Thursday, July 24, 2014

For Christians, Must Art Always Serve A Purpose?

Over at Christ and Pop Culture, Jordan Monson wrote a short piece titled "Do Christians Have Poor Cultural Taste?"

Monson began the piece by describing a "beautiful and melancholy" film that he viewed with a couple Christian friends. Monson loved the film: "In a mere three hours it led me through the full spectrum of human emotion," he wrote. "I empathized—even lamented—for its fictional characters. But my sorrow was of the redemptive kind, and it convicted me to go forward and share the hope of Christ with those who search in vain."

But his friends were not so enthused. One didn't like its lack of transforming robots; another thought that it did not teach viewers the proper moral behaviors.

From there, Monson began to wonder why it was that his friends and many other (evangelical) Christians were unable to appreciate the movie like he was. He assigned three factors to this tendency: having poor taste, "misunderstanding the role secular art can play in our lives," and something about fast-food culture vs. art.

Monson brought in the big gun for his analysis: C.S. Lewis. Lewis, according to Monson, argued that to have good taste one must receive art ("temporarily suspend judgment")  instead of use art (where art is simply a means to advance one's agenda). Monson agreed, arguing that evangelicals must learn to receive art (in a discerning way, of course), even from "secular" sources. And he suggested that approaching art in this manner "should inspire us to grow into better Christians, parents, evangelists, laborers, and listeners."

Like Monson, I too have wondered why it is that evangelical Christians have a tendency to enjoy terrible movies, music, and books. But it's not just the enjoying part -- the movies, music, and books that are most popular among the broad American population I often find terrible, too. What makes many evangelicals different is the fact that they often really, really want others to enjoy the cultural good as well (this is why they do things like rent out theaters for Son of God). Many believe that by getting others to partake of the cultural good, others will be sanctified or made better in some way. And on the other side of the coin, many evangelicals believe that some movies/music/books (often deemed "secular") will make people spiritually worse in some way. Why is this?