Why Christian Filmmakers Are Not Breaking Bad

I came across this article via Brooks and it pained me because it came so agonizingly close to *getting* why Breaking Bad matters and why Christians shy away from doing similar kinds of work in the arts.

“Unfortunately, (and for a reason beyond my comprehension) Christians have decided that all movies and stories must have happy endings. Perhaps the Christian retail market helped promote that. The Joel Osteen, Oprah, and Chicken Soup books have only helped to perpetuate this false cliché.

The home team doesn’t always win. The husband doesn’t always return to his wife. The person with cancer doesn’t always get healed and sometimes the bad guy gets away. But you wouldn’t know this by watching Christian films, who appear to tell stories which lie about reality and present a world that is just as untrue as it is corny.”

Wow. Dead on. This is why so many Christians have zero interest in Christian fiction, television, movies and so on. Christians are missing the boat, especially now that television seems set to become a new sort of literary canon to replace what poems (ahem, Ozymandias), novels and plays were for the 18th, 19th and early-20th Centuries. But why would Christians tell such bad, unrealistic stories about life? I think the author of the article, Marcus Pittman gives us a substantial clue in the very second paragraph of his own text:

“Walter White, your average Government school Chemistry teacher has a good job, an intact family, and a happy life. Until that is, he finds out that he has cancer.

Desperate for a way to provide for his family and pay the medical bills, Walter White seeks out the help of a former student— now drug dealer and addict Jesse Pinkman—and together they develop a drug empire.”

Did you catch it? Government school. Heh. Posting on a site that is clearly appealing to conservative evangelicals Pittman somehow decides it’s necessary to make it clear that Walter White is not teaching a private Christian institution or homeschooling or whatever The American Vision thinks is better than “government” schools (and let’s be clear, the word “government” is lingering as a slur here). So here’s the subtle little moralizing message, don’t worry, this might happen in those depraved government schools, but it could never happen in a private Christian setting.

Bullshit.

Working at a Christian school is not a way to guarantee someone’s faith or their good behaviour or that tragic life events might lead them down a terrible path where they are consumed by their own monstrosity. To be fair I reckon that Marcus Pittman realizes this, yet he still needs to differentiate Walter White and make him other from those who are held up as the ideal educators for The American Vision’s readership. This is the thin edge of the wedge for sentimentality and so I propose that Marcus Pittman has done some young Christian author or screenwriter a favour and unwittingly given them a great idea for a story. Let’s badly break a Christian school teacher. Here’s your story young Christian writer: Respected, oh let’s say… religion teacher at reputable classical Christian school loses faith after a personal tragedy and starts becoming a rising luminary in the New Atheist movement. How do his former students and colleagues react? Let’s not make his former colleagues saintly either, let them get jealous of him, try for petty vengeances. Go.

Don’t chicken out.

Letter From A So-Called Dirty Hippie

Go USA

Does anyone know what this guy thinks this time around?

Hi there newly-minted war opponents! I welcome your newfound scepticism about the ability of Western military force to bring freedom and democracy to the Middle East. It was lonely out there in 2003 when I was being told to join with the “sensible” liberals/left-wingers (you know, like Christopher Hitchens) and support the invasion of Iraq to find oil err, the man who tried to kill the President’s dad err, weapons of mass destruction. We were told that this would be a cheap, easy war that would just about pay for itself in oil contracts and other sorts of peace dividends as American troops would be greeted as liberators. Why would anyone be so dumb as to stand with dirty old 1960s leftovers and various Noam Chomsky-type figures (including Noam Chomsky) when someone could do a quick installation of democracy with six easy weeks in Iraq. Why do lefties hate the Iraqi people? And of course most of my conservative-evangelical friends sided with what John MacArthur said here about the war fitting into the Christian just war tradition:

The logic in 2003 seems to have been that war is permissible and even noble under certain circumstances (because it’s used as a metaphor) and therefore that particular war was permissible and perhaps even noble. I want to see how John MacArthur would argue that this is not the case with Tomahawks and JDAMs landing on a few airfields if it was the case for house-to-house fighting in Fallujah or Samara or Tikrit.

