Birth control, Da Movie and MercyMe

gech 0001 0001 0 img0080Every now and then, I see people or groups produce material that makes me think to myself: “Behold, that’s a GetReligion item.” Truth be told, I don’t quite know what to do when this happens. I mean, it’s hard to write a case study about a case study. That’s a bit too Zen for me.

So let me pass along a few recent examples. I’ll try to get rid of as much guilt as I can, all at once.

• First of all, our friend Ted Olsen over at Christianity Today‘s blog has written up the gigantic New York Times Magazine report on the growing debates — among Protestants — about the moral status of contraceptives. You know Olsen is a bit ticked off when he writes that reporter Russell Shorto’s 8,000-word story is “horribly underreported” and “contains glaring errors.” Thus, he argues that:

Shorto is right that religious conservative Protestants have been increasingly critical about the 1965 contraception case Griswold v. Connecticut, and that recent technologies (especially the emergency contraceptive pill) have forced them to reconsider facile support of earlier technologies (like the non-emergency pill). And he’s right in his implication that Catholic-Protestant alliances in the abortion wars (and the reasoning in Pope John Paul II’s writings) have also had a dramatic effect.

But for those who have actually been watching this happen, it’s like reading a U.S. history text that talks about the American Revolution without also talking about colonialism, Reconstruction without the Civil War, and World War II without World War I. Or like trying to read a subway map that only names four stops. His connect-the-dots puzzle only has the numbers 3, 8, 24, and 31, and the only crayon in his box is labeled “anti-sex.”

• Now here’s another puzzle. Radio host and author Dick Staub recently wrote an interesting critique of a New York Times report on the high sales of the Christian band called MercyMe. The story was called “Christian Rock Is Edging Toward the Mainstream” and it was written by critic Kelefa Sanneh. The key statement — the story lurking inside the review — comes at the very end:

In an overwhelmingly Christian country, it may seem strange that Christian rock even exists as a niche genre; if rock better reflected American demographics, then secular rock would be the niche. But at a time when major labels are struggling to create the multimillion-selling stars they depend on, niche status might not seem so bad. MercyMe already has a devoted fan base, a ready-made touring circuit and lots of loyal album buyers. The devil may still have the best tunes (for now), but can he match that business model?

I also thought it was interesting that Staub invited another journalist — Lou Carlozo of the Chicago Tribune — in as a “guest blogger” to take a stab at the issue. Carlozo was B-L-U-N-T:

Until Christian music stresses art over agenda, it can never be anything but second rate. As a music editor at the Chicago Tribune, I have a responsibility to turn my readers on to the best art out there. And as a Christian, I have an obligation to tell the truth at all costs, as I see it. If it’s bad, awkward, mawkish art that Nashville keeps shipping to me like so many day-glo W.W.J.D. bracelets, what choice do I have? I would rather be the voice of one crying out in the wilderness than win the approval of any cabal that is convinced — for all the wrong reasons — that the majority of “Christian” music serves a noble purpose.

Michelangelo makes us cry by depicting the finger-touch of creation in a majestic image. Johnny Cash could break your heart by revealing the serrated edges of his brokenness. Bono makes you wrestle and challenges all assumptions that God is of the right or left wing. None of this is a “business model” to be emulated. These are ways of approaching art and life we are talking about, meant to be done with all the fear and trembling of someone trying to point the way to a higher truth while walking a narrow path.

Oh man, why didn’t I write that?

thedavincicode• Meanwhile, the folks over at the Religion Newswriters Association have published a collection of ReligionLink resources for journalists who are — dang it — preparing for the release of Da Movie.

So, does this movie really matter to anyone out there in mainstream reader-land? The religion-beat consulting squad notes:

The film brings renewed scrutiny of the book’s unorthodox view of Christian history and another round of debate about Hollywood’s handling of faith. With more than 40 million books in print, this thriller novel asserts that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had a child and that the Roman Catholic Church’s Opus Dei organization will murder people in order to keep this secret. The book drew critical praise, millions of readers in 44 languages, more than two dozen books about issues raised by the novel, and inevitable adaptations: a movie and a video game. The film from Sony Pictures is directed by Ron Howard and includes an international cast headed by Tom Hanks.

OK, that’s all logical. But what’s with this laugh-out-loud suggestion at the site?

Questions for reporters

• Are people who read the book going to see the movie?

Well, duh. You think?

