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Posts from the ‘Culture’ Category

God Probably Isn’t Watching (But Occasionally it Would Be Useful if He Was)

“My parents always told me, ‘We might not see everything you do but God does.’” This statement made an appearance during a recent conversation with an older friend about whether or not God as “judge” is something that Christians ought to celebrate, fear, or loathe. I’m not sure what your reaction to this particular parenting strategy is. Perhaps you think it is yet another diseased expression of what is by now a mercifully outmoded attempt at social control—the equivalent of God as a kind of gleefully punitive cosmic Santa Claus, who knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness’ (or bribery’s) sake. Maybe you think this is the kind of thing we need to get back to—“Kids these days gotta be whipped into moral shape somehow!” Read more

Unoriginal Sin

As far as sins go, a rich older dude using his power and influence to sexually prey upon young women is about as unoriginal as they come. As long as men and power imbalances and women have been in existence (which is to say, forever), the former have been indecently and inexcusably forcing themselves upon the latter. As depressing as the story of film executive Harvey Weinstein is, it is also about as predictable as they come.  Read more

Homo Reacticus

A few months ago, Macleans ran a piece that sent shivers of terror and guilt down the spines of parents of teenagers everywhere. It was called, “How the smartphone affected an entire generation of kids” and addressed the overwhelming connection between depression and mental health issues and the rise of the smartphone. Kids born in 1995 or later (iGens) are the first generation to grow up with (on?) smartphones and, according to Jean Twenge, professor or psychology at San Diego State University, this is having a devastating effect upon their mental health. Read more

Talk to Me, Talk for Me

Over the last few years, I have found it interesting to observe where we turn in times of crisis. Increasingly, it seems that the answer is, “talk show hosts.” Every mass shooting, every natural disaster, every crisis now seems to be followed by a rather predictable ritual. In the hours immediately after the event in question we scurry online and busy ourselves with changing our profile pictures and hash tagging and wearing out the phrase “thoughts and prayers.” Later that night or, perhaps, the next night, we all tune in to the talk show hosts (and then share clips of whate they said the next day). Yesterday, CBC ran a story devoted entirely to what the talk show hosts were saying about the mass shooting in Las Vegas, complete with video clips of each one. They “decried it,” evidently. Whew. Read more

Selling Sex

So, Hugh Hefner is dead. I don’t expect to see the breathless eulogizing that often accompanies the deaths of other famous people—I suppose we still retain just enough prudery (or at least good taste) to feel at least slightly awkward about praising the man who brought the world Playboy magazine. At least some of us might. I don’t know. More likely is a kind of chuckle, chuckle, wink, nudge frat boy mentality that thinks, “Not bad, the guy entered his tenth decade still surrounded by his young airbrushed bunnies, still living the dream of unrestrained lust and easy sex, still selling human bodies for greedy profit, still building and maintaining his palatial empire of desire right to the end. Atta boy, Hugh!” Or something like that.  Read more

we teeter on the edges of dark

I returned to work from holidays today to find two artifacts in my church mailbox: pair of socks and a book. Church mailboxes can yield the strangest discoveries. I was perplexed by the socks (my kids probably left them somewhere?) and delighted by the book. It was a book of poetry and woodcut prints entitled “Prophet, Priest, and King” and collaboratively produced by Chris Stoffel Overvoorde, an American artist, and Martin Oordt, a poet who taught for years at our local university before passing away in 2011. The book is a series of visual and poetic explorations and snapshots of Old Testament characters who anticipated, imperfectly, haltingly, partially, the final prophet, priest and king, Jesus Christ. Read more

You Would Think That, Wouldn’t You?

I ran into an old acquaintance in the grocery store last night. We hadn’t seen each other in almost twenty years when we were students at the same college. He had flown in from out of province to visit his ailing father. Our talk followed the well-worn grooves that these conversations tend to slide into: what do you do, tell me about your kids, what about church, college seems like a long time ago, I guess we’re getting old, smile, wink, sigh. Read more

This is How We Make Our Way

All across the nation today, there will be ceremonies commemorating National Aboriginal Day (or what will soon be National Indigenous People’s Day, according to Justin Trudeau). There will be dancing and singing and regalia and official speeches by important people in city centers from sea to sea to sea. There will be earnest expressions of regret for Canada’s historical treatment of indigenous people and celebrations of how ancient cultures and languages are being reclaimed. There will be talk of honouring diversity and respecting treaties. There will be solemn pledges to do better going forward.  Read more

Binding and Blinding

Back in February, I remarked that Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind should be required reading for anyone who spends time on social media, particularly those who like to go to war over ideas. I said that this is a book for our cultural moment if ever there was one. These were not throwaway comments or exercises in hyperbole. I meant it then, after reading half of the book, and I am even more convinced of it now, after finishing it. If you are prone to heroically wading into the ideological trenches armed with unshakeable convictions about your rightness and your enemies’ wrongness, if you are convinced that your political/religious/ideological team is the rightest of the right and that your mission in life is to educate your unenlightened neighbours, you really must read this book. Go to your library, go to Amazon, go to your favourite local bookstore—heck, even drop by my office and I’ll lend you my copy. Just read this book. You might have to sacrifice a few hours otherwise spent on Facebook or Twitter, but perhaps after reading Haidt’s book you’ll be persuaded that the trade was a good one.  Read more

You Only Believe in Science!

