That’s a word that Pete Ward introduced to me yesterday.
Pete may be best known in the US as the author of Liquid Church, a book that was referred to often during the early days of the emergent movement. (OK, he may be even better known as one of the interstitial commenters in my first book.) At the time, to be honest, I wasn’t a fan of Pete’s thesis. At the time, I was on my way to becoming a Made Man in the Hauerwasian Mafia. As evidenced in PMYM, I thought of the church as a distinct culture/polis with its own discrete rationality, language, and practice.
Pete’s got a new book out: Gods Behaving Badly: Media, Religion and Celebrity Culture, which is out in the UK and available for pre-0rder in the States (published here by Baylor University Press). I went to Luther Seminary yesterday to have breakfast with Pete and hear him lecture in Andy Root‘s class. And tonight he’s giving a public lecture at Luther, introduced by Chris Scharen.
It was only a 35-minute lecture yesterday, so I don’t know that I fully absorbed Pete’s thesis in his new book, but this is what I gathered: religious and theological language is still powerful in our culture, and that’s why it is so often co-opted by celebrity and pop culture (e.g., Madonna, diva, American Idol, “cult of personality,” etc.).
What Pete doesn’t do is the usual knee-jerk Christian reaction to this kind of thing. He’s not saying that celebrity culture is inherently bad — at least he didn’t seem to be saying that overtly. He did remark that celebrity culture’s use of religious language is not particularly serious, whereas most religions are extremely serious about what they believe and how they practice.
He admitted that this is not a “what you should do” book, but it’s more of a “how things are” book. It’s descriptive, not prescriptive. But his book is worth a look in that he’s turned his very capable theological mind to that area of culture in which celebrity and religious faith intersect.