when one of my sister-in-law’s friends ran back after a set and said ‘That was awesome! They prayed like three times in a 20-minute set!’ I had to know what it meant to judge a band by how hard it prayed rather than how hard it rocked.”

Three years later Radosh has produced Rapture Ready! (Scribner), a humorous travelogue-cum-study of this “alternate universe.” He doesn’t attend a single church service. He goes instead to the Christian professional wrestling rings, stadium-sized passion plays, and rollicking rock festivals that make up the $7 billion Christian pop culture industry.

Q: Since the 2004 election we’ve seen umpteen books about evangelical Christians and their political influence, most of them written to spook secular Americans. What do you learn from exploring this culture that you don’t learn from exploring religious politics?

A: If somebody memorized the Constitution and watched C-SPAN every night and knew all the voting records of every senator but had never heard of Elvis Presley or Oprah Winfrey or Jerry Seinfeld, I think you could make a case that that person didn’t know much about America. We hear about evangelicalism as a religious movement, as a political movement; if you don’t know who [evangelical superhero] Bibleman is, or who [thriller writer] Frank Peretti is, or if you’ve never heard Christian comedy, you really don’t understand what’s going on in these peoples’ lives.

Q: You visited the oldest remnants of Christian pop culture, like the Great Passion Play in Arkansas, and it seems like the newer culture is leaving behind a much more conservative, much less tolerant way of life. What parts of that are being ditched in the new Christian pop culture?

A: It’s not a function of new and old as much as corporate vs. non-corporate. Companies like Thomas Nelson or Zonderman are wary about treading on many political or theological toes. The more independent voices within Christian culture, whether it’s something that existed before mass-market entertainment like the Great Passion Play, or whether it’s the Christian indie rock scene which does not get played on radio—they tend to be much more a reflection of people’s honest personal beliefs and honest spiritual beliefs. You’ll hear Christian rock bands that are militantly anti-abortion or militantly pacifist.


Click above to watch Daniel Radosh discuss his new book on Christian pop culture, Rapture Ready. Go to reason.tv for more information and to include this video on your website.


Q: What is more racially segregated, mainstream culture or Christian culture?

A: Definitely Christian pop culture. There’s no question about it. Mainstream pop culture isn’t any glorious field of interracial harmony, but the industry is dominated by hip hop and R&B and has been for 15 years now. The Christian music scene, which in almost every way is reflective of the mainstream music scene, has almost no hip hop acts to actually chart.

Q: Is the debate over whether or not you can commercialize Christianity pretty much settled?

A: It’s settled, but that was to be expected if you look at the history of American evangelicalism. When radio was invented there was a segment of the Christian population that said because the Bible says Satan is the prince of the air, and because radio uses airwaves, it must be a tool of Satan. But evangelicalism is by definition engaging in culture. Radio became American culture. There was just no way that Christians were going to turn their backs on that.

The broader debate is settled, but there’s a new debate bubbling up from younger Christians, saying, you know, we need to be more thoughtful about culture. We can’t just adapt every cultural form, take a rock song and change “my baby” to “my Savior.” The way that one honors God is by being authentically creative.

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  • T||

    Is 7 billion more or less than what people spend on porn?

    And is there hardcore Christina pornography, which would seem to bridge both categories?

  • ||

    You're not making Christianity better, you're making rock and roll worse.

    Hank Hill

  • ||

    I am glad to see that Jesus is a commodity just like anything else. I am sure he would approve.

  • Bjørn Stærk||

    Mm .. fond memories of listening to Petra back in the early 90s, with their bombastic tunes and cheesy love songs for Jesus. Still like those albums now that I'm atheist, but I'm not sure if it's because of nostalgia or if they actually were any good. Here's one theory: Music comes from madness, and there's a certain kind of music you can only create if you genuinely believe in a kind-hearted magical being in the sky, (just as there's music you can apparently only make if you're a self-loathing heroin addict). That's certainly the case with gospel.

  • UM||

    And is there hardcore Christina pornography, which would seem to bridge both categories?



    I'm sure there is a porn star called Christina… Oh wait, you were probably asking about something else

  • duster||

    The way that one honors God is by being authentically creative.

    I suspect God is feeling very insulted, judging from the Christian Rock bands I've heard...

  • ||

    This all reminds me of the movie Saved!

    I wonder if anyone ever got hurt by being hit by flying Bibles at a Stryper concert?

  • Episiarch||

    I wonder if anyone ever got hurt by being hit by flying Bibles at a Stryper concert?

    Stryper: the band that no one realized (for a while) was a Christian band because no one would ever bother to even listen to the lyrics; it was already assumed they were inane. Good times.

