Christian Rock and Kiruv

Even academics must eventually return books to the library. I have had out for several years the following title and the library wants it back.

Andrew Beaujon , Body piercing saved my life: inside the phenomenon of Christian rock Da Capo Press (2006)
As a rock critic his goal was to review Christian rock, but as a non-fiction author he sought to explain the paradox or tension between the amoral world of rock and the Christian version of it.

From The Blurb

A look at some of the colorful figures who have transformed the Christian rock scene into a flourishing industry. A non-Christian, but a devoted fan of music and a senior contributing writer for Spin..Never condescending to his subjects, the author appears to hold a genuine curiosity as to what makes Christian rockers tick, and they in turn welcome his deliberately naive inquiries, making for a refreshingly unbiased view of a subject that many jaded journalists would find easy to mock.

Everyone in the world of Christian rock is connected to anti-religious rock more than the average person, yet the believers see themselves as more pure than those Christians who are religious but listen to ordinary music. What does it mean to situate one’s religion in the raunchiest part of culture? He describes a culture that is indebted to MTV and the internet, cheers for red meat, and has pop culture references to Hooters, Paris Hilton and reality TV. Preachers learn their sermon timing from stand –up comediennes like Eddie Murphy. How is this Christian?

The parallel to the Christian rock youth movements are the kiruv organizations that based culturally on videos, songs, pop-culture- offer trips to Great Adventure- offer classes in drumming and karate- and offer much of the same raunchiness. Torah study and mizvot are not the focus, rather personal states like commitment, belief, and acceptance of Torah as a reedom from doubt.

Andrew Beaujon in his interview finds that the preachers of rock declare: “We preach in an un-Christian place,” America is a non-religious country. The youth care about culture, music, TV and “we need to be conversant.” He finds an implicit dualism –“the world” is part for one’s religious life and one need to put the world aside. The world is sin and temptation. Second, there is the dualism in each person. People have a sinful nature, so we have to wean them away from it.
How much of kiruv reconnection to Judaism is weaning them away from the evil outside world? And how much is a support group knowing that people sin and need to group support of a shabbaton not to sin? What is the anthropology of outreach?

In addition, is it related to the mainstream? To be technical for a moment, Durkheim distinguishes between group and grid organization. In group organization, the religious moment is the separation from the non-religious world-the impure. Group identity is formed by excluding things. Grid organization is the hierarchal arrangement based on knowledge and observance. The religious goals for a grid arrangement are the aspirations of making oneself a scholar or scrupulous within one’s community. If people are lax within a grid community, then one needs for them to re-ascend the grid through Torah study and scrupulousness. Blaming the outside world would not work for a slid down the grid. In contrast, youth movement kiruv is about group identify and conveying a sense of difference from the outside? For Durkheim, group activities like discussing pop-culture or enthusiasm does not and cannot lead to grid strictness in observance.

Beaujon points out that personal testimonies are the secret currency of evangelicalism” Should we use hip-hop? Answer — Can and did it save anyone? One can use anything no matter how raunchy if you think it will lead to commitment. What are the criteria for integrating pop-culture into Kiruv? How do we know hip-hop is good to use? It works.
Christian rock preaches not to curse, but Beaujon notes that some of the successful preachers curse for shock value. The preacher shows he is cool by doing it. It somehow teaches that even though one has rejected pop culture, yet one is still part of it. Needless to say, mainstream preachers neither have to tell their congregants not to swear like a rapper, nor would they even violate it to be cool. Christian Rock is a religiosity situated in the simultaneous acceptance and rejection of pop-culture.

Beaujon deal with the case of second generation Evangelical kids. They say they have been saved and gained much through Christian rock even though they were already raised in a religious home and have done little tangible in the year to repent or change their ways. They don’t have more of any criteria of observance or attendance. Beaujon claims that since the second generation does not really want more demands for alteration of behavior, therefore those raised in religious homes have anger and resentment because they cannot get the euphoria and freedom from doubt. (They are lots of Jewish parallels here).

In the world of Christian rock, they preach abstinence by talking about sex often and decrying the immoral sex on TV. (Compare the endless Jewish sessions on negiah.) When it comes to statistics, those attracted to Evangelical chastity have the highest unwed mother rate (think Bristol Palin). The lowest rate are those studious types who prefer science fairs and are working to get into competitive programs. (On the Jewish side, getting someone turned onto serious learning (or math team) changes his life more than decrying secular values.)

Beaujon compares Christian Rock to jam bands. The attraction is not the artistry but the ability to tap into a sense of freedom and adventure. They have a sense of swagger, the fun of winging it, heartfelt muddled beliefs and the promise of self-guided education. Beaujon thinks that Americans try on identities and they need maps to navigate the muddledness of life. Christain music offers a chance to try on identities and boundaries.

Bono who is always speaking about his Christian faith is not the model. Beaujon points out, U2 are banned because of their “doubting” lyrics – and Bono’s criticism of grasping American tele-evangelists. Though they will play cover versions of their songs.

The mainstream Evangelical magazine Christianity Today published a review of the book in which the author wanted not to like Christian rock since it does not adhere to the mainstream straight world of the heartland church. They don’t want believers with spike wristbands. The magazine questions the very religiosity of the bands and these preachers. If you spend all your time in the music world, then you may be more non-Christian than you think. (Think of what a mainstream rabbi would say about a kiruv jam band.)

Show me an evangelical between the ages of 15 and 50, and I’ll show you an evangelical who can tell this story (or something much like it): I used to listen to secular music, then I discarded it all and listened only to Christian music. Then I realized I didn’t like much Christian music, so I slowly started listening to secular music again
It doesn’t take Beaujon long to note Christian rock’s tortured existence. Not only does the audience choose it as an oft-reluctant alternative to mainstream music, but many Christian musicians are themselves forever sorting out their own relationship to the non-Christian artists they esteem, the non-Christian listeners they covet, and the non-Christian labels with whom they’d like to sign.
At the Pedro show at Cornerstone, the central question—for Beaujon and the thousands of packed-in teenagers, if not for Bazan—is whether Bazan will flaunt the festival’s unwritten ban against curse words and include his lyrical f-bombs. He does, the audience squeals, and Beaujon marvels at how evangelical kids can love someone who has rejected their culture:
Which raises a question, one that Beaujon’s project and the entire Christian music industry begs: What makes music Christian? Is it the mission statement of the labels? The theological content of the lyrics? The faith of the musicians or producers? The faith of the listeners? The profit margins devoted to the poor? Surely none of the above, for all exist on a sliding scale….
Well—here’s a fool’s axiom: Both inside the parallel universe of Christian music and in every other universe, the only one who can make music Christian is Christ

Substitute the word Torah in the last sentence. Mission, outreach, faith, dedication, commitment are all second to Torah.

The book also opens up the question of the quality of religious culture. We tend not to have a frame of reference for judging religious art or thought. We accept kitch and don’t compare them to the broader world. In this Beaujon is indebted to the 1981 classic by Franky Schaffer, Addicted to Mediocrity: Contemporary Christians and the Art. In this work, Schaffer asked: we don’t hire builders, accountants, or doctors just because they are Christian, so why do we do this in art and thought? (No shortage of Jewish parallels.)

My interest here is how culture and relgion interact, specifically the rle of pop culture in Judaism. I am not overly interested in discussing kiruv.

Attn Wingnuts: This is not an attack on Kiruv. And there are many different organizations and changes over time, therefore I dont need your story globalized. I did not give Jewish specifics because my emphasis was on Beaujon.

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