It is so turned around these days.

Friday, February 17, 2006

"Christian living no longer requires self-denial"

Continued from Walter Kirns Sept. 2002 article in GQ Magazine


I wake aboard the Ark.
The old Ark, the biblical Ark, constructed to save the chosen from the Great Flood, had two of every creature in existence. The new Ark, the cultural Ark, built to save the chosen from the Great Media Flood, also has two of everything I'm learning. You say you're a Pearl Jam fan? Check out Third Day. They sound just like them--same soaring guttural vocals, same driven musicianship, same crappy clothes, just a slightly different message: Repent! You say you like Grisham- and Clancy-style potboilers! Grab a copy of Ted Dekker's Heaven's Wager--same stick-figure characterizations, same preschool prose, just a slightly different moral: Repent! Your kids enjoy Batman, you say? Try Bibleman. Same mask, same cape, just a slightly different...
That's the convincing logic of the Ark: If a person is going to waste his life cranking the stereo, clicking the remote, reading paperback pulp and chasing diet fads, he may as well save his soul while he's at it. Holy living no longer requires self-denial. On the Ark, every mass diversion has been cloned, from Internet news sites to MTV to action movies, and it's possible to live inside the spirit, without unplugging oneself from modern life, twenty-four hours a day.
After a wholesome scriptural breakfast of unsweetened wholegrain cereal, I start my morning with a holy workout based on a chapter from Dr. Colbert's book, "Did Jesus Exercise?" It's a question I never would have thought to ask, but in Ark culture there's a fundamental presumption that if one squeezes the Bible hard enough it will yield practical guidance on any topic, from personal finance to toilet training. And lo, it appears that the Lord did have a fitness program: Many days he walked "between ten and twenty miles" and thus "certainly was engaged in aerobic exercise." As I walk, I listen to music over headphones, a convenience unavailable in Jesus' time. The CD is the sound track from Extreme Days, a Christian movie for hyper suburban teens that was released last fall. According to a slick promotional video hosted by a bouncy-breasted blond veejay (she's a virgin, presumably, but just barely), the story of Extreme Days involves "five friends forever changed by a journey to the threshold of life and sport.... [They'll test their will and skill with the best extreme-sports athletes in the world." Skateboarders for the Lord, in other words. The sound track includes a range of acts-Audio Adrenaline, P.O.D., PAX217--from the born-again-rock scene's "alternative" department. They're not that bad. They're not bad at all, in fact. Because their lyrics are mostly unintelligible, there's no way to know they're even Christian, really. And yet, in the same way one sensed that groups like Abba were singing in a language they didn't speak, one detects a certain falseness in these bands' sound. They're trying too hard, somehow. They have the formula but lack the flair. They're straining at carelessness, but deep in their hearts they do care, one suspects--about their fans, their message, their authenticity. Bottom line: They sound a bit like foreigners--highly talented Asian prodigies whose governments have equipped them with guitars and trained them in some elite punk-rock academy.
These new Christian bands rock like Americans play soccer: skillfully but somehow not convincingly.
Or maybe it's the power of suggestion that makes the stuff seem counterfeit to me. At the Family Christian Store in Bozeman, Montana, the multimedia spiritual emporium where I bought the CD and my other Ark supplies, a poster above the music racks matches name-brand acts from secular radio with their closest sanctified equivalents. For the atheist teen who has suddenly been converted and wants to carry into his new life as many of his old attitudes and tastes as he can safely manage, such a chart would prove helpful, I imagine, much as a cookbook of sugar-free recipes might help a chocoholic with diabetes. For me, though, the chart confirmed a preconception that Christian rock is a cultural oxymorona calculated, systematic rip-off, not a genuine surge of inspired energy.
After my walk, I turn on the computer to survey the day's news, a morning ritual. Today, though, instead of going to the Drudge Report or, I call up the home page of, the all-purpose Christian Internet portal whose NASDAQ symbol is AMEN. is a Net within the Net, where vulnerable children and sensitive adults can surf without fear of predators and porn.
Before I can find the morning headlines, I'm snagged by an ad for Pura Vida Coffee, a mail-order outfit that donates its profits to Central American children's ministries. They even have their own coffee on the Ark! There's no harm in that, of course, so I order a pound and feel a virtuous shiver, a passing glow. Can buying sundries score me points with God? If so, I wish there were Christian gasoline too--Christian tube socks, Christian printer cartridges!
Here are the day's big stories according to
It's not exactly CNN, and I find this refreshing. I'm burned out on bad news. As a member of the post-modem generation myself, I also support people's right to shape reality in whatever way they see fit. A world in which rebuffing lewd women rates a headline-a world in which lewd women get rebuked at all, a world in which the word lewd is even used--must be a cozy, reassuring place, and it doesn't surprise me that some should choose to dwell there. I'm tempted to hop off the Ark and check the real news, but why break the spell, why shatter the small-town silence? Instead I do the paternal-Christian thing and ask my daughter, whom I've prohibited from watching secular children's TV this week, to join me for a viewing of Bibleman: Conquering the Wrath of Rage.
"Who's Bibleman?" Maisie sneers. I'm taken aback. She's only 5, and she's never sneered before.
"That video you picked out. You want to watch it? It's like that Spider-Man movie you've probably heard about." She shakes her head and toddles off to her room. Despite the videos colorful, jazzy packaging, she has sensed the whiff of uplift in its title and wants no part of it. She'll break down soon, though. A few more days without Disney or Nickelodeon and Bibleman will look pretty good to her.
A few more days without sugar, salt, major-label music or mainstream news and I bet it will look pretty tempting to me too.


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