How Christianity, for awhile, became cool

The 1970s was a time of hippies, free love, psychedelic drugs, and cultural revolution.  But it was also a time of major religious revival, with the “Jesus Movement” gaining headway in that very counter-culture.  How could that be?  Baylor professor Philip Jenkins credits the Byrds, who popularized a recovery of American roots music, much of which is explicitly Christian.  He explains:

At least part of the explanation lies outside the religious realm, in quite secular musical trends of the late 1960s, and the rediscovery of American musical roots — originally, without any religious intent whatever. As a driving force in the new cultural/religious upsurge I would point to one group above all, namely the Byrds. Through the mid-1960s, the Byrds moved ever more deeply into psychedelic experimentation, culminating with the 1968 album The Notorious Byrd Brothers, but at that point, things changed radically. David Crosby left the group, which now added Gram Parsons, with his enduring passion for country and western music. In 1968, the reformed Byrds began recording at Nashville, where they even played the Grand Old Opry. (The audience had no idea what to make of them).

In August 1968, the Byrds released the album Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which pioneered a new style of country rock. It also initiated a revolutionary change in the country music world, which was at the time very conservative musically and politically, and where long hair was strictly taboo. (Merle Haggard’s Okie From Muskogee became a huge hit the following year, and a confrontational conservative anthem). At first, country listeners assumed Sweetheart was meant as a mocking retro parody, while the rock audience was bemused. Over the next few years, though, the two genres increasingly coalesced, with all sorts of fusion styles inbetween — country rock, Southern rock, outlaw country, and the rest. (John Spong recently published a terrific history of this synthesis as it developed through the 1970s in Texas Monthly, but subscription is required).

Suddenly and shockingly, “country” culture became fashionable, as part of the Southernization that historian Bruce Shulman described as one of the key social trends sweeping America in the 1970s. This shift was greatly strengthened by the demographic and economic trends of these years, and the shift of wealth and population from Rustbelt to Sunbelt states.

Quite unintentionally, the Byrds also revived and legitimized Christian themes in music for an audience wholly unaccustomed to them. If you want to revive America’s roots music, it’s hard to do so without incorporating hymns, gospel and Christian songs, and Sweetheart of the Rodeo featured such evocative classics as I am a Pilgrim and The Christian Life.

In 1969, they recorded the Art Reynolds Singers song “Jesus is Just Alright with Me,” which became an anthem for the emerging Jesus People. Plenty of other artists jumped on the bandwagon, recording or adapting Christian roots — and that is quite distinct from the contemporary emergence of avowedly Christian contemporary music. (Christian rock largely dates from Larry Norman’s 1969 album Upon This Rock). The language of pilgrimage, redemption and sin entered rock music, as did Satan himself: in 1970, the Grateful Dead issued Friend of the Devil.

Suddenly, young people who knew nothing whatever about the American religious heritage were exposed to this music, in highly accessible rock/country fusion styles, played by hip musicians with long hair and beards. Along the way, they also heard key evangelical messages, which suddenly became cool and contemporary.

And that, I suggest, is a major reason why those Christian movements were suddenly able to find young audiences open and receptive to their messages.

via RealClearReligion – When Evangelicals Were Cool.

I love the Byrds!  I heard them play.  I do remember marveling at all of the Christian references I was hearing in their music and in other albums of that day.

And yet, I’m not sure I’m convinced by this analysis.  Why did those old hymns and gospel songs resonate with people like Gram Parsons and record-buyers the way they did?

I think a better explanation is that where sin abounds, grace breaks in.  Which means that we may be in for another spiritual awakening soon.

But this gives me the excuse to post some Byrds music. (“Jesus is Just All Right With Me” comes from 1970, though there is nothing particularly rootsy about it. Gram Parsons joined the group in 1968, but the far better “Turn, Turn, Turn”–a setting of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 by Pete Seeger–came out in 1965. This YouTube version is stellar, but it is more recent, from 1990.)

UPDATE:  Thanks to SK Peterson for bringing up this STUNNING song by Gram Parsons (with harmony by co-writer Emmylou Harris AND Linda Rondstadt):  “In My Hour of Darkness.”  This is what the original article is talking about, not just with the coolness factor (though the accompanying pictures of these three performers are very, very cool) but with the way Parsons is taking that old-time gospel hymn structure and using it in a highly personal and expressive way.  (I think we will all need to purchase the two-album set GP / Grievous Angel.)

I would add that the difference between this and what passes for most contemporary Christian music in the pop vein, in addition to facing up to “darkness,” is that Parsons is drawing on the past, on the Christian musical tradition, rather than repudiating it.