There’s a well known scene in the 2006 cult classic Nacho Libre where Nacho, a hapless monk who aspires to be a Luchador, and Esqueleto, his emaciated unbaptized sidekick, are in conflict about life and religion and fame and fortune and why they’re so terrible in the wrestling ring. At one point, Nacho blurts out, “I’m not listening to you—you only believe in science. That’s probably why we never win!” The scene is funny because the characters are hilarious (it’s especially amusing to watch Nacho’s attempts to “baptize” his unsuspecting partner in the changing room before one of their matches). It’s also funny because I think many of us have a sense that even in popular discourse, science and religion debates often fail to attain much loftier heights of nuance and sophistication than the banter between Nacho and Esqueleto. “Science” and “religion” function like two bumbling Luchadors theatrically slugging it out in the ring before mostly ignorant throngs interested in little more than baying for blood. They are competitors for the same territory in our hearts and minds. One must win and one must lose. Read more

Wednesday Miscellany

For the past few days, I’ve been mulling over a recent short piece by Richard Beck. In it, he observes a paradox that runs through many strains of “progressive” theology (a term I despise, incidentally, but I’ve covered that ground before). Beck states this paradox succinctly:  Read more

We Do Not Tell Stories as They Are…

We do not tell stories as they are; we tell stories as we are… We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.

I don’t know the original source of this quote, but I came across it in Irish poet/theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama’s In the Shelter a few weeks ago and I’ve been chewing on it ever since. On the face of it, these words could be taken as expressing little more than the tired refrain of postmodernism. We don’t have access to anything like “objective truth,” only to ourselves and our own inner states. The stories we tell are little more than the laborious outworkings of our own biographies. There cannot and could never be a genuinely true story, only stories that are true for me, true for you, true for whoever. Which is of course another way of saying that there are no true stories.  Read more

I’m Not Spiritual But Not Religious (But I Can See it From Here)

I am usually quite suspicious of oft-repeated expression, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Actually, “suspicious” might be putting it rather mildly. I have something bordering on a pathological loathing of this phrase. It’s possible that I have even visibly shuddered in disgust in the various contexts where this expression makes its predictable appearance. I usually encounter it in people who either refuse to consider church in the first place or who have left it behind for the usual assemblage of real or imagined grievances. Or people who can’t be bothered to think very hard about what they might believe or why but like the idea of seeming a bit deeper than they in fact are. Or people who imagine that they have grasped the deeper truth that all religions are inadequately and intolerantly pointing toward. Or people who like yoga. Or people who think that all religions are neat and cool and inspiring except for when they say things that don’t confirm what they already think. Or when they infringe upon personal liberties and preferences… or sleep habits… or weekend plans or… well, when they infringe upon anything, really. “I’m spiritual but not religious” very often seems to me to be among the more vacuous statements that a human could utter.

Oh dear. I did say that “suspicious” was putting it mildly, didn’t I? Read more

The Single Story

In 2009, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie delivered her famous TED talk entitled, “The Danger of a Single Story” which discussed the problematic nature of reducing human beings and cultures to a single narrative. She talked about negotiating her own African identity in cultural contexts that often only countenanced a single narrative of what it meant to be “African.” For so many, Africans were poor and they were victims (of corruption or famine or war or some other combination of circumstances). This was just what it meant to be African. There was no room for anything else in the story. No room for an African who wasn’t poor or a victim or in need of Western aid. No room for her. Read more

Fact Check

This morning I was half-listening to CBC radio interview with a Colorado journalist who was suing a local politician for describing a piece he had written as “fake news.” At least that’s what I think he was doing. As I said, I was only half-listening. But there was a lot of discussion about truth and power and the stifling of dissent and questions like how do we even know what’s real or true or reliable anymore when people like Donald Trump can just pole-vault over traditional media sources (which are, of course, all corrupt and biased against him) and present his own version of the story via Twitter bursts which are then gratefully seized upon by his adoring followers? Poor truth doesn’t stand much of a chance in conditions like these. Read more

What We’re Trying to Say

The shooting at a Quebec City mosque that killed six people has been on many of our minds over the last few days. There has been the predictable outpouring of support and outrage on social media. There have been vigils and prayers and marches organized in response. There have been expressions of love and care for our Muslim neighbours taking place far away from the bleating headlines. All in all, it’s a narrative that our world is growing regrettably familiar with in light of all the religious and ethnically fuelled violence that has unfolded over the last few years. Read more

The Church: What Do We See?

When her father died she had immediately stopped going to church. If prayer could not even keep your family alive, she did not see what good it was. But after she and Hank moved to Houston, she had started going again. You were marked if you didn’t. She did not really think about whether she believed, though in the past decade her faith had come back, and they said that was all that mattered. Being old, you had no real choice—salvation or eternal nothingness—and it was no wonder who you saw in church, it was not young people with hangovers and their entire lives ahead of them.

— Philip Meyer, The Son

——

The last sentence of the quote above confirms what many observe and comment upon when it comes to church demographics these days. Churches are full of old people. Old people who still come either because they have been so thoroughly socialized into church attendance that they can’t imagine not showing up, or who are at a stage in their lives where they have nothing left to do but cling to the consolations of religion. Like all stereotypes, it is crude and rigid and doesn’t even remotely tell the whole story, but I suspect that there are few among us who wouldn’t at least nod in recognition of these sentiments and the general trends that animate them. Read more

Marking Identity

A bit of controversy around the celebrated author Joseph Boyden has been dominating headlines up here in Canada over the last little while. Boyden, whose books include Through Black Spruce, Three Day Road, and the Orenda, has become something of an indigenous celebrity in recent years. His novels draw from indigenous history (The Orenda, for example, was based on the interactions between the Iroquois and the French Jesuits in the seventeenth century). He has also been an enthusiastic advocate for indigenous self-determination, even serving last year as a honourary witness at the closing event of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Read more