In my opinion: The Impact of Mass Media

25 Mar

Spirituality shelves in bookstores are expanding.  Rap tunes, movies and videos express spiritual themes.  The success of one spurs imitators trying to cash in.  The American TV show: “Touched By An Angel” is a hit, not only in the States, but around the world.  The Oprah Winfrey Show has gone spiritual, if not religious.  Church members exhibit pyramiding interest in historic spiritual disciplines.  The face of religion in the world is undergoing momentous change.  “It’s about liberation” says Carl Holmberg, professor of Popular Culture at Ohio State University. “Traditional religion is considered controlling, telling people what to do.  Spirituality liberates, offering ways to achieve transcendence, ecstasy, a sense of the magical self.”   Holmberg says popular culture encourages: “a religionless religion, where divisions of dogmas or the trappings of organized religions take a back seat to the celebration of life.”

“Our culture in America, is very spiritual, but it’s all incredibly vague,”  adds Terry Mattingly, associate professor of Communication at a university in Virginia. “What’s happening in religion is a: “refined Christianity”,  a liberalized, universalistic, pantheistic version of Christianity.  God is: “all”, rather than “other” (transcendent).  All faiths are considered essentially the same.  Christianity is an option, one of many roads.  All roads to Heaven are right, and anyone who says otherwise is wrong” .

“Spirituality is coming back as a flood, but it is plain-wrapped, generic spirituality,” says Dallas Willard, professor of Philosphy at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and author of three best-selling books on Christian Spirituality.  “It refers more to a dimension of the human spirit rather than anything to do with God.”  This is most clear in Oprah Winfrey’s talk show, he says.  It’s segment called: “Remembering Your Spirit”never mentions the Holy Spirit.  People have a hunger “to experience the ecstacy and transcendence that liberation brings, not read about it,” Holmberg says.  “They want something they can take into their hands rather than have a priest or minister do it for them.”

“In the Secular Press, “spirituality” is often used synonymously with self-help, self-potential or self-fulfillment”, says Cynthia Jurrison, associate professor of American Church History at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.  Freedom of statement has always been characterized, in particular, American culture.  This is manifested in the religious attitudes of the Generation X-ers, who reject authority in favor of the idea that what is true is what you believe.  You make your own reality.  People in many quarters of the religious world have adopted this attitude.  In practice if not also in belief, they reject God in any traditional sense.  The main statement this prevailing spiritual attitude is found in mass media, where any structured answer to the issues of life is rejected.

Oprah is one of the most popular, powerful and influential people in getting ideas into middle America, and other countries worldwide, where her program is broadcasted.  Many Churches oppose “Oprah Christianity”, but their members run off to the stores and buy into it.  Popular culture is both antagonistic and indifferent to Christianity.  Many repudiate Christianity because they see it as hypocritical.  At the same time, popular culture doesn’t want to be perceived as judging, especially something that has been around for over 2000 years.  Antagonism toward Christianity derives from the fact that Christianity has always expressed itself as exclusive.  When make-your-own religion enthusiasts face problems they can’t handle or their dark side gets the better of them, they’re terribly disappointed…pointing to the suicides of pop icons such as musician Kurt Corbain.

The prevalence of pop spirituality in the world culture suggests that people are searching for meaning and purpose.  But the superficial spirituality of pop culture can provide neither spiritual nourishment nor real comfort and counsel at life’s difficult moments.  Evangelical spirituality is firmly grounded in God’s Word.  It is not something earned or purchased, but it is the Gift of the Spirit that has already,  been given to each of us.  Pop spirituality is aboutcoping mechanisms and little more.  Evangelical spirituality is about hoping mechanisms, such as prayer, praise and Scripture reading that can help us discover the Grace of God, and the promise of New Life that can only be found in Christ.

Christian-Charles Milton de Plicque, Journalist
Angel House International Association
Karleby Finland
March 2000

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