If you have no electricity, check your computer

My nomination for the Pulitzer Prize for letters to the editor, if there were such a thing, in the aftermath of the great power outage:

Monday, July 2, my third morning in the heat without power (and no power at my workplace), imagine my relief when I saw on the middle of the front page of my print version of the paper, topics listed with potentially helpful information about “The commute,” “Government workers,” “Summer school,” “Weather” and, most importantly, “Heat survival.” Then imagine my utter shock when we were directed to find this information at washingtonpost.com! Was I supposed to turn on my fan to cool off, and listen to my radio while I looked this up on my dead computer? I looked through the paper’s articles about the storm for any references to what seemed available only online. Not a trace. I was aghast. Was it a joke?

It was incomprehensible to me that those of us struggling with power outages were told to use our computers to find this much-needed information. Please use your heads.

Sharon Dodd, Rockville

via Without power, help online is lost – The Washington Post.

Religious retention rates

A study of religious retention rates–that is, what percentage of people raised in a particular church or religion stay with it when they are grown–is quite interesting.  Lutherans are in second place among Protestants (58%),  just after the Baptists (60%).  The group with the worst performance in transmitting their beliefs to their young people is atheists (30%).

 

Did you know that Atheists have the lowest retention rate of any “religious” group? Some interesting Data from CARA | Archdiocese of Washington.

 

HT:  Joe Carter

The internet sales tax bill

The old complaint was that big corporate retailers like Wal-Mart and Borders were putting the local mom ‘n’ pop stores out of business.  But now buying on the internet is making even the big box stores obsolete, as people from every corner of the nation are buying what they need  online without the need of any local stores.

Not only that, the online retailers have a big price advantage.  Part of that comes from not having to charge sales tax, which can add upwards of 10% to the cost of a product.  Local stores report how they are being reduced to showrooms for online companies, as customers go to actual stores to check out the merchandise and then buy it online.  Sometimes they do so on their smart phones while they are still in the store.

Now states, desperate for revenue, and local businesses are pushing for internet operations to charge sales tax.   More and more states are passing laws to this effect.  Now the federal government is getting into the act.  A bill before Congress, with lots of bipartisan approach, would make it easier for collecting sales tax to become routine across the internet.

The latest federal proposal — the Marketplace Fairness Act — has strong bipartisan support and appears to be moving forward. . . .

The bill proposes that a state can decide whether to enforce collection of its sales tax. If the state chooses to, then it should simplify its tax system according to conditions outlined in the bill.

Sales tax rates generally range from 5 to 10 percent, depending on the type of product as well as the jurisdiction (cities and counties can impose their own taxes on top of state rates). In Maryland and the District, many items are taxed at 6 percent, while in Virginia, the sales tax generally hovers around 5 percent.

Traditional retailers with an online presence, such as Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart and Target, also support the bill, as do groups such as the National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

On the other side is Net­Choice, the trade association of e-commerce companies. Net­Choice has opposed sales tax collection and overturning the physical-presence ruling by the Supreme Court. Its argument, which Amazon has used in the past, is that tax calculation for thousands of jurisdictions country­wide is an impossibly complicated task.

“The burden falls disproportionately on a small business,” said Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice. “It has no accounting or IT staff to keep track of tax rules and holidays.”

The new bill exempts online businesses making less than $500,000 a year from collecting sales tax. NetChoice says that threshold is too low. It also notes that the amount states will gain from online sales taxes is less than 1 percent of total state tax revenue.

The measure, sponsored by Sens. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and 12 others, was introduced in November. The House Judiciary Committee is set to hold a hearing on it July 24.

via States, Congress rallying for an e-sales tax – The Washington Post.

What do you think about this?  Can you formulate an argument why this is not a good idea on grounds other than just not wanting to pay more?

Will the Islamists destroy the Pyramids?

Muslims are radical iconoclasts, and the current Islamist revival has been accompanied by the destruction of many ancient monuments, from the statues of Buddha in Afghanistan to, most recently in Mali, the tombs of Timbuktu.  Now that the Islamists have taken over the government in Egypt, some clerics are calling for the destruction of the Pyramids on the grounds that they are pagan:

According to several reports in the Arabic media, prominent Muslim clerics have begun to call for the demolition of Egypt’s Great Pyramids—or, in the words of Saudi Sheikh Ali bin Said al-Rabi‘i, those “symbols of paganism,” which Egypt’s Salafi party has long planned to cover with wax. Most recently, Bahrain’s “Sheikh of Sunni Sheikhs” and President of National Unity, Abd al-Latif al-Mahmoud, called on Egypt’s new president, Muhammad Morsi, to “destroy the Pyramids and accomplish what the Sahabi Amr bin al-As could not.”

This is a reference to the Muslim Prophet Muhammad’s companion, Amr bin al-As and his Arabian tribesmen, who invaded and conquered Egypt circa 641. Under al-As and subsequent Muslim rule, many Egyptian antiquities were destroyed as relics of infidelity. While most Western academics argue otherwise, according to early Muslim writers, the great Library of Alexandria itself—deemed a repository of pagan knowledge contradicting the Koran—was destroyed under bin al-As’s reign and in compliance with Caliph Omar’s command.

