Suburbanites All

Suburbanites All April 17, 2015

Megachurches have their problems and I am certainly not a fan. But I wonder if academics who critique these kinds of congregations have ever looked in the mirror. For instance, in the following quotation, notice that what the writer argues could equally be applied to colleges and universities in the United States:

many of today’s evangelicals professors strive to reconcile their suburban lifestyle with their Christian walk professional status. There is a heavy emphasis in modern Christian academic literature on how believers students and faculty may be “good stewards” advocate social justice and change in a consumer-oriented environment—an environment that often conjures a suburban mythos. The growing megachurch movement Contemporary higher education combines popular religion mass education with suburban culture to offer a possible solution to the divide between faith learning and consumption. . . . These Massive universities churches provide extremely large, contemporary services in state-of-the-art buildings and are generally constructed for the preferences of suburban congregations students. The forms of entertainment and doctrinal foci degrees of these churches universities differ based on their particular suburbs and local demographics, but one thing that remains constant is megachurch university leaders’ rhetoric regarding the churches institutions they promote. The suburbs (even the stereotypical and unrealistic image of picket fences and cookie-cutter houses) represent a common motif in evangelical literature and sermons university catalogues and websites. MegachurchesAmerican universities promote and defend an image of prosperity and plastic religion social ideals that reflects a self-imposed image of the suburb that they seek to serve.

On the other hand, Paul Griffiths (via Peter Leithart) suggests why we may even want to extend to suburbanites the kind of charity we usually reserve for minorities and the poor:

We should, Paul Griffiths says (Decreation, 324–5), be careful about the aesthetic judgments we make: “every human creature’s formation in the discernment and delight in beauty is different, and because each of us is badly damaged with respect to our capacity to make reliable judgments about the presence and nature of beauty, we should not be very confident about the judgments we make, and should acknowledge that an artifact that seems to some human creatures crudely annoying, even repellent, may seem to others delightful in respect of its beauty.” Whatever hierarchy of beauty there may be, it isn’t “obvious to all, or even most, human creatures.”

In particular, Griffiths argues, “Christians ought to pause before accepting this view of kitsch. Christianity—Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox—has been and remains among the great generators of kitsch, and that is because Christianity is and always has been a religion of peasants and proles. Most Christian art is and always has been kitsch: that’s what most Christians like, and they like it exactly because it has the principal identifying mark of kitsch, which is to be free of nuance, lacking in subtlety. A kitschy artifact leaves those who interact with it in no doubt about how they should respond. The Stations of the Cross, present on the walls of every Catholic church, are not subtle and are not supposed to be. They are there to conform you to the bloody sufferings of Christ.”

If churches can be kitschy, why not megachurches and even universities?

(Image by John Martinez Pavliga Creative Commons Generic 2.0)

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