Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sum Of The Total...

Of course we don't expect popular entertainments to last. Fashion is arbitrary. There was no particular reason why hip-hop replaced disco or why the 1970s favoured earth tones while the 1990s featured violet and teal. We look in vain for some underlying social circumstance to explain why at a particular time and in a particular place popular culture takes the form it does: fashions change because they are fashions and so have nothing to recommend them but their relative novelty.

Fashion dominates the world of evangelical Christianity and its therapeutic penumbra. The Crystal Cathedral, that glitzy architectural marvel, has become a 1980s nostalgia item. Now Rick Warren is the anointed leader of America's "People of Faith" and, for the time being, Orange county crowds are flocking to Saddleback's dull preaching halls.

But there is nothing new under the sun. Saddleback and the Crystal Cathedral, Willow Creek and all the other evangelical megachurches that have had their time in the sun sell the same product: mind-power through talk-magic, which in secular packaging is just what all the innumerable therapies and self-help programmes on the market promise.

In the US, where school psychologists are almost as common as school nurses, we are obsessed with talk therapies because they are in fact ecumenical and secularised versions of evangelical Christianity, our old time religion. Twelve-step programmes, beginning with Alcoholics Anonymous, appropriated the conversion scenario of revivalism, eliminating references to Jesus in favour of appeals to a generic "higher power". Later self-help programmes and therapies dispensed with supernatural intermediaries altogether. Learning the right tricks and gimmicks, thinking the right thoughts and acquiring the proper attitudes would directly, by a law of nature, make good things happen for you.

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So if you wonder why Americans are, anomalously, religious it is because we have evacuated religion of all content. There are of course theological doctrines on the books, which church members tick off, in the way that they agree to accept screenfuls of conditions for installing new software. But most have no serious interest in these theoretical matters. Whether signing on for a new therapy or self-help programme, trying out a new diet or a new church, they are looking for a bag of tricks, a collection of gimmicks and recipes that will get them the material prosperity, perfect health, beautiful bodies, ideal relationships and complete happiness to which they believe they are entitled.

-full article here


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