The Guardian described David Foster Wallace as ‘the most brilliant American writer of his generation.‘ Novelist, essayist and Professor of Literature at Pomona College, Claremont California he tragically committed suicide after struggles with depression in 2008.
He is most famous for a commencement speech given to graduation students at Kenyon College, Ohio in which, as you will see below, he describes the reality of idolatry in the lives of all of us and their devastating impact.
In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — the trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.
Recognise that as a reality in your own life? If you want to explore the dangers of idolatry then ‘Counterfeit Gods; When the Empty Promises of Love, Money, and Power Let You Down’ by Tim Keller and Idols by Julian Hardyman are both well worth a read.
Listen in to part 1 at around the 15 minute mark for a fascinating perspective on preaching.
Thomas Prosser has written in last week’s Guardian on the sinister under-belly of the Church – the Christian teen camp!
In his article Christian teen camps are wicked, innit he writes of how ‘Tens of thousands of British teens flock to such festivals and they have become an established fixture of the ecclesiastical calendar’
And what disturbs him is that ‘the Christian teen camp also aims to bring them to the Lord. This it does in industrial numbers according to the camps. Thousands are said to make decisions for Christ every year. Our prodigal island is slowly brought back to God as he transforms our teens’ lives one by one.’
So why is he so trubled? He give two reasons.
Firstly that ‘the evangelical tactics used at such camps are on occasions manipulative’
He describes how ‘Sermons at such camps often take the form of wild orations that aim to wear down the resistance of the audience to the message.’
‘After having their emotions softened, hypnotic music typically sounds out in subdued lighting as youngsters are urged to come to the front and give their lives to Christ.’
‘None of any of this is fair to teens: young people have a right to choose their religious beliefs without being subjected to strategies that emotionally exploit them.’
So his concern is the emotional exploitation of teenagers. Well even if it were true that there is some level of emotional exploitation at these week long events why single out Christianity as evil in this regard. What about the emotional exploitation of teenagers that takes place 52 weeks of the year on our TV screens and in the media? Don’t ‘young people have a right to choose’ there too?
Are we going to ban X-Factor or Britain’s got talent because it deludes teenagers in droves into thinking that they will one day be famous and that the dream of making it big will come true? Are we going to ban TV programmes such as Secret Diary of a Call Girl starring Billie Piper because it sells the myth that selling sex is a positive career choice?
Are we planning to ban under-18’s from going on Haj or fasting during Ramadan?
I don’t hear Prosser calling for the banning of Internet pornography that has caused immense damage to teenagers of both sexes. Natasha Walter wrote Living Dolls’ in 2010 in which she interviews Jim who describes his addiction to porn
‘I was about 14 and I would find them and wathc them when I was alone in the house. Constantly. I was unable to think of women except as potential pornography.’ Now an adult he comments that pornography ‘has destroyed my ability to have intimate relationships.’
She cites one recent study in Canada in which it was revealed that ‘90% of boys aged 13 and 14 and 70% of girls the same age had viewed pornography.’
We could take about under-age sex that has led to an alarming rise in STD’s amongst teenagers, binge-drinking, anorexia, and so on all of which are fuelled by images in the media. We could ban Hollyoaks and Bratz Dolls and lads mags and risqué pop videos, all of which exploit children and teenagers in unacceptable ways and all in the name of making money.
People choose to go on Christian teen-camps and it’s pretty obvious to children and parents alike what you’re going to get. If only the media offered the same choice, sadly not.
But it is Prosser’s second point that is truly alarming.
The real reason he dislikes these camps is that he is intolerant of Christianity. His problem with Christian camps is that they teach orthodox Christianity – shock, horror!
‘The second objection we should have to the Christian teen camp is that the youth lingo and guitar riffs conceal messages that could be damaging to young people.’
‘Could the real “wicked” in Christian teen camps actually be their effects on teens’ emotional wellbeing?’