  • ||

    Prayer Bolt is Christian rock band featured in "Religionklok". Dethklok attended their show to help Murderface find religion. The lead singer is killed when he stage dives onto a board exposed by Toki when he tries to start a "Christian rock mosh pit".

  • ||

    Belief in pre-tribulationist eschatology is just Christianity's version of 9/11 Truthism. Truthers give libertarianism a bad name, Rapturists give Christianity a bad name. Truthers will believe any crap if its posted on the intertubes, Rapturists will believe any crap if its in a JTChick tract. Truthers call anyone who points to actual evidence as being part of the conspiracy, Rapturists call anyone who points to actual scripture as being deceived.

  • ||

    Belief in pre-tribulationist eschatology is just Christianity's version of 9/11 Truthism. Truthers give libertarianism a bad name, Rapturists give Christianity a bad name. Truthers will believe any crap if its posted on the intertubes, Rapturists will believe any crap if its in a JTChick tract. Truthers call anyone who points to actual evidence as being part of the conspiracy, Rapturists call anyone who points to actual scripture as being deceived.

    Nice thought processes there.

    I doubt that any of these groups deserve any respect but I like provocative analogies.

  • Paul||

    rollicking rock festivals that make up the $7 billion Christian pop culture industry.



    Where are the Democrats in doing something about this unregulated $7 billion industry?

  • David McElroy||

    For those who think that all Christian rock is bad, I just have to say that you're being as shortsighted as those who judge the creativity of modern culture by listening to bubble gum pop. The vast majority of Christian music (particularly what's popular on religious radio) is BAD. But the vast majority of pop music is equally bad, just for different reasons.

    Just as there's a huge gap between the best and worst of mainstream pop culture, there's also a huge gap between the best and worst of Christian music. The best Christian music is really good music that happens to be from Christians and represents their worldview (sometimes rarely even overtly mentioning God); the worst of it is the corporate junk manufactured for religious radio.

    In the same way, it's useful to realize that a HUGE number of evangelical Christians consider the idea of the Rapture to be speculative, at best. I've been in theologically conservative churches all of my life, but I've never known of anybody who believed in it and all of the sermons I've heard from Revelation take the view that the predictions can be interpreted in so many different ways that we can't know what's going to happen, even if you TRY to take it literally. In my experience, belief in the stereotypical view of the Rapture tends to be concentrated among pentecostals and independent churches that attract lower income (and lesser educated) Christians.

    For the person who mentioned Petra earlier, I'd say that you liked them at the time because they were the cream of hard Christian music in the early '80s and late '70s, but the material sounds pretty dated today. On the other hand, more obscure bands such as Daniel Amos (a group, not a person) are lyrically and philosophically challenging in ways that you rarely find in ANY music, much less Christian music. (Which probably accounts for the fact that so few, even in churches, have heard of them, but those who are familiar with them tend to be fanatics.)

    One area where Christian artists haven't been spectacularly unsuccessful is filmmaking (which is my own field of hobby). The junk that's been put out for the religious market has tended to be pathetically bad. It's shameful what the church crowd is manipulated into watching, just because they're so hungry for something that halfway represents their values. For instance, a lot of church people saw, "Facing the Giants," last year, but it was so bad I wanted to throw things at the screen when I saw it as part of a test audience. Even though it was horrid, I knew people who were buying the DVDs to give to friends for Christmas. There's a good market for somebody to make artistically good films for the religious market, but it's too easy to shovel the bad stuff out the door and collect the cash.

  • ||

    For those who think that all Christian rock is bad, I just have to say that you're being as shortsighted as those who judge the creativity of modern culture by listening to bubble gum pop.

    Rational.

    I recently bought 'Arcade Fire' without knowing it was Christian rock (I now hear).

    Still like it.

  • EJM||

    I recently bought 'Arcade Fire' without knowing it was Christian rock (I now hear).

    From what I've read about them, Arcade Fire is not (overtly, at least) a "Christian band"--although their music does feature a lot of religion/spiritual-themed lyrics.

    I probably would prefer that, though, to a band that starts out accepting that they're being marketed as such, and then pointedly disowns the label--like what Evanescence did.

    Separately, "Relevant" magazine's recent interview with Dustin Kensrue of Thrice has contains this response to the question "What are your thoughts on 'contemporary Christian music'?"...

    I want to preface this by saying that I don't want people to be offended by this personally. I know a lot of people who are in Christian bands and have their hearts in the right place. I won't say that there aren't some good things about bands that are labeled "Christian," but I will say that there are not many, in my opinion. The only one that comes to mind really is that certain parents will only let their children buy "Christian" music. So, I guess it's good that they get to listen to something.

