Tuesday, January 30, 2007

U2 as Worship Music?

I can't believe it took me four months to hear about this...

There is a book of sermons incoporating U2 lyrics as the main teaching points. I assume many have to do with social justice, which is certainly something the church should discuss more.

But there's more. I'm as big a fan of U2 as anyone, but I'm not sure what I think about this. The Episcopal church has been using U2 songs as part of a special Communion service. Apparently, over 150 churches in seven countries have done the service. It's not that I challenge the religious conviction of U2, but rather wonder about the validity of using songs not expressly written for worship. It raises the question of aesthetic use and interpretation. Is it legitimate to re-interpret U2 songs in a much more sacred context? Can a song about a sugar-daddy ("Daddy's Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car") be re-directed toward God? Or what about "Beautiful Day?"

During concerts, including two that I attended, Bono has said "let's take it to church," setting a tone of worhip or at least meditation for the show. Several songs, including "40" and "Wake Up Dead Man," are meant to be taken as prayers, although "Wake Up" is almost a prayer without hope. Other songs have a distinctly religious component, but more as an exploration of spirituality rather than a decided, worshipful attitude.

Should worship be an expression of certainty, or can it express doubt? How much does authorial intent matter in worship? More than in general, or just the same? Certainly not less.

I am all for trying to make the church more culturally relevant, and it's hard for me to reject U2, because I think they are the best music group today that profoundly addresses Christian themes. But I still have a hard time with this. Maybe I have some liturgical reservations.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Books for Psych 200: Love and Attachment

Here are the books that are assigned for the class that I am TA-ing:

I could tell that students had been buying these books together from Amazon, because the customer info linked all of them together. I have read the first two already. It's interesting stuff. The first film we showed was A Man for All Seasons, which is the story of Thomas More's execution at the hand of Henry VIII, for More's refusal to acknowledge the validity of Henry's second marriage and his role as head of the Church of England. The film's connection seems to be a portrayal of someone irrationally attached to an idea (religion) at the expense of his life.

I hope I learn something about love and attachment from this class. Apparently, I need all the help I can get.

Evangelicals: American Fascists?

I was listening to NPR (89.3 for those in LA) this week and they were interviewing Chris Hedges, the author of a recent book, that draws comparisons between the situations in pre-Nazi Germany, pre-Mussolini Italy and the current US. The interviewer was listenly, very seriously, to Hedges' animated rhetoric, comparing Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and James Dobson to a) Nazis and b) Islamic terrorists. If these Evangelicals had their collective dastardly way, Hedges said, homosexuals and Muslims, in addition to anyone else who didn't agree with the most conservative agenda, would be jailed or thrown into concentration camps. It was all conducted very matter-0f-factly.

It struck me as strange that a credible news program would present such seemingly outlandish claims as plausible. Never did the interviewer challenge Hedges or even ask him to clarify his position. She ate it up.

I was so intrigued that I went to Border's and read most of the first chapter. Hedges was raised as the son of Presbyterian minister, and went to Harvard Divinity School. He obviously is familiar with the Bible and Christian doctrine. His main problems seem to be that he views God as a God of mystery, the Bible as a good, but ultimately contradictory book, moral absolutes as deadly, the hope of Heaven depressing in living an earthly Christian life, and conservative Evangelicals who differ from him as simplistic if not the demon spawn of our country. In reading this, I realized that this view of conservative Evangelicals is probably not that far from the mainstream, liberal view.

Some of Hedges' points seemed grounded. To be fair, he estimates only about 20-25% of Evangelicals as potentially fascist. He labels these "dominionists," who see America as "God's country," who take books like Left Behind literally, who believe in conversion of the unsaved at any cost, who believe in strong, masculine leadership, and who look to a utopian Heaven as fulfillment (and apparently don't care anymore about their earthly lives).

I suppose if all of these were added together, a culture of fascism could occur. But Hedges seems to assume several things that just don't seem to be the case. I am hardly one to endorse Robertson or Falwell, but even they don't seem fully capable of the kind of extremes of Nazi Germany. Morever, Hedges seems to form a correlation between belief in moral absolutes and other fascist characteristics (militarism, self-sacrifice, and etc.). This just seems false. Moral absolutes may be passe or cliche in today's Blue Like Jazz Christian culture, but they are no fascism. Moreover, God Himself, although He may be inscrutable and certainly mysterious at times, does deliver edicts that turn out to be moral absolutes. God's character is morally absolute. Viewing homosexuality or abortion as always wrong does not mean that abortion clinics should be bombed or that gays and lesbians should be punished with the death penalty. Apparently, evangelicals could do more to show their compassion to the wider culture.

This problem of underestimating God comes through too in Hedges' portrayal of Evangelical believers. He tells the story of one convert who was sexually abused early in life, before "finding Jesus." For her, life on earth has let her down, and she looks forward to life in Heaven as a chance to be perfected as a person. Hedges presents her as already having given up on her earthly life. To me, this underestimates God's power to really change and redeem people here on earth.

In any case, I look forward to checking this book out from the library and giving it a proper review. I also encourage you to read it, because it seems to reflect a political view of Evangelicals that is held throughout our country.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Employed Again...

So USC decided to give me a TA extension after all. Sort of. Due to the amount of students wanting to add the class, administration added a fifth TA to a GE Psych class called "Love and Attachment". I will be the fifth TA. Does anyone see the irony in this? Anyone?

The professor seems to hold to a sort of reductive evolutionary explanation for human behavior, including love and emotional attachment. This should be an interesting experience, although Scandalous Ethics might have been more fun.

I hope it all goes well, and I won't have to eat Ramen noodles all semester.