So at the end of the day Prosser’s argument is essentially ‘I don’t like Christianity’ because of what it teaches and that’s about it. It’s striking that the only aspect of the Christian message he chooses to mention is that one day we will be judged for our actions, which is of course an aspect of Christianity. But that is not at the heart of these camps. The good news of Christianity is that at the heart of the universe is not the cruel indifference proposed by Dawkin’s atheism but a God of incredible love who has loved us in Christ. I wonder what Prosser makes of the sermon on the mount that so inspired Martin Luther King? I wonder whether he thinks it’s damaging to teenagers to hear of a God who because he loved and served us in the death of his son now sends us out into the world to love and serve our communities? Surely there is no more appropriate message for teenagers this summer!
Such articles are well worth reading to Christian teenagers in our churches. It’s good to discuss the strengths and obvious weaknesses of such journalism. The patronizing, condescending tone and the suggestion that the teaching of Christianity should be banned to under-18’s will create a few laughs as well as demonstrating the thinly veiled contempt for a life-changing and community-transforming message.
Like Richard Dawkins such journalism is a great asset to Christians the world over.
Great article from Martin Saunders in today’s Guardian on faith-based youth work
Toby Young in the Telegraph blogs on how Michael A. Nutter, the Mayor of Philadelphia is responding to rioting in his community. Makes for interesting reading a quite a contrast to our politicians.
Our politicians talk about puinshing criminal behaviour but seem unwilling or unable to face up to the issues in our communities that lie behind such blatant criminality. Is the issue that our politicians are afraid to lead on the heart issues facing our communities?
I am so grateful to God for the privilege of growing up in a stable environment and a loving home. I fear for our children who live with the consequences of broken homes and absentee fathers who feel no responsibility for the care, nurture and training of their children. The issue is not single-mothers who are doing all they can to raise their children but absent fathers who are not. God has given us the family for a purpose – our politicians need to do more to rebuild the fabric of society.
Last night we saw the collapse of law and order on the streets of many parts of London and Birmingham. As Christians how do we respond?
1. We pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:2) that they may know how to deal with the unpredictable and escalating violence and lawlessness. For all in government at the local and national level as they prepare for the coming nights ahead.
2. We are not surprised by the events of the last few nights (although we are saddened and shocked) because as Christians we recognise the doctrine of total depravity when we see it. The actions of last night are not an indicator of social deprivation but of total depravity the doctrine which Wayne Grudem in his systematic theology defines as follows;
‘because of the fall and our own wilful sinfulness all mankind are thoroughly corrupt and completely evil. We are restrained from living out our corruptness to its fulness by God’s common grace.’
When the restraining power of the conscience within and law and order without are removed people are capable of committing great evils.
3. We thank God for his restraining hand that has kept our nation from a break down of law and order on countless occasions in the past. When we live at peace we are getting better than our sins deserve. When our streets are safe we remember how good God is to us and we do not take his common grace for granted. We pray that God in his mercy will restore law and order.
4. We pray for churches in the communities affected that they may speak out against such acts of evil and be salt and light. We pray in particular for those who run youth groups and clubs that interact with youth caught up in the events of last night that they may lead them to true repentance and faith in Christ.
5. We thank God for the bravery of many Police officers who have risked their lives to protect our streets. We see the image of God in their selfless acts and in their restraint. We pray for many who are working extra hours and have had annual leave cancelled to defend us.
6. We pray for those who committed these acts. That the Spirit of Christ may convict them of their sin and lead them to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness.
7. We pray that justice will be done and seen to be done in the arrest of those responsible
Paul writes in Romans 13:2-3;
He who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves.
8. We pray for those who have lost their livelihood or their homes and possessions. That believers would be comforted and supported in their loss and that the church may act decisively to bring relief to those in their distress.