However, while book-burning was an easy activity in the 7th century, destroying the mountain-like pyramids and their guardian Sphinx was not—even if Egypt’s Medieval Mamluk rulers “de-nosed” the latter during target practice (though popular legend still attributes it to a Westerner, Napoleon).

Now, however, as Bahrain’s “Sheikh of Sheikhs” observes, and thanks to modern technology, the pyramids can be destroyed. The only question left is whether the Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt is “pious” enough—if he is willing to complete the Islamization process that started under the hands of Egypt’s first Islamic conqueror.

via Calls to Destroy Egypt’s Great Pyramids Begin | FrontPage Magazine.

UPDATE:  The answer to the question posed by the headline here is apparently “No.”   Thanks to Tom Hering for digging deeply into the story and discovering that it’s evidently a hoax.

Exodus president now doubts cure for being gay

Exodus International has been the preeminent Christian ministry to gays.  A major emphasis of that group has been that homosexuals, through prayer and therapy, can lose their same-sex attraction and become heterosexual.  Now the president of that organization is saying something different:

The ex-gay movement has been convulsed as the leader of Exodus, in a series of public statements and a speech to the group’s annual meeting last week, renounced some of the movement’s core beliefs. Alan Chambers, 40, the president, declared that there was no cure for homosexuality and that “reparative therapy” offered false hopes to gays and could even be harmful. His statements have led to charges of heresy and a growing schism within the network. . . .

In a phone interview Thursday from Orlando, Fla., where Exodus has its headquarters, Mr. Chambers amplified on the views that have stirred so much controversy. He said that virtually every “ex-gay” he has ever met still harbors homosexual cravings, himself included. Mr. Chambers, who left the gay life to marry and have two children, said that gay Christians like himself faced a lifelong spiritual struggle to avoid sin and should not be afraid to admit it.

He said Exodus could no longer condone reparative therapy, which blames homosexuality on emotional scars in childhood and claims to reshape the psyche. And in a theological departure that has caused the sharpest reaction from conservative pastors, Mr. Chambers said he believed that those who persist in homosexual behavior could still be saved by Christ and go to heaven. . . .

“I believe that any sexual expression outside of heterosexual, monogamous marriage is sinful according tothe Bible,” Mr. Chambers emphasized. “But we’ve been asking people with same-sex attractions to overcome something in a way that we don’t ask of anyone else,” he said, noting that Christians with other sins, whether heterosexual lust, pornography, pride or gluttony, do not receive the same blanket condemnations. . . .

Mr. Chambers said he was simply trying to restore Exodus to its original purpose when it was founded in 1976: providing spiritual support for Christians who are struggling with homosexual attraction.

He said that he was happy in his marriage, with a “love and devotion much deeper than anything I experienced in gay life,” but that he knew this was not feasible for everyone. Many Christians with homosexual urges may have to strive for lives of celibacy.

But those who fail should not be severely judged, he said, adding, “We all struggle or fall in some way.”

 

via Rift Forms in Movement as Belief in Gay ‘Cure’ Is Renounced – NYTimes.com.

As one might expect, Chambers’ announcement has sparked a huge controversy, which the NY Times article goes into.   Some people who have gone through Exodus International are insisting they have too been changed and no longer struggle with same-sex attraction.   Others, like Chambers himself, are now happily married ( to women), have children and a heterosexual sex life, while also still feeling and battling same sex attractions.  Most gay Christians, though, don’t lose their attraction to the same sex.

Are we perhaps making a mistake by “privileging” homosexuality as a special category of sin?   Theologically, given the “bondage of the will,” can we say that sin is ever just a matter of “choice”?  Aren’t all sins deeply ingrained, even “genetic,” in that we inherit our fallen nature from Adam and Eve?  Don’t we all have to struggle against our own personal besetting sins?  And, certainly, isn’t it precisely sinners who are saved?  Or do you think our salvation rests on being “victorious” over our particular sins?

The problem on the other side, it seems to me, is with those who deny that they are sinners.  That would include both religious legalists and those who insist that when it comes to their particular sin (whether homosexuality, pornography, selfishness, cruelty) “there is nothing wrong with it.”  Such an attitude precludes repentance and denies their need for the gospel.  Not that repentance in itself saves, but that it can drive a person to the Cross, where Jesus bore even those sins in His body, so as to atone for them and win free forgiveness.

We’ve talked about homosexuality a lot on this blog, so could we set that aside for now?  Could we discuss the more general issue of “besetting sins” (the ones each individual is prone to), repentance, failure, and the Christian life?

HT:  Todd


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