The Christian culture today is a particularly strong phenomenon. We see Christian bookstores, music charts, t-shirts, major motion pictures, paintings, kitsch, TV stations, comic books, coffee shops. Almost anything produced in the world has a explicitly Christian counterpart (though I have yet to see Christian soft drinks. Perhaps a young entrepreneur can rectify this horrible lack?). But is Christianity better for it?
There is an inherent danger in having a Christian culture. This does not make it wrong, as there is an inherent danger in driving a car or saving someone’s life. But it demands that we take an intelligent approach to the whole thing and aim to limit the dangers, to mitigate the harm it can do not only to Christians but to the world as a whole.
The biggest harm of our explicitly Christian culture is that it tends to encourage or even demand that we raise bastions to separate ‘us’ from ‘them’. In high school, I remember that I had a very different opinion about anyone in my youth group who listened to music from the outside, be it U2 or Nine Inch Nails. They were all suspect.
Likewise, you knew the kid who wandered the halls in the ‘got Jesus’ shirt was part of the ingroup, specifically the group which professed Christianity via toeing the line on copyright infringement. But we were in this together, declaring our faith in ways that, its safe to say, converted more or less no one.
This is obviously not limited to high school campuses. Christians still flock to the Christian films, fill their houses with terrible Christian art, read bad books with the Christian label, dress frumpily, avert their eyes lest they look upon an exposed shoulder, drink the bad coffee from the ‘good’ coffee shop (though I have found some excellent coffee at Christian coffee shops, just not often), abhor comic books without angel protagonists, and put together lists so that we can convert the heathen from pagan music to Godly music without losing any of the beats.
Not only do we turn inward, blocking out the culture at large to partake in our ‘safe’ media (which often can do more harm than good; the child who is only exposed to ‘happy’