P.S. Check this out: An Opus Dei movie site, complete with The Da Vinci Code Catechism by Father John Wauck. Here’s a sample:

6. Should we really pray over the bones of Mary Magdalen?

Yes. Saint Mary Magdalen is honored by the countless churches and women named after her and by a special Mass on her feast day (July 22). In fact, for more than a millennium, Christians have made pilgrimages to pray in the Basilica of St. Maximin in southern France, where a tradition says that Saint Mary Magdalen was buried.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • John L. Hoh, Jr.

    First of all, our friend Ted Olsen over at the Christianity Today Inc. blog has written up the gigantic New York Times Magazine report on the growing debates — among Protestants — about the moral status of contraceptives.

    What all too often happens is that these things, whether among religious people or among non-religious people, is that this issue (and several others) are painted in black and white without shades of gray. When I attended a Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod seminary we actually had a doctor come in and explain each contraceptive (available at the time; the RU pill wasn’t, er, conceived yet) and how it worked. Therefore we, as potential pastors entering the public ministry, could aid some guidance for couples seeking to use such items. And the way these items work is important. Does the method prevent an egg from being fertilized? Or does it prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb? Big difference–especially to those who believe life begins at conception, in which case you want to use the former method and stay away from the latter.

    Then again, another strain comes in with those who believe sex and marriage are strictly for procreation. Then for those people any contraception is taboo. The added strain to this is that gay marriages would be inappropriate because by definition a gay marriage would be unable to naturally procreate.

    Until Christian music stresses art over agenda, it can never be anything but second rate.

    Interesting theory. Maybe that’s why J. S. Bach was forgotten for so long? His music is a prime example of art and agenda (he was ardently Lutheran). Perhaps modern Christian rock music is refered to? I agree to a point. There is much that is Dreck that is sold as “Christian rock” or “Christian contemporary music.” But I would argue the Top 40 also has an amazing amount of Dreck. Many mobile DJ’s I know try not to DJ proms and other youth events simply because the demographics of such events tends to skew to what is “hot” right now–and a song popular today is passe two months from now (and useless in a very short time if there is no long-lasting redeeing value). Seems like too broad a brush to paint over “Christian rock” without commenting on the overall genre as a whole.

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  • Kizmet

    That pic of Tom Hanks makes him look like a Klingon. This can only improve the movie.

  • Deborah

    I would echo John’s post above — I’d heard other Protestant Christians debate the morality of various birth control methods based on the before/after fertilization question, but I was not aware there was any movement afoot among pro-lifers to equate all birth control with an “anti-child” stance. I kind of thought the whole “sex is for procreation _and_ bonding between husband and wife” thing was fairly settled among Protestants. Apparently … not.

    On a completely different note, I don’t think the “are readers of the book going to see the movie” question is all THAT stupid. Depending on the book, readers and moviegoers can be quite different demographics — overlapping but not necessarily converging. In this case, perhaps, there’s more overlap.

  • Martha

    What I want to know is this: who were the Church assassins protecting the big secret before Opus Dei were founded back in the 1930s?

    Ah – silly me. It was those durn Jesuits, of course!

    (And before the Jesuits? Or is this a secret too terrible to contemplate but all will be revealed in the sequel?)

  • Rathje

    What, and secular music isn’t “agenda-driven?”

    It’s not black-and-white. All music partakes of a little art and a little agenda. Maybe Carlozo is talking about relative proportions?

  • Diane Fitzsimmons

    I agree with the earlier posters in regards to Christian music. If I (and my children) are going to listen to dreck, I would rather it be about uplifting things than grills, drugs, misogyny, promiscuity, etc. I’ve never understood why Christian artists are criticized for being one-minded in their song writing, and most mainstream artists are not criticized for being so focused on drugs and sex. The truly gifted artists in rock’n'roll are few and far between.

