New Yorker on Christian hipsters

Let me be clear: I am not a hipster. I’ve had black-rim glasses since junior year of high school (12 years) and a beard for almost as long (off and on). But I am a Christian and I have had Christian hipster friends for the past decade, so Brett McCracken’s new book, “Hipster Christianity,” appeals to me.

I prefaced that I’m not a Christian hipster because I’m about to take issue with how a blogger for The New Yorker characterized Christian hipsters.

The peg was a cover story that McCracken wrote for Christianity Today — shout out to fellow GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey — about “the ironic world of hipster faith.” Check out McCracken’s site, and, if you aren’t already familiar, you’ll see that hipster Christianity is all about irony and taboos: piercings, tattoos, cursing, smoking, drinking, not running with girls who do.

A few of those make McCracken’s hipster checklist in the Christianity Today article. Riffing on this, The New Yorker’s Macy Halford has a slightly more inclusive list in her “Hip for Jesus” post. She starts by mentioning, as I quote below, why hipsters generally drive people bananas and then writes:

But it’s worse with Christian hipsters, because they embrace secular mores that are antithetical to the Christian lifestyle (cigarettes, bourbon, hookah, tattoos, beards, cursing, R-rated movies, vintage choral music), thus compromising the very essence of their religion. Worse, decidedly unhip pastors pander to these ideals, which is just, you know, embarrassing.

Certainly, those are all things that Christian hipsters are all about. Hence my early defensiveness of my longstanding facial appearance. (I also need to mention that I still wear the same pair of Chuck Taylors that I’ve had since high school.) But probably only about half of those habits definitely qualify as “secular mores.”

And I’m certain that two don’t.

Specifically, facial hair is awesome. It’s also pretty biblical. So are peyot, but I digress.

To be sure, I may be overthinking this. Or maybe I’m just a bit jumpy due to hipster fatigure. McCracken, for his part, mentioned Halford’s post on his blog, and said that he found it “thoughtful and balanced” and rather liked this line:

The trouble McCracken has with Christian hipsters is the same trouble everyone everywhere has with hipsters, which is that they often seem to lack authenticity.

True, indeed. And if you have any doubt, there is a YouTube video from Break Media that I’d love to share with you but I think the language is just to extremely explicit for a hyperlink. (Good judgment prevailed.) It features some ridiculous hipster outfits and opens with the line:

“Isn’t it confusing/ to care so very much about appearing to care so very little/ How exhausting that must be/ And isn’t it ironic, to be so obsessed with irony/ that you are yourself ironic/ in your love of irony.”

And certainly some of the same points can be made about Christian hipsters.

I just hope Halford wasn’t being ironic including beards and “vintage choral music” (likely on the latter). If so, I’ve proven myself to be most unhip. Though I would be OK with that.

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  • Martha

    As far as smoking, drinking and cursing goes, Irish Catholics have been doing that for years.

    Does this mean we were hip and we didn’t know it? ;-)

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    +1.

  • ALB

    “Vintage choral music” is antithetical to the Christian lifestyle? How…?

  • http://sarahboylewebber.blogspot.com/ Sarah Webber

    When I rejoined the Youth Ministry team at my church last fall (took a couple of years off after my second child was born) I found out the hard way that vulgar language is seriously frowned upon. So I am careful, when I am representing that ministry. But, dang, there are just some words that express my frustrations with life so beautifully. And that word isn’t it.

  • Jerry

    ALB beat me to my first comment about choral music, but I have to ask how having a beard compromises one’s ability to love God and one’s neighbor? I’ll say the same thing about a tattoo http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2010/09/15/pastor-ill-get-a-tattoo-if-200-people-show-up/ But may that was part of a lame joke?

    But from a larger frame, I wonder about commenting on blog postings as you did here and Mollie did it recently. Given that a blog posting does not need to meet any journalistic standards or for that matter any standard of sentence construction or even spelling, I wonder about why any of you would take on a blogger except perhaps to laud someone who does a good job.

    If I can be forgiven a personal statement: The subject of this post appealed to me. As an aging hippie I really dug reading about groovy Jesus Flower Children who are trying to make the world a far out, happening scene. Stay mellow and be cool.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    Jerry, I love the question and want to respond to it with more attention than I can give now. I plan to respond in depth tomorrow.

  • http://myfirstamendmentblues.blogspot.com Russell Anderson

    I attend a certain church in Nashville that would seem to fit under the category, if not define the category, of hipster Christian. In fact, one of the models on McCracken’s website is a friend of mine who used to attend my church.

    I read McCracken’s Wall Street Journal article and I found it extremely presumptuous and judgmental. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111704575355311122648100.html?mod=wsj_share_facebook#articleTabs%3Darticle)

    He writes, “There are various ways that churches attempt to be cool.” He then continues to list a number of things that preachers do or have done under the assumption that they did them simply to be cool or appeal to the desire for “coolness” within their congregations.

    How does he know Mark Driscoll’s intent when he talks to his congregation about sex? Why does he call it a gimmick? Driscoll probably talked about it because there is an entire book of the Bible devoted to it and it is one of the main driving factors in our culture and we desperately need to talk about it more openly and hear wise preaching on it.

    I know in the case of my church, we meet in a warehouse, which one might assume we do to be cool. Actually, we used to meet in one of the most gorgeous classical sanctuaries in all of Nashville, but we got kicked out, and the warehouse we moved into we could afford to lease and it was large enough for us. Our pastors felt like it we wouldn’t be good stewards of God’s provision to go out and buy or build a facility, and we wanted to be downtown, not out in the suburbs, so the warehouse made a lot of sense.

    To me, it seems like McCracken basically reduces anything a church is doing that is reaching out to build a bridge between Christ and secular culture, or anything that doesn’t mirror our prototypical view of 20th century church in America, as simply a ploy to put butts in the seats and make more money.

    But I guess it is easy to reduce things and create controversy when you are trying to increase readership and sell more books.

  • Dave

    Vintage choral music? Horrors!

    thus compromising the very essence of their religion

    This is just a religious conservative’s way of dissing an expression of that religion he or she doesn’t approve.

  • Matt

    McCracken’s article has generated much criticism, including from Christianity Today‘s own venerable John Wilson. Personally, I couldn’t agree more with Wilson. McCracken plays a double-switch, first broadly defining “hipster” as basically any Christian that engages with the culture, then ascribing to them all manner of questionable motives and doctrines that do not necessarily apply. Finally, he gleefully knocks down the strawman.

  • Naibel

    Silly young faddish Protestants.