Rapture Ready – David Radosh

By September 7, 2009Books, Politics, Uncategorized


{image via Jeremy Lange}

Religion fascinates me, specifically American Christianity. I live in a country where the dominant religion I make contact with in some form every day fascinates me more than all the distant religions and beliefs thousands of miles away. I wish I could explain why, but my only concluded rationale is that Jesus or God has never really gripped me. I’ve been to churches where people speak tongues, claim that God has touched them, spoken to them and has been a near-physical presence in their lives and I’ve never felt anything…and that fascinates me. Is it me? Is it you? Did I do something? Am I not doing something right? Years have passed and I’ve received a multitude of reasons and explanations for my lack of “awakening” so-to-speak:

1. He doesn’t come if you don’t want him to.

2. Relax, you’ll feel Him.

3. He comes to those who are truly listening to Him.

4. Read the Bible.

5. Pray.

6. Pray harder.

7. Accept him as your Savior.

8. Wait.

Needless to say the healthy Agnostic skepticism has kept me company though the long years of watching other people have this hobby and pastime of all things Church and faith-based with their bff Jesus.

I think there was a time I did believe. I was younger and God was kind of like the Santa Claus that was around all year. I remember pretty vividly one spring evening laying awake determined to catch the Easter Bunny when my mom came in and finally broke the news that she hid the eggs, and ate the cookies and drank the milk and left money under my pillow. I think thats when it all stopped.

Needless to say I was relieved when I met Neil and found he felt the same way. He wasn’t an ardent Atheist, it wasn’t something he didn’t care about, but it was something he couldn’t explain and didn’t have certitude about. Our Agnosticism exists on two different planes. Neil’s is a bit more passive about his religious beliefs, and it’s not something he actively seeks to “remedy.” He’s okay with not knowing, and whether or not it ever moves beyond that point is not something he thinks about day-to-day. I on the other hand am constantly curious about all the stories and religious tenants I don’t know or haven’t heard about yet. Not only theologically, but in the many Christianist communities that make up this country. What do these people believe that get them so riled up for the Lord that I may have overlooked? I subscribe to nearly 50 blogs of various individual Christians and groups, some very tame and mainstream such as Jim Wallis’s “Sojourners” at the very heart of moderate American politics or others a bit more off the beaten path like Doug Phillips’ “Vision Forum,” deep in the buckle of the bible belt further to the right in Reconstructionism than Pat Robertson and James Dobson.

I grew up believing that if you didn’t know something about yourself, that often the best remedy were the people or things furthest from what you believe. I was happy to see I wasn’t the only one that heard this advice after picking up Daniel Radosh’s “Rapture Ready: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture.” Radosh, a self-described “liberal Agnostic Jew” sets forth to examine the burgeoning mostly evangelical Christian pop culture market, a $7 billion dollar industry growing at an astronomical rate so fast that its impossible not to question the methods and expanse of its growth and what happens when it collides with its secular counterpart.

Radosh takes his readers on an eighteen city tour through thirteen states covering not only what most people expect to be Christian epicenters but traditionally secular mainstays such as Hollywood and New York City. He covers all areas of Christian pop culture; from Bibles to Contemporary Christian fiction; live action Crucifiction plays to Bibleman the Caped Christian. He even finds professional Christian Wrestling. At some point, despite the many redeeming counter-Christian culture Christians Radosh meets, you ask yourself, “Didn’t Jesus chase the money changers out of the temple?” Isn’t it wrong and morally repugnant to essentially commercialize faith? Radosh is met with the answer from various leaders and vendors that commercializing and evangelizing aren’t all that different from one another. For some he talked to, the aim seemed genuinely placed, however in others it came across as little more than creating a brand and selling it, creating loyal customers from emotional bandwagon strategy rather than faithful followers. The implications of faith-driven consumerism have an affect the gatekeepers have a harder time answering for. What does consumerism do to the believer? What does faith do to product? The answer to many is damage. Likening Jesus to a best friend or a boyfriend, and creating lyrically narrow versions of secular music at best case scenario a miscommunication that clouds a multitude of messages.

{Image: Cornerstone festival draws more than 18,000 emo kids, skateboarders, crusties, metal fans and frat boys to rural Illinois for five-days of music and celebration. But it’s a rock festival with a difference. Alcohol is banned, drug taking is out of the question and ‘Virginity Rocks’ T-shirts are worn with pride. In this exclusive slideshow photographer Gary Calton documents the American bands and fans that are preaching the word of God. -via The Guardian UK}

Radosh concludes that the Christian pop culture movement is geared heavily toward young people, the result of dismal statistics showing dwindling attendance by young adults in church after age 18. Reaching this younger generation that downloads both secular and Christian music and doesn’t abhor the idea of watching Pulp Fiction on a Saturday night requires a different kind of movement than the one that drew believers toward a counter-culture that refused to integrate. The next generation of Christians will be more critical consumers, opting for less Jesus-per-minute and more meaningful messages and authenticity in their product…message…*eh*…even if it involves cursing.