  • dk

    I am not aware of a “movement afoot among pro-lifers to equate all birth control with an “anti-child” stance.” I am aware of younger middle-class Protestants graduating from (often Christian) colleges 20 grand or more in the hole (and from Christian colleges where they were taught to think “Christianly” but often not about contraception, sex, and “mommy wars” issues). As these men and women marry or wish to marry, they often face sketchy employment and/or a workaholic work environment where having children before 35-40 (biologically bad for the mother) is seen as economically unwise and possibly even a career-killer, especially for women. In this siituation, a lot of Christians will be forced to rethink prevailing middle-class socioeconomic standards of living and values (e.g. “upward mobility”) because of how they directly impinge on marriage and childbearing/rearing–encouraging by the nature of our system to see children primarily as burdens, problems, etc. This is the most insidious form of “anti-child” and “culture of death” sentiment today, and you can find it aplenty in churches, where many folks are quick to cluck at the irresponsibility of couples with children prior to achieving the community’s standard of “economic stability.” This happens even in the more conservative churches that make a point of defining a “traditional” male-female division of labor in marriage. It is more pronounced in solidly middle or upper-class evangelical communitys where there is a more liberal, semi-feminist attitude. It is in general an area of muted conflict and confusion that younger people are more likely to tackle head on.

  • Maureen

    We Christians are supposed to cherish the good and the beautiful, not the good and lousy. God is the Creator, not the Lame Imitator of Mediocrity.

    Which is not to say that one shouldn’t be understanding and tolerant of those who are doing their best. But often, that’s not what folks are doing under the name of Christian art or music.

  • Nick

    The problem with Christian rock, for me, is that far too often they take whatever music style is popular at the time and try to emulate it. Kids like emo, so they’ll like songs that sound emo but are about God instead of girls. And so on. It’s not particularly innovative, and it’s certainly not interesting. (Usually, it seems to be horribly deficient of metaphor as well.) There’s plenty of good music with a Christian theme out there–early u2, assorted Sufjan Stevens albums, Johnny Cash–but they’re good, innovative music first, and Christian second.

    Musicians like Bach and Handel made amazing music first, but their agenda–if they had one beyond “I hope this pleases the King”–comes second. Yes, this goes even for stuff like Handel’s Messiah. It evokes a strong feeling of awe, with those massive chorale movements, and clearly is about Christianity, but it’s awesome on its musical qualities alone. Otherwise, we wouldn’t still be listening to it.

    And then, of course, there’s the constant search for immortality that you’ll find in almost all rock and roll, regardless of its quality or “values,” but that’s an argument for a different day (namely because I haven’t gotten it fully formed yet).

  • Karen H

    There are times I think Christian artists rest on the laurels of Christian subject matter, rather than making the artistic effort worthy of the subject they’re writing about. I’m reminded of the time I was asked to critique a Christian inspirational fiction manucript. It was badly written, with cardboard characters and a plot that was very uninteresting. But when I gave my critique–as gently as possible!–the response was, “how can you say it’s not good? It’s about a man who repents of his sins and is born again!”

    Virtuous subject matter does not automatically make the art well done. And I think that may be the assumption of more than a few Christian artists. Which is, when you think about it, a rather lazy way of thinking.

  • http://none Jake

    People make such a god out of art to where it’s more important than the one who first conceived it.

    Who is this guy to say that these Christian artists are not doing what God wants them to do? His argument has absolutely no biblical merit whatsoever. Why is it that they can only be doing God’s will if they meet this-or-that artistic standard? To cite a few examples…

    A nice number of people don’t like Michael W. Smith because he doesn’t meet their artistic standard, though he could just floor you at a praise and worship concert. And he has two excellent praise and worship CDs out which just wow me with their songs. And I happen to like some of his other stuff as well. Is God unpleased with him?

    Carman is portrayed as being very cheesy, but so few musicians have ever taken on such an extensive ministry, and his ministry claims over a million saved (and I am not kidding about that number either), and has done an incredible job in getting kids involved in their youth groups again. He’s done so much to prepare kids and teens in terms of being a Christian (though none of it seems to matter to anyone). Is he doing something wrong here?

    One of my friends hates tobyMac, but tobyMac is holding a concert sometime this month in my area to get kids pumped up for standing up for God; him and MercyMe (whom this guy deeply criticized in another article because of their outrageous success and musical “inferiority”). Is he wasting time doing this instead of trying to become the next Eminem?

    ApologetiX is pure heresy to some people because they do parodies, and for some reason that just offends people, but they have inspired me greatly to get more into the bible and to study defending the faith, and they get thousands of e-mails from all around the world about what their music has been doing. I also use their music quite often for doing puppet songs for the kids at my church, and they love it. Is that a crime since it’s time that wasn’t spent on making actual “art?”

    I don’t much care for Stellar Kart myself, but they things that people just really need to hear, especially in a world that stresses pleasures in the world and “getting yours.” From what I heard, I think I can say that they won’t go down as legends, but they have something that people need to hear.