I’m also a little surprised at all the concern over the Christian minority in Syria, when it came to the Christian minority in Iraq we were told that the US would protect the ability of missionaries to come in and proselytize and that the ancient Christian communities of Iraq didn’t really count since they were small and in decline and well, ahem, do Eastern Christians really *count* anyway? It would be nice if this represented some kind of growing awareness of a common, ancient, global Christian community that shared an identity across lines of East and West, but I’ll wait and see what happens the next time a Republican ignores the plight of a Christian minority somewhere like that of the Iraqi Christians ten years ago.

Of course I’m sure that this would be the EXACT SAME sentiment that all conservative Christians would express if Mitt Romney/Sarah Palin/John McCain were in the White House and proposing to strike the patrons of Hezbollah who were using chemical weapons on their own people against the wishes of the international community (save Russia). I hope Ian is correct that this represents a lesson learned and perhaps the waning of dispensationalism as a dominant view in American evangelical protestant circles, but I would like to check in the next time that a Republican president proposes military action to see if it is still the case that we need to carefully consider what it means to be a Christian facing the prospect of war or whether we are told to shut up and not criticize a sitting Commander-in-Chief in wartime because our God is bigger than the other guy’s.

Evangelicals, Intervention, and Alienationism

Kerry and Assad at Dinner (ca 2009)

In the midst of the US push for war in Syria—it will be a war, in spite of Secretary of State Kerry’s statements about it being a “limited” strike—I thought I would highlight a couple of good articles on why Christians, especially evangelicals, should not support intervention.

The first is Thomas Kidd’s recent Patheos blogpost entitled “The Roots of Evangelical Opposition to Syrian Intervention.” Dr. Kidd, who teaches history at Baylor, highlights the remarkable unity of Christian groups across denominations and the political spectrum. He writes that some oppose the intervention merely because it is Obama who wants it; others are war-weary; while others have grown in their global consciousness. I am particularly interested by his comments about the waning of dispensationalism as a factor.

The second is Mark Nenadov’s “Against ‘Alienationism’” at Kuyperian Commentary. In this witty and literate piece, Nenadov argues that non-intervention is the better option than engaging in constant wars. I hope that his neologism, “Alienationism,” will enter our political language. It turns the tables on those who call non-interventionists “isolationists”; as though we were heartless geopolitical hermits who care little about what other nations think. The Alienationist is the one who puts his or her nation into a box of worldly contempt.

Both of these pieces give us much to think on in this horrible climate of war. Thankfully the Russians of all people (oh the irony!) have given the U.S. a diplomatic way out—let’s hope and pray that the U.S. uses it!

Private Religious Education Contributes More To The Common Good

It turns out that private religious education doesn’t pump out “ultra-rich snobs and religious hardliners”, at least, according to a recent education survey by Cardus. More than 2,000 former students between the ages of 24 and 39 who attended separate Catholic, Evangelical, or private Christian schools were queried on issues such as charitable donations and civic involvement.

The study concludes alternative school graduates are as likely, if not more so, to be valuable contributors to the “public good.”

Students at independent schools make up for about 8% of Canada’s school-age population, and includes Catholic schools in Ontario funded by the government.

Lead researcher Ray Pennings says the findings help shatter the stereotype that alternative schools have a negative impact on Canada’s multicultural fabric.

“The perception has been that independent schools were for rich kids and religious kooks who were focused on themselves,” said Pennings. “What the study actually shows is that whether it’s social engagement, donating or volunteering, the graduates of these schools are achieving the objectives of public education at equal or greater proportions than the public school systems.”

Graduates of non-government schools took part in more neighbourhood and community groups, but more significantly, they were more likely to vote and participate in grassroots movements. (HT: James KA Smith)

The State Of Marriage Debates In The Public Discourse

This is from Australia and I think sometimes it’s worth seeing how this debate is playing out around the industrialized English-speaking world, as it removes it a tiny bit from the personalities and battle lines right here in North America:

I don’t know if it’s just the camera angle, but the questioner’s angry death-stare does him absolutely no favours here. Now I know that some of those who might oppose same-sex civil marriage might have legitimate beefs with Rudd’s interpretations about what exactly is said about slavery in the New Testament, but what’s significant here is that this is a very similar form to what Dan Savage did in another debate video we posted here a while ago. Claiming that the Bible refers to outdated socio-economic relationships in the area of slavery opens the door to the possibility that the same is true for the Bible and same-sex couples. This argument may be constructed quickly and easily and strikes the audience as plausible. It’s enough that the questioner only has his impotent angry stare and no other answer. Even if Rudd loses the election (as he well might), he is winning this argument in the eyes of many.