    In regard to that, though, we are called to "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good" [1 Thessalonians 5:21, NASB], not to just blindly accept things that are labeled a certain way. At the church where I grew up, a man recently came and talked about music. He was trying to recommend "Christian" bands that were bad copies of the popular music that kids were listening to. On his website, we were listed as a band that he had better "Christian" alternatives to. It was just frustrating that he hadn't even listened to the music he was recommending against. This may come as a shock to some people, but there is a ton of good in the world that is not "Christian." This labeling is so destructive to our God-given creative impulses; it neuters our art. Not to mention the fact that having a little world separate from everything else in life is what is wrong with a lot of the Church today in general. When there is a "Christian" band, it automatically is an exclusive thing, and the invitation to Christ is anything but exclusive.

    I feel that people who happen to be both artists and Christians need to make art from the center of their beings, art that is honest and real and glorifying to God all at the same time. Art that can vibrate to the chords of anyone's hearts, despite what they profess to believe. Are we not all human, and is not art a bridge that crosses over otherwise unbridgeable chasms? There is an amazing book called Modern Art and the Death of a Culture by H.R. Rookmaaker that deals with a lot of this, as well as people's misunderstandings of the good intentions of those who don't agree with them. I highly recommend it.

  • David McElroy||

    EJM, your post reminds me of a comment (years ago) from a musician whose work was released on a Christian label. When asked about "Christian music," he said that he'd never seen a Christian guitar.

    It seems to me that the term "Christian music" can be useful in defining a category, but a lot of the best musicians who are Christians are so turned off by the term because of the way it's been commercialized and because of the junk that's marketed as CCM. Also, seeing the reference to Rookmaaker's book reminds me of another good book on the subject of Christians and the arts, called, "Addicted to Mediocrity: 20th Century Christians and the Arts," by Franky Schaeffer. It was from a Christian publisher, but it harshly criticizes the modern church for seeing the arts as tools for evangelism rather than as channels through which to express creativity. There are other thoughtful Christian artists expressing similar ideas. It's just that most Christians (just like most mainstream non-Christians) have little artistic taste. :-)

  • ||

    When I went to a Christian Private School back in 2002 I used to make fun of the Christian Rock crap that we were forced to watch and listen to. Some of the songs had a good hook like "Dive" by Steven Curtis Chapman or "Flood" by whoever did that song.

    I think that they do deserve radio play if the band is good. I think that too many people in the middle class Sunday country club think that once a band goes mainstreem like Creed did, they tend to grow more secular.

    I think that all of this BS eventually lead to my atheism. Lol, that and the fact that Pastor Ollin Collins pulled a "Clinton" back in 1998. His story was better though, he actually had real sex with multiple women that he was "counciling".

    Amazingly, the women got money from the church for allowing themselves to enjoy some of the Pastor's "Finest Sausage". Christian Megachurchers are so damn funny.

  • DG||

    Maybe when Jimi Hendrix was singing ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER, he was really a closet Jehovahs' Witness

  • shrike||

    From what I've read about them, Arcade Fire is not (overtly, at least) a "Christian band"--although their music does feature a lot of religion/spiritual-themed lyrics.

    Very interesting line of thought.

    Exactly (what) is 'Christian Rock'?

    Admittedly, I don't know nor have I thought much about it.

    FYI- Beethoven's 9th is both secular and Christian in theme - and perhaps the greatest piece of music ever written.

    Just in my humble opinion, of course.

  • \"Mo\' Hos\" Mohammed||

    I'm making a move on the Kurdish rap scene. Shiite son!

  • SIV||

    I'd much rather watch Christian Professional Wrestling than say, the Vagina Monologues.

  • Someone Who Doesn\'t Want to L||

    David McElroy:
    On the other hand, more obscure bands such as Daniel Amos (a group, not a person) are lyrically and philosophically challenging in ways that you rarely find in ANY music, much less Christian music.

    I'm an atheist/agnostic and though I haven't heard any of Daniel Amos, I wouldn't be surprised if you were 100% spot-on. Their front-man/lyricist/songwriter (I assume), Terry Taylor, wrote some excellent music for some Doug TenNapel video games (primarily the clay-animated masterpiece, the Neverhood) which is amazing in many ways, especially since virtually none of the lyrics are understandable. Apparently, he was told to "make it sound like clay" and he came up with this jangly, semi-Dixieland weird Leon Redbone thing which still makes that game one of my favorites.

  • Alex||

    FYI- Beethoven's 9th is both secular and Christian in theme - and perhaps the greatest piece of music ever written.

    The music coming up from the floor was our old friend, Ludwig Van, and the dreaded Ninth Symphony.