    Relient K has got a bad rep as far as music too (which I feel is undeserved), but they’ve had some songs that have been quite encouraging to me (though their latest stuff doesn’t really do anything for me). In that light, why would I care if they meet this guy’s artistic standard or not? They created something that touched me in a special way and helped me through some problems.

    Kutless is supposedly a huge Creed copycat (which I think is phooey), though so far their “Strong Tower” album is one of my absolute favorite albums right now and just drives me to my knees in praise with its songs. I grow tired of listening to Joe Satriani after a little while, but this album works miracles for me when I need it the most. Is this wasted time because they didn’t spend that time, instead, enhancing their sense of artistry?

    One step further, I listen to all these guys (except for Stellar Kart) more than I do Rich Mullins.

    There’s also a contradiction in this article.


    Bono makes you wrestle and challenges all assumptions that God is of the right or left wing.”—

    Thus far, Bono’s received more political attention than artistic. “Donate money to AIDS, protect gay people, we need to stop looking at Africans as being less superior (he actually said that at an economics club in my area last week).” He speaks at several locales to enhance his cause, including at the White House a few months ago, pushes his AIDS cause at all his concerts and going as far as to twist scripture to do so, and has received Man of the Year title in Time magazine and several nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian efforts. Though, I guess because it’s not Christian, it’s not an agenda. I guess I could argue on this guy’s standards that U2 is inferior musically. There’s only a few select songs I really like, such as Vertigo, Where the Streets Have No Name, City of Blinding Lights, Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me, but the rest I just don’t care for. I had to grow into Vertigo a little bit. Sunday Bloody Sunday’s okay, but I used to really not like it and just kinda forced myself to grow into it. I liked Pillar’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” better than U2′s; that one was just cool when I first heard it. I like Sanctus Real’s “Beautiful Day” better as well–almost couldn’t stand U2′s as a matter of fact–, and I thought Chris Tomlin’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” was very good as well, although I like U2′s slightly better. The rest of U2′s music that I’ve heard, I just don’t care for; I didn’t enjoy “Achtung Baby” in the least, except for about a 20-second segment in the song “Ultraviolet.” A lot of their lyrics sound the same to me as well. He makes a lot of references to someone I can’t tell if it’s God or a woman. And I’ve known some people who don’t really like U2 that much either, and I honestly can’t see how they really fit a professionally artistic merit at times such as this guy would have you live up to. Somehow U2 makes it, though.

    Listen to what you like to, and I’ll listen to what I like. I like music that has feeling, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be an elitist and say that these lightning fast shredders like Rustey Cooley and Michael Angelo stink because they can’t seem to play any slower than 6000 BPM. Let them enjoy what they do. Let Third Day keep praising God using their artistic talent the way THEY want to, no matter how generic it sounds to you. Let Matt Theissen screech or sing or whatever you want to call it. If you don’t like it, don’t listen, but people need to quit acting like they’re artistic superiors looking down upon the mere artistic mortals, deciding who is fit for eternal reward and who isn’t.

    Whoever wants to, go ahead and criticize and pound your brothers and sisters in Christ because you are so deeply convinced that if they’re a Christian artist, they have an alterior motive. Go ahead and point the finger at them because they might be successful, which I can’t understand why that’s so unbelievable. Maybe people need to stop and think that maybe God has blessed them for their faithfulness. Maybe Third Day and Michael W. Smith are rich because they may just know how to handle their money right and maybe that God is just pleased with them. God does give and He does give abundantly. In the end, musical “talent” isn’t going to matter. Everything we do will be tested against the fire, and what survives will be rewarded for, while nothing will be gained from that which burns up.

    11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

    1 Corinthians 13: 11-15

    Artists such as the ones that I have mentioned above, who are often criticized for having inferior talent and taste, have chosen to found themselves on Jesus Christ and bringing souls to him. I have no reason to believe otherwise, and I’ve neve heard ANYONE give sufficient reason to say otherwise. Mr. Staub has no right to judge these people based on “artistic” merit. And God has given them what they need to do what they want to do, and they are using it very fruitfully. What they are doing WILL last, assuming their motives are true to God (and, as I’ve said before, I’ve not seen or heard any reason to believe otherwise than just wild speculation and unproven possibilities). Between art and saved souls, I know which one’s more important.

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