Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mean Chrisianity

I've been doing my procrastination thing and sitting on a post on Brett McCracken's recent book, Hipster Christianity. However, I've been called from my dogmatic slumber (literally, here in class...) by a friend who brought to my attention a review of the book written by James K.A. Smith written for theotherjournal.com, to which I've appended a comment.

In brief, Smith wants McCracken to further differentiate his use of "hispter" to include two further categories: "poser" and "bohemian." The posers are those Christians who are, essentially, jealous of the bohemians, the latter are, in Smith's parlance, "educated evangelicals" who are less concerned with smoking and drinking than they are with collective salvation, social justice, and shopping at Goodwill for the right reasons. According to Smith,

"In contrast to the Christian bohemian commitment to a good life that reflects the shape of kingdom flourishing, McCracken’s concluding chapters read like a naive, slightly whiny appeal to protect Jesus-in-your-heart evangelical pieties—which, of course, can sit perfectly well with the systemic injustice that characterize “normal” American life...So “how can we go on living like we did before once we have become Christians? And how can we possibly live like everyone else in the world when something so radical and transformative has happened in our lives?” (212) Yes, Mr. McCracken, that is indeed the question. And that’s exactly why my Christian bohemian friends refuse to live like all of those American evangelicals who have just appended a domesticated Jesus to the status quo of the so-called American Dream."

Wonderful points from the professor, all with which I can agree and to which I can aspire. Unfortunately for his case, however, Smith continues:

"Whereas it turns out you’re just worried that young Christians might be (gasp!) smoking and drinking a bit too much and have not sufficiently considered injunctions about dress in 1 Peter 3. Well, yes, indeed: those do seem like quite pressing matters for Christian witness in our postsecular world. By all means, let’s get our personal pieties in line. For as McCracken sums it up, “the Christian hipster lifestyle has become far too accommodating and accepting of sin” (200)—and by this, he means a pretty standard litany of evangelical taboos (did I mention sex?). It’s funny: my Christian hipster friends think conservative evangelicals have also become too accommodating and accepting of sin, but they tend to have a different inventory in mind—things like the Christian endorsement of torture and wars of aggression, evangelical energies devoted to policies of fiscal selfishness, and lifestyles of persistent, banal greed."

I am constantly amazed and baffled as to why personal and communal holiness need to be seen as necessarily locked in mortal combat. Last time I checked, Micah 6:8 said to love justice AND walk humbly with your God. I would think that personal and communal holiness would simply be the other side of the coin from living lives of radical discipleship in the pursuit of social transformation and progressiveness. I always thought that was just part of being a witness and disciple of Christ. More on that another time.

What really disappointed me about Smith's response, however, was the mean-spiritedness of it, a spirit which refuses to seek out and hear even the most meager and ill-expressed kernel of truth in those he disdains. Any academic who reads McCracken's book would have an east time ripping it apart. But its not an academic book. For all of its generalizations and failed attempts, Hipster Christianity must have struck a nerve with many so-called hipsters who have devoted much of their characteristic cynicism and ire to hating it. In doing so, they prove that, despite many ill-conceived volleys, some of McCracken's arrows have hit close to the heart of his target.

The problem that many of us have with "hipster" Christianity is not their clothing, or their cultural engagement, or their causes; its their basic mean-ness. Too often, cloaked beneath a smooth veneer of concerned activism, bohemian artistry, and academic savy is the same, tired anti-evangelicalism and intellectual-elitism in which we already live and breathe as Christians today, both within and without the walls of the church. It's sad that a movement of such gifted, talented and craeteive individuals, like James KA Smith, would rather emulate the elitism and cynicism of the culture than the patience, kindness, and acceptance of the Savior who we all claim to serve. I hope the transformation of which the professor speaks will manifest itself soon, for the sake of the church, the culture, and the world. Otherwise, the latter might just keep on winning. As I say in my comment,

"I am as thankful as anyone that contemporary Christians have figured out what Dante, Chaucer, Blake, Dostoevsky, and artful Christians of all ages already knew, and didn't need Paste to tell them - that loving the beautiful and making good art are the truest acts of a poetic disciple of Christ. I don't think Smith's way of articulating his criticisms was good, true, or beautiful. Just as McCracken may potentially fall into his alleged role of poser, Smtih seems to be suffering from a similar struggle - the cool kid who doesn't want anyone crowding in on his scene, and who makes fun of those on the outside, rather than extending hospitality and welcome to the outcast. There is a lot of Christ-talk in Smith's article, but not much of the love of Christ."

1 comment:

  1. Hey Matthew, thanks for this. I think you are pretty much dead on here. You also make me want to read Hipster Christianity over break.