Where the most vocal opponents of same-sex marriage have harmed themselves (and other Christians as well perhaps) is that the argument for equal marriage now moves the front line to the Bible itself. By insisting initially that the Bible and the Bible alone – as interpreted by conservative evangelicals and/or Roman Catholics – be the template for all human relationships in Western societies, even for those of other religious or philosophical views, they have made the Bible itself debatable. Savage or Rudd can now say, in effect, “You conservative evangelicals and/or Roman Catholics claim this book is what governs how all people ought to interact? Okay, let’s look at all of it here and see what it really says.” This is not confined to problems around unclear wording used in the New Testament or that much of the Levitical law has otherwise been abandoned by Christians, this is now the whole Bible up for debate. I do not know if the opponents of same-sex civil marriage are going to like where this leads.

Some Labour Day Reading

Zach Hoag posted a series over this past summer that was titled “Smokin’ Hot Conversations” about the perception of pastors who go on about their “smokin’ hot wives” as well as the wider world of sexuality and gender in American evangelical circles, particularly from the perspective of various female interlocutors. It’s worth reading views on the matter that is not either from an outsider or from another male voice.

John Piper Emerges As New Threat To America

There’s a new threat on the horizon, one that the Values Voter Summit ranks up there with Communism and Islam: the Emergent Church. There’s so much that’s almost comically wrong with this. First of all, this is 2013, not 2003. Second of all, the category of “Emergent” that’s being used is, well, bizarre. You see the list of Emergent leaders includes Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and even John Piper.

John Piper, Emergent Church leader and threat to a Christian America.

I don’t know if this is some kind of Overton window business where the Values Voter people want their audience to be so conservative as to worry that John Piper is some kind of soft mainline liberal. Maybe these guys genuinely believe that Piper, by not being explicitly in support of the GOP, is therefore a danger. I hope it’s not anything to do with Piper’s views on racial reconciliation in the US:

Whatever it is, it’s surprising that this would come out as at least one observer reckons that The Gospel Coalition (with which Piper is associated) seems poised to become a whole lot more political and activist in socially conservative causes and start to constitute a new religious right.

Solid Advice On Blogging

We’ve already done this before on the blog by way of showing what Andrew Sullivan thinks on the topic. Given my own pathetic contributions to the blog as of late, I’d thought I’d share some solid blogging advice I just came across. This comes from Tom Bennett,  a British education author I stumbled across while coveting books in the infamous Blackwell’s  in Oxford last summer. As I’m a teacher, I’m trying to get my hands on everything that Bennett writes, so I was delighted to see that he has a blog.

Here are Bennett’s gems:

1. Write because you have to.

Write because you itch to write; because there’s something to be said that hasn’t been said before and you need to be the one who says it. Write because you own some part of the truth that nobody else possesses. Write because you’re lying awake at night and a particular arrangement of words won’t leave you alone, nudging you to trap them on page or screen. Write because you can’t sleep for not doing so. Write because a day without writing makes you feel empty and indolent.

This is important. Don’t write for money, at least not at first. If money is your primary concern, then get a paper round. Don’t write because you want to be famous: drive your car through a shopping centre if you want that. Write because you are a writer, and that is what you do.

2. Say exactly what you want to say.

Say what you want to say in the most direct way you can. Don’t worry, as you write, is this good enough? Worry about that later. Instead, write about the thing that makes you angry, sad, upset, agitated or elated. Write your truth, in your voice, but don’t worry about what your voice is; just speak. Say it in exactly the way you want, and don’t worry about offence. That comes later. But if you self-edit at this point, you dam the river of words that bubbles and boils inside you.