9. We pray for all Christians that they may have opportunity to speak of Christ, sensitively and wisely, in their places of work and communities today. That we may
10. For the longer term we pray for our cities and in particular the inner cities where disaffection and dissatisfaction with life leads to lawlessness, criminality, to violence and to gang culture. We pray that gospel men and women will plant churches and develop ministries to see these young men and women won for Christ.
11. We pray for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and the establishment of his kingdom; for the time when he will remove all wickedness and evil from our world and for his perfect and good rule to be established in our world.
Fascinating look at the density of world cities and global population. Seems like there’s plenty of room left!
A good article here by Gerald Gilbert writing in the Independent on bias at the BBC and its continual one-sided treatment of Christianity compared to other religions.
At the time when the BBC in preparing to make a drama about the controversy surrounding Monty Python’s Life of Brian he asks whether the BBC would ever make such a programme about other more serious debates surrounding religion and free speech.
Freedom of speech can be a much tougher call in the polarised 21st-century than it was in the fag-end of liberal Seventies Britain, and if BBC4 wanted to take a moment from our recent past to shed light on the present, then there are plenty of controversies of younger vintage available to them.
How about the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini against Salman Rushdie in 1989 over his novel The Satanic Verses, a death sentence that remains in place today, and that led to Rushdie spending almost a decade in hiding, as well as the violent attacks against various translators and publishers (including an arson attack at a cultural festival in Turkey that left 37 people dead)? Perhaps Sanjeev Bhaskar could play Rushdie.
Or how about a drama about the Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad, and the subsequent worldwide protests, or the play Behtzi, which sparked riots by Birmingham Sikhs in 2004. Or how about, for that matter, the remorseless attacks on journalists and academics in any way critical of Israel? Christians could well be forgiven for rolling their eyes in resignation at this point. The Church of England is a pretty soft target these days – albeit, to be fair, partly because of the very public wrong-headedness of Christians such as Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark over Life of Brian. To that extent, the Pythons can claim to have undermined the authority of the church. Nevertheless, and without saying that they shouldn’t show up Muggeridge and Stockwood for the holy fools that here they were, the question remains: would the BBC lampoon a pair of intolerant Iranian ayatollahs with quite the same insouciance? Would they make a drama out of a fatwa?
When the BBC decided it was time to broadcast another attack at the foundations of Christianity in the form of Bible’s buried secrets I wrote a letter to Mr Aaqil Ahmed the Commissioning Editor Religion and Head of Religion & Ethics at the BBC. My concern was not that Christianity should enjoy a protected or privileged status beyond contradiction but rather that Christianity should not be singled out for such critique when other religions, at their foundation, are free from critique. I received a reply from someone at BBC Audience Services which was far from satisfactory. Here is my second letter to Mr. Ahmed.
Dear Mr Ahmed
I am sorry that you were not able to reply personally to my letter sent regarding the concerns of many over the BBC’s ‘Bible’s Buried secrets’ broadcast on BBC2 earlier this year. Having now received a reply from a Mr Roberts of the BBC Audience Services it is important that I write again in light of the errors contained within his letter.
The programme ‘Bible’s Buried secrets’ was a deliberate attempt to challenge the credibility of the Christian holy book and sacred text. As the review in the Daily Telegraph highlighted;
The programme’s findings, said Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou, would “rock the foundation” of Christianity and Judaism. She must have been very keen to press home this point, because she used the phrase again and again, although, perhaps worried we were tiring of it, she did once switch to “undermine the basis”
Michael Deacon goes on;
If you hadn’t already guessed from its subtitle, “Did God Have a Wife?”, you could tell this programme was trying hard to shock the moment you heard the music its producers had chosen to play in the background.
I very much want to make clear that I believe that programmes that question the origins and basis of religious traditions have a place in public broadcasting. I am in no way seeking a privileged place for religious belief and am certainly not seeking to exempt Christianity from critique on the grounds of personal offence. That the series was frustrating in both the manner in which the claims were sensationalised and perhaps more importantly in the way the views of a few on the fringe of academia were singled out for such a high profile is something perhaps I simply have to accept. Sensationalist claims boost viewing figures after all.