This book was brilliantly written and even-handed despite that Radosh is in fact what most would consider Jewish by cultural upbringing and Agnostic by choice. There were going to be things that shocked him, and they did, and there were going to be things he found repugnant and he was honest in saying so. What I found most striking was his discovery while visiting AiG/Ken Ham’s Creation Museum that more than disagreeing with secularists, more and more Christians find themselves at odd with one another both politically and theologically, something that results in a lot of the dialogue that does more turning away than witnessing.

Many of the issues in this book are the logs in the dam of my own faith. The strong-arm witnessing, the insta-saving, the dark rapture fortellings and the fear-based evangelism that results. Most of all its the certitude. People who talk and boast of having a Truth that only they or a select few posses that makes the rest of us wrong or ignorant for being different or questioning. While it’s good to know there are others out in the universe asking questions, this book also leaves me a little more comfortable sitting where I’m at.

Side Story: About half-way through the book, we took a trip to St. Louis for Neil’s PDX event. Since he has two sets of wheels this requires we bring both the Z and my car to haul everything we need. While flipping through radio stations I came to a Christian radio show that “specialized” in saving the non-believers and actually listened as people accepted Christ on the phone while they were commuting home from work that day. It was an odd and even more uncomfortably impersonal given the seriousness of what I think that moment would be like emotionally and in the context of one’s life. Is it more important to build strong believers or get them saved? Just an oddly ironic tidbit given I was reading this book.

4 Comments

  • kahluaabba says:

    I would consider myself a highly conservative Catholic that adheres to the tradition of the church ad its beliefs, but I too have had skepticims and times were I lost sight of my faith.

    As for my conservative side, I wish the majority of Mass was spoken in teh traditional Latin, I refuse to clap at mass except for a baptism, I hate putting my arms up in the air for a blessing over somone… I can bless them just as easily without trying to hold my arms over someone that is 30 feet away from me. I don’t approve of alter servers that chew gum or wear sneakers. I don’t approve of the priest turning the Homily into political propoganda. I don’t approve when a priest’s homily is turned into a plea for moeny because it is that time of the year.

    But I do love teh religion for its rich history and deep tradition. I feel I am rooted in something centuries old. And I think also my OCD likes the routine of it.

    I have fallen from faith a few times. One was after my friend lost her leg in college — it too me six months to go back to church. And then again this summer i have lost some faith — though I know I will return to church because I am going to be a religious education teacher for first graders.

    I think one thing that hooks me in is I know God has answered my prayers. For instance, when I was really young I had horribly graphic nightmares (looking back on them in my head them seem like a gory graphic novel). I prayed and prayed to no longer dream. And until recently with my sleep problems I would only remember even having a dream once a month at most. God answered my prayers. Maybe it was an irrelevent prayer at the time, but he does answer my prayers.

    And so I know I can’t stay away. This is the biggest and maybe onlypart of my life that lacks logic and reasoning, except for this. He has aswered my prayers, and that was a miracle. And if I believe and God exists, I might get everything. If I believe and He doesnt, I lose nothing.

  • kwilcox says:

    It’s definitely on my list, Jes 🙂

  • erinclot says:

    Great post. Growing up Lutheran in Minnesota we went to church on Sunday and didn’t really speak of religion past that. Now everyone I meet seems to want to share with me their salvation story etc. I’m sorry…why do you think I need to know this? Why can’t you leave me and my religion (currently Episcopal because of all the cool Catholic stuff) alone? I certainly am happy to leave you and yours alone…oh, you don’t think I’m a REAL Christian…because I’m not shouting it from the rooftops?

    Um, ok. I have a feeling everyone is going to be pretty surprised when they get to the other side and see everyone is there, regardless of what they believed or who they prayed to or how many people they “saved”.

    I think this new brand of Christians is horribly self rightous and judgemental- what happened to love thy neighbor? Isn’t the fundamental belief that if you accept Jesus as your savior…you will be go to heaven? There are no good deeds you can do to get you on the list- you just have to accept. You can be a bad Christian, you can be a misguided Christian, you can be a lost Christian- they are all the same…isn’t that the premise we are working with here? I guess I don’t get the need to try and Jesus everyone to death.

    My husband got into it with someone who accused him of praying to Hindu gods this week because he practices yoga- said he was letting the devil in…told him to practice “Praise Moves” instead. Yoga for Christians, gotta love a religion that will take someones insecurities and capitalize on it.