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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

Acquire The What?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Jeff Sharlet's "The Revealer" is one of the best things out there for people interested in the interaction of culture and religion. Sharlet has written for a handful of major publications, and is regularly featured on programs like "On The Media."

He has a piece in the upcoming edition of Rolling Stone about the BattleCry campaign, a series of rallies enlisting teenagers in a fundamentalist "army" to do battle against "secularism" in all of its forms. If you've seen the documentary Jesus Camp, then this will seem like little more than an adolescent version of the same thing. But there's more going on here. They're both playing on the easily-stoked guilt of young people, but BattleCry involves teenagers in consciously pledging themselves to a puritannical "anti-secular" lifestyle that any reader will recognize as impossible to sustain (which is why, as the abstinence people have discovered, having kids take pledges just doesn't work).

NPH is interested in the phenomenon because we get material at the church for this kind of stuff all the time, most commonly for what are called "Acquire The Fire" rallies. As far as youth ministry goes, these people are the most enterprising and aggressive marketers out there. Which is interesting, because one of the genuine virtues of the BattleCry rhetoric seems to be its attention on the influence on media, marketing, and electronic culture on kids. Sharlett says on this week's On The Media that Luce's media critique is essentially the same as the one he got in his "Godless . . . leftless . . . media history course in college."

Consider this quote from Sharlet's piece:

When you enlist in the military, there's a code of honor," Luce preaches, "same as being a follower of Christ." His Christian code requires a "wartime mentality": a "survival orientation" and a readiness to face "real enemies." The queers and communists, feminists and Muslims, to be sure, but also the entire American cultural apparatus of marketing and merchandising, the "techno-terrorists" of mass media, doing to the morality of a generation what Osama bin Laden did to the Twin Towers. "Just as the events of September 11th, 2001, permanently changed our perspective on the world," Luce writes, "so we ought to be awakened to the alarming influence of today's culture terrorists. They are wealthy, they are smart, and they are real."

Yet kids who attend these rallies (drawn, first of all, by a glossy church mailer or the lure of a big headliner band) pass by tables full of merchandise they can buy, from cd's to T-shirts to hoodies to baseball caps.

The tension at the heart of it seems to be that it wants to shout down every form of "modern" and "secular" culture, yet in order to do that it has to depend on very modern and very secular techniques of marketing and publicity. I mean, what's more modern than a massive rally? Ever since the early revivals in America, evangelical Christians have depended heavily on the spectacle of the rally to coerce conversion and commitment. It's thoroughly modern. Furthermore, it doesn't work.

Which is why NPH is not all that worried about Ron Luce and his campaign to enlist teenagers in a "Holy War." Teenagers are more resistant to this kind of garbage than hucksters like Luce can recognize.

Note: hear Sharlett's interview with Bob Garfield of On The Media here.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:49 AM

2 Comments:

Indeed, the "Acquire the Fire" rallies are the same organization as BattleCry, just in smaller venues.

Had a bit of a moral crisis not long ago when a church youth group wanted to use our church for overnight housing so their group could attend a nearby ATF rally. We considered telling them they were welcome to stay as long as they found something else to attend.

Anyway, nice to have you back, NPH.
commented by Anonymous Brian, 1:46 PM  
Once again...it is so much easier to pretend you are the persecuted than to realize how you may be persecuting others.

Brian...what if they attended opening day and cheered for the Red Sox? I smell a cult!!!
commented by Blogger Scott, 7:49 AM  

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