My original complaint, as Mr Roberts summarises accurately, is ‘that you felt this programme was biased against Christianity, and feel there should be other similar programmes exploring other religious beliefs’.
Given that he clearly understands my concerns it is Mr Roberts’ defence of the BBC’s position that cause great concern and warrants the need for a second letter. As a public service broadcaster the BBC must not only value, but be seen to value equality and fairness in its broadcasting and Christians ask for nothing more and nothing less. All we seek is a level playing field when it comes to world religions. Mr Roberts offers little if no assurance that the BBC is seeking to provide this.
He makes three responses to my letter.
Firstly he writes, ‘The BBC delivers a range of content that reflects, celebrates and debates Christianity across TV and radio’. I’m sure it does and that is not at all at issue so let us move on.
Secondly, he argues ‘It’s simply not correct to say there are no programmes on Islam or that the BBC would not address issues about Islam’. Again this is not in dispute and not a matter I raise in my letter. That the BBC has made programmes critical of radical interpretations of the Quran is neither here nor there.
The key issue, and my chief complaint, does receive the briefest of answers in Mr Roberts’ third point and it is here that the bias at the BBC seems to surface again.
In response to my complaint ‘why does the BBC attack the foundations of Christianity in programmes that rubbish the Bible in a way that it would never do to Islam in programmes that question the very authenticity of the Qur’an’ his reply makes a strange defence.
He argues that Channel 4 have already made that programme! It’s strange because firstly it’s not true and secondly it’s strange because Channel 4 is not the BBC!
In my earlier correspondence I pointed out various academic studies that if given the same sensationalising treatment as the ‘Bible’s buried secrets’ received would also ‘rock the foundation’ of Islam. Mr Roberts’ seems to think that these studies were reflected in a Channel 4 programme which he says ‘question(s) the conventional reading of the authenticity of the Qur’an’.
As Commissioning Editor for Religion and Head of Multicultural Programming at Channel 4 when this programme was made no doubt you share my concerns that Mr Roberts should have made, no doubt mistakenly, misleading claims as to the nature and content of the programme.
The Channel 4 documentary, entitled The Quran and broadcast in July 2008, categorically does not do what your correspondent maintains it does. It emphatically does not address the issue of the authenticity of the Qur’an. As you know its concern was to focus on the issues surrounding the diverse interpretations of the book not the book itself. At no point did the programme criticise the Qur’an or mention any academic work that suggests the Qur’an is based on pre-Islamic texts. In other words, the programme at no point suggests in any way at all that the Qur’an might be merely a human book full of errors in the way that the BBC’s ‘Bible’s Buried Secrets’ does of the Bible.
So when Mr Roberts wrote in reply to my letter ‘This programme was only transmitted two years ago and no new academic work exists to warrant another film at present’ he is either ignorant of the Channel 4 programme or ignorant of the academic work or both.
The reality is, as I’m sure the forthcoming BBC series on the life of the prophet Mohammed will demonstrate, that Islam enjoys a privileged status at the BBC in being protected from criticism at its foundation. The BBC has never broadcast a programme questioning the behaviour of the prophet Mohammed nor critiquing the origins of the Qur’an. No such privilege is given to Christianity. In fact it’s quite the reverse. The corporation is quite ready to spend licence payers money on mocking and ridiculing Christianity, whether in light entertainment programmes such as Vicar of Dibley, and it’s indefensible airing of Jerry Springer the Opera or in sensationalist programmes undermining the credibility of the Bible but there is no level playing field and I suspect we all know why.
Should the BBC be free to mock Christianity? Yes. Should the BBC provoke our thinking and challenge our assumptions? In the name of education, absolutely. But should it single out Christianity for attack whilst protecting Islam? This is the big question and on this matter I look forward to receiving your answer.
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