Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture
Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team
It is no secret that Christians have a subculture all of their own. It is an expansive subculture that for some people can encompass almost every area of life. From music to television, movies to sports, Christians can enjoy all manner of entertainment, all of it “blessed” by one Christian organization or another. While the majority of non-Christians are generally unfamiliar with this subculture, I have come across some for whom it presents something of a fascination. They wonder how Christians could have created a subculture that is so huge and yet so unnoticed by the world around. Daniel Radosh, a writer who is a secular liberal, decided to venture into this subculture and to record his journey and his observations. It has recently been published in the form of Rapture Ready.
As he journeys ever-deeper into the Christian subculture, Radosh comes face-to-face with some of its most bizarre manifestations—Bibleman live events where a Christian superhero fights evil villains while quoting Scripture passages; Christian music festivals where bands are judged not by musical talent but by the number of times they pause to pray during a performance; Christian wrestlers who act out ridiculous and violent plots but who have drawn the line of violence at intentional bleeding; skateboarding and extreme sports events sponsored by Christian ministries. Kudos go to the author for the clever chapter titles relating to the theme of each of these chapters: “For their rock is not like our rock” is a chapter on Christian music and “Give me a man and let us fight each other” is a chapter detailing the world of Christian wrestling. All-in-all, the book offers a strange look at a very strange world.
It bears mention that while the Christian subculture is indeed a parallel subculture, it is one that is parallel to many Christians as well. Though I’ve been in a Christian context for my entire life, much of this culture is as foreign to me as it is to the author of this book. But what he finds amusing I find just plain embarrassing. For those of us who have never sat through a performance by Bibleman and who enter Christian bookstores only once in a blue moon, for those of us who would never dream of going to a Christian wrestling show or visiting a Christian theme park, this book represents a world we like to pretend does not exist.
While the book is an amusing read, I was not entirely convinced that it is a particularly valuable read. After all, it takes no great skill to analyze and critique a subculture through the lens of your own. And in this case, it didn’t seem like Radosh offered a whole lot more than that. Seldom did he find much to appreciate in anything but the Christians who were most like him. He found solidarity with the Christian singers who were willing to cuss and affirm homosexuality as a valid lifestyle. He enjoyed spending time with those who represent the very fringe of this subculture, but found little of value in the substance of the Christian faith. If the book has value, then, is as an outside perspective on the often bizarre and too often embarrassing Christian subculture.
Somewhat to my surprise, I quite agreed with most of Brian McLaren’s endorsement of this book, even if it may be just a little bit hyperbolic. “What happens when a secular liberal enters a conservative Christian subculture? Yes, he’s grossed out at times, appalled at least once, amused sometimes, and cussin’ mad at [other times]—and maybe even a little scared on occasion. But in the end, he offers evaluations and insights that might be considered downright prophetic, and compassionate too. No evangelical insider could have done as good a job as Daniel Radosh. He’s a witty, energetic, and insightful writer who grabs your attention and interest on page one and won’t let go until he’s escorted you to a powerful conclusion in the final paragraphs.” I did not find that conclusion so powerful, but I did still enjoy reading the book and would recommend it such that it is. Do note that there are a few occasions where the author uses profanity (and some pretty strong profanity, at that). Taken for what it is, this book is an enjoyable enough read and a bit of a wake up call as to just how weird the Christian subculture can be.