3. Edit your work.

You should write as if no one is reading it, then edit as if everyone is. Fix grammar and spelling first. Try reading it aloud to yourself. How does it sound? By the end of the piece you usually have a better idea of how it should start, so unpick, unstitch, and most of all, hack away. Gut anything that doesn’t add to the meaning. You love a phrase but it doesn’t serve the whole piece, or it detracts or distracts? Get rid of it. Save it for later. If it’s good you’ll find somewhere to plant it.

If a paragraph doesn’t help the whole thing, cut it out. If you find one half goes in a different direction, cut it in half, like Solomon, and decide which half you love most. Finally, edit for libel, and ask yourself if you have inadvertently caused offence. Nothing wrong with offence at times, but make sure it’s advertent. And legal.

4. Blog regularly.

I feed robins in my garden. At first they must have been delighted by my RSPB coconuts. Eventually they started coming back looking for more. Now, they’re fat. Good.

5. Interact and promote.

You want a readership? Of course you do, otherwise you wouldn’t be blogging: keep a diary instead if it’s just the love of writing, because the love of being read is another requisite of the whole thing. Respond to comments. Use networking sites like Twitter to spread the word. Leave links as parts of discussions on other blogs and education websites.

6. Be prepared for the bouquets and the brickbats.

And finally, the most important thing is to be prepared for a reaction. Some will laud you, and some will damn you. As Malcolm Tucker says in The Thick of It, ‘Are you prepared to be a dartboard?’ The answer has to be yes. But that doesn’t matter, because some of the darts will be flowers, and because blogging is something you love to, have to, do. And if people still troll, even when you’ve genuinely attempted to engage with them, then, as Christopher Hitchens said, ‘They can take a ticket and get in line to kiss my ass.

But first you have to write the damned things. Stop thinking about it. Just write.

So, hopefully this will inspire me to write in more than four month intervals.

What Kind Of Jobs? Ctd

So it seems that The Gospel Coalition has had their own take on how meaningful one’s job may or may not be. Overall their tone was much upbeat and they refrained from using the word “bullshit” even once. (An aside, if anyone in our readership thinks this is a vulgar word thrown about, please read this little book.) The sense I got from this was, “don’t worry, go about doing your job and don’t think to much about whether it’s important or not, you can’t possibly understand.” The money quote is here:

“Though some work may seem useless, Christians understand that all work is God’s work. Our work only seems insignificant because we fail to grasp the big picture. This is what economists refer to as the “knowledge problem.” The knowledge problem means we can’t always see the big picture because knowledge is dispersed among many people; no one person knows everything. In the vocational sense, this means we may not understand how our work is part of a much larger economic dynamic. If we can’t easily see how our work contributes to the common good, we may understate the effect of what we do.

Some positions make it difficult for workers to see the end product, but that certainly does not mean that their work is insignificant. Just because a factory worker doesn’t receive the instant gratification of seeing the final product that he helped to create doesn’t change the reality that his effort contributed to that product.”

Ironic, because in some ways a factory worker is best positioned to see the result of work. Moreover, there’s a big assumption here that all economic activity contributes to the common good. Moreover, one might ask about the cost of this work, look at Pete Campbell from Mad Men explaining his bullshit meaningful job:

In the last couple seasons of Mad Men it has become apparent that Pete hates himself as he destroys his marriage and grows in his resentment towards his coworkers his family and almost everyone else. Does Pete Campbell contribute to the common good? Is it worth it for how his job seems to contribute to his self-loathing? This is but one example, I’m not sure if there are others who find TGC’s view of work a bit glib.

What Kind Of Jobs?

Bullshit jobs. That’s right, you read it, bullshit jobs. I commend to you all this article on what many of us do for the majority of our waking lives and how it impacts our view of work and the economy. Dovetails somewhat with much of what Andrew and his TCI gang are saying about work and economics – at least I think it does, I hope they see the connection. Money quote:

“Yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way […] to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work. For instance: in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it.  Again, an objective measure is hard to find, but one easy way to get a sense is to ask: what would happen were this entire class of people to simply disappear? Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it’s obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble, and even one without science fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.) Yet apart from a handful of well-touted exceptions (doctors), the rule holds surprisingly well.”

Interestingly, I read this article, and then I googled “bullshit jobs” to find it again and learned that this is not a completely isolated cultural observation, and indeed that there is a bullshit job title generator. Thoughts?