  • ||

    Alex -

    Angel trumpets and devil trumbones?

    No recessed memory and association, I hope.

  • David McElroy||

    Someone Who Doesn't Want to Lose His Job, I agree with you entirely about Terry Scott Taylor. He's an amazing writer who's written some of my favorite music. He's also amazingly versatile insofar as genre. In addition to the Neverhood stuff and his writing for Daniel Amos (which itself is very diverse over a period of nearly 30 years), he's also part of a folk/roots group on the side (the Lost Dogs) and his solo albums lately have taken a country-flavored turn. His lyrics tend to be deep and lyrical at the same time, filled with literary references. He's one of the most talented musicians working today. It's sad that so few people have heard of him.

  • Someone Who Doesn\'t Want to L||

    It took forever for me to get Terry Taylor's complete video game soundtracks (to the Neverhood, Skull Monkeys and Boombots). I can't remember how many years I spent trying to find a Neverhood soundtrack to buy, but when Terry Taylor's Imaginarium came out, I bought a copy for myself and one for my brother. I always wanted to try some of his other stuff. I'll probably go with the Lost Dogs first, now that I know about it (thanks by the way), but I haven't eliminated the possibility of picking up some Daniel Amos either.

  • David McElroy||

    If you'd like me to help with some sample files of different Taylor music, just go to my web site and shoot me an note at the address on the front page.

  • Quiet Desperation||

    For those who think that all Christian rock is bad...

    Neal Morse isn't bad. He was the front man for progressive rockers Spock's Beard when he went born again and started doing Christian albums. It's pretty good. I figure if I can listen to rock songs about Middle Earth and other fantasy staples of the early prog era, I can listen to Christian rock when it's good. It's just different fantasies.

  • Quiet Desperation||

    FYI- Beethoven's 9th is both secular and Christian in theme - and perhaps the greatest piece of music ever written.

    Mmm. I might nominate the 3rd movement of Dvorak's New World Symphony. That's my favorite piece from that era, at least. Dunno why. Just is.

  • David McElroy||

    Quiet Desperation, I'm with you on the New World Symphony. For me, it's the fourth movement that's so great, though.

  • ||

    I read the rapture article, and now this and It occurs to me that Jesus must be rolling over in His gr


    ummm wait a second


    scratch that.

  • radosh||

  • Old Bull Lee||

    EJM - "From what I've read about them, Arcade Fire is not (overtly, at least) a "Christian band"--although their music does feature a lot of religion/spiritual-themed lyrics."

    I don't think this is that rare, or ever has been. Nobody would call Ozzy-era Black Sabbath a Christian rock band, but check out these lyrics:

    Well I have seen the truth, yes Ive seen the light and Ive changed my ways
    And Ill be prepared when youre lonely and scared at the end of our days

    Could it be youre afraid of what your friends might say
    If they knew you believe in God above?
    They should realize before they criticize
    That God is the only way to love

    http://www.lyricsfreak.com/b/black+sabbath/after+forever_20019384.html

    Not to mention that despite their frequent mentions of Satan and demons, they're mentioned as things to be afraid of. There's also Ozzy's howling "God bless you all!" between songs on his live albums.

  • Mad Max||

    Secular composers have yet to equal the Christian music of Mozart, Palestrina, Vivaldi, and Bach. Wagner seemed to be doing OK at first, but then he went Christian, and Freddy [N-word] criticized him for it. It was like Bob Dylan going electric.

  • ||

    Quiet Desperatation wrote - "Neal Morse isn't bad. He was the front man for progressive rockers Spock's Beard when he went born again and started doing Christian albums. It's pretty good. I figure if I can listen to rock songs about Middle Earth and other fantasy staples of the early prog era, I can listen to Christian rock when it's good. It's just different fantasies."

    Good point. I love DragonForce and their lyrics could be construde as xian if you didn't know anything about the band (at least I don't think their xian, gasp!!).

  • Marcia Ford||

    Thankfully, there's a handful of us out there writing books about evangelicalism and politics that are not designed to "spook secular Americans." Many evangelicals have had it with the religious right. Last weekend, I served on a panel on this very topic at the American Booksellers Association convention (BookExpo America) in L.A., and the consensus among myself and my three fellow authors was that there have always been evangelicals that opposed the religious right, but now their numbers are growing. My own book, We the Purple: Faith, Politics and the Independent Voter, in part looks at evangelicals who have abandoned the GOP and become independents.

    Independent politics, I can talk about. Christian music? Don't get me started.

  • nfl jerseys||

    ehy

  • Air Jordan 14 XIV Retro||

    very good

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