Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Idolatry of Consumer Culture

I'll post on everything that's been going on during my blogging absence by the end of the week. However, I wanted to share this text from the transcript of a documentary called "The Persuaders". The full video is available online as well.

DOUGLAS ATKIN, Merkley and Partners Advertising: When I was a brand manager at Proctor & Gamble, my job was basically to make sure the product was good, develop new advertising copy, design the pack. Now a brand manager has an entirely different kind of responsibility. In fact, they have more responsibility. Their job now is to create and maintain a whole meaning system for people, through which they get identity and understanding of the world. Their job now is to be a community leader.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: Ad strategist Douglas Atkin, an expert on the relationship between consumers and brands, says he had a eureka moment one night during a focus group.

DOUGLAS ATKIN: I was in a research facility watching eight people rhapsodize about a sneaker. And I thought, "Where is this coming from? This is, at the end of the day, a piece of footwear." But the terms they were using were evangelical. So I thought, if these people are expressing cult-like devotion, then why not study cults? Why not study the original? Find out why people join cults and apply that knowledge to brands.

FALUN GONG MEMBER: I'm loyal to this practice because it's done so much for me.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: If Atkin could find what pushed a person from mere fan to devoted disciple, perhaps he could market that knowledge.

WRESTLING FAN: Most of the people I discuss the WWF with know that it's not a sport, you know, it's a masculine ballet.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: So he compared dozens of groups he considered cults with so called "cult brands," from Hare Krishna to Harley Davidson–

VW BEETLE OWNER: If you're smart and kind of individual, that's what you drive.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: –from Falun Gong to Mac.

MACINTOSH USER: I think there's something about Mac users. Like, they get it.

DEADHEAD: We just had discovered something.

LINUX USER: They realized there are other people like them, and they cooperate on certain projects, and it's part of belonging to the tribe.

DOUGLAS ATKIN: And the conclusion was this, is that people, whether they're joining a cult or joining a brand, do so for exactly the same reasons. They need to belong, and they want to make meaning. We need to figure out what the world is all about, and we need the company of others. It's simply that.

Saturn is a really good example. It's a mass cult brand. For example, 45,000 people turned up to spend their holiday vacation time at the factory in Tennessee instead of going to Disney World or the Grand Canyon. Now, why would they do that? It's because they wanted to meet other people who own Saturns. They wanted to meet the rest of the Saturn family. They wanted to meet the people who made the car. The people who made the car wanted to meet them. And the people who ran the Saturn business knew that.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: They not only knew it, they turned it into an ad, which only brought more people into the "Saturn family."

[television commercial] We called it the Saturn homecoming. They could see where the idea for a new kind of car company had taken shape, and we could thank them for believing we could do it.

DOUGLAS ATKIN: They created a great meaning system for Saturn in those fantastic commercials. Their meaning system was based on old-time values of community. It was a kind of an icon that America yearned for but couldn't find anymore.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: And that's the object of emotional branding: to fill the empty places where non-commercial institutions, like schools and churches, might once have done the job. Brands become more than just a mark of quality, they become an invitation to a longed-for lifestyle, a ready-made identity.

KEITH REINHARD, Chairman, DDB Worldwide: The campaign for iPod is remarkable. When I see the poster as I'm passing by, when I go on the Web site and it comes to life and I hear the music track going, and then when I put my little iPod ear-pods on and I see the white cords against my black jacket, I'm in that poster, and the poster is me! And then the music, my music, comes over my iPod, and it's a brand experience.

NAOMI KLEIN: When you listen to brand managers talk, you can get quite carried away in this idea that they actually are fulfilling these needs that we have for community and narrative and transcendence. But in the end, it is, you know, a laptop and a pair of running shoes. And they might be great, but they're not actually going to fulfill those needs, but which serves them very well because, of course, that means that you have to go shopping again.

Astounding/scary, isn't it?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Apologetics: Round 2

In last week's post, I revealed my discomfort and distaste for apologetics as commonly practiced in contemporary Christian culture. I've been thinking about it a little more so, here goes:

Last year, I went to the Youth Specialties conference in Nashville, TN. While there I attended a seminar called "Apologetics for youth ministers" which was presented by Tony Campolo. (It could have been called "Why I wear socks" by Tony Campolo and I still would have gone b/c I enjoy listening to him so much). Anyway... in this seminar Campolo proposed that while once the debate was between Faith/Christianity and the Physical Sciences, this no longer seems to be the case. The physical sciences are, in many ways, deconstructing themselves (as is evidenced by the unpredictability of things at the molecular level). Additionally, the attitude of culture towards the physical sciences has changed. Science is no longer viewed as infallible. Instead, Campolo suggests that the engagement is between faith and the Social Sciences. I think this is an intriguing idea. If it's true, a) We are pouring our energy into answering questions that no one is asking/cares about...and b) This changes even the nature of how we approach the field of apologetics.
Also, as I was reading "Theological Turning Points" by McKim for my Historical Theology class this past week, I ran across this:
"Those who took seriously the task of trying to communicate with the Greek-speaking world in the late second century were called the apologists. These writers sought to vindicate Christianity and extend its influence by establishing a point of contact between Christians and philosophers. Their goal was to show that the Christian faith was a form of wisdom but greatly superior to the speculations of Greek philosophy".
It occurs to me that historically speaking, the "emerging church" may be the ones who are truly engaging in the apologetics of our time.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Why I hate Apologetics

I've always had sort of a general distaste for apologetics, though I've never quite been able to put my finger on why I felt this way. Oddly enough, the answer came to me while I was reading the writings of the Early Church (Ante-Nicene) Fathers for my Historical Theology class. First, a note of clarification: I'm referring here to the style of apologetics that seeks to "prove" our faith by means of modern science. With that being said, I'll explain...

As I have done the reading for my Historical Theology class, I have found the writings of Origen and Irenaeus to be fascinating. While I disagree with much of what I read in Origen, I'm sympathetic to his perspectives. I think that generally his approach was culturally appropriate given his context. I find much more I agree with and some that's way over my head in Irenaeus. These guys were brilliant! So imagine my surprise when I stumble across the passage where Origen tries to bolster his arguments by explaining how the planets and stars must be sentient beings with souls because they move around so much. I also had to do a doubletake when Irenaeus tries to make an argument that there have to be only 4 Gospels because there are 4 winds and the earth is divided into 4 sections. Now understand, I'm pretty sure they were engaging the most current science of their day. Even so, it looks ridiculous to us. They built theological arguments for largely valid points based on faulty science. I don't think the scientists are running out of discoveries. I don't think even they think that they have it all figured out yet. I don't think it's the case that it's impossible to use modern science to bolster our arguments and support our case/faith. I just think its a bad idea. Its not that we can't. It's that I'm not so sure we should. Modern Christians have fallen into the trap of trying to prove to the scientists and secularists that we are smart. I wonder if we should devote more of our energy into making sure that we are being wise.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Don't you just hate it when your eschatology turns out to be Calvinistic?

So, I was reading Theological Turning Points: Major Issues in Christian Thought by Donald McKim for my Historical Theology class and I unearthed a deep, dark secret about myself. As I was reading through the chapter on Eschatology, I was struck by how similar my view was to (at least McKim's description of ) John Calvin's. You may be wondering "What's the big deal?" I have to be honest here. I really have a problem with most of the theology that I've heard that claims to be Reformed/Calvinist. Their perspective on predestination, total depravity, God's "control" of the universe, etc. really bother me and, in my opinion, distort the story and intention of scripture. There are , however, a couple of notable exceptions to this, i.e. their doctrine of Creation, and (apparently) their eschatology. Additionally, I have found the proponents of this perspective to generally be mean and un-Christ-like in their attacks on all other perspectives (I continue to assert that character a powerful apologetic). There are also notable exceptions to this, such as the brilliant and Christlike theologian Michael Wittmer. Additionally, I understand that there seems to be quite some difference in the contemporary views of Calvinists and Calvin, himself. I will however state, for the record, that Calvin seems to be "on it" in the area of eschatology. I will follow him as he follows Christ.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Tertullian And The Seeds Of The Ugly Side of Christianity

I've been reading Tertullian this week for a Graduate class I'm taking at Lipscomb. I don't usually post this kind of thing, but I thought I'd share my reflection this weeks reading with you, because I was a bit surprised at what I found and how it affected me.

In true postmodern fashion, I’ll tell you equally how I felt about the reading as well as describing what I learned from it ;) . I honestly had the toughest time getting through Tertullian’s writings. It wasn’t because it was difficult, it was because it struck a nerve. There was a noticeable difference in the character of Tertullian’s work (and to a lesser degree in Cyprian’s) as compared to the other authors I’ve read so far in this course. Even when I disagreed with other authors, I was generally surprised to find points of commonality and empathy with them. In contrast, with Tertullian, even when I agreed with him, I didn’t want to because of the character of his work. I admit, as this would seem to imply, that I’m probably not being fair to him. I guess maybe it strikes close to home. In it I see the seeds of an ugliness that has often reared it’s head in our movement and in the wider Christian world (much to our detriment). Tertullian approaches everything as a legal argument. In his “Prescription Against the Heretics”, he approaches heresy as a fever that must be cured with the proper treatment, and (probably to a greater degree) prevented from spreading through the whole body. Thus, Tertullian’s approach is aggressive. He seems to see no point in understanding “the heretics”. They must simply be stopped and countered. He attacks the very idea of questioning (his understanding of) the current establishment and understandings. He goes so far as to make the argument that “Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened” is a one time arrangement and after one has done so, there is no more need to ask, seek or knock. He sees philosophy as one of the main causes of heresy, (which in a sense can be true), but seems thoroughly unaware of his own Platonic leanings. As a matter of fact, that’s part of what bothers me. He seems completely unaware that he has any presuppositions whatsoever. I would further contend that the legal lens he uses to interpret Scripture often distorts it almost beyond recognition to the point that he even describes the Lord’s Prayer as a sort of legal document. Indeed, Christ seems almost unnecessary in his construct, though what one believes ABOUT Christ seems crucial. It is interesting to note, that while Penal Substitiutionary Atonement would seem to fit very well in Tertullian’s framework, he never explicitly or implicitly refers to it (though again, you can see the seeds of it.) I just find it interesting that he has every opportunity to do so, but doesn’t. I also found it interesting that Tertullian eventually joined the sect of the Montantists and later even broke with them to form his own sect. This seems to be the natural outcome of his framework and approach. He eventually becomes a heretic of sorts by rejecting the orthodoxy he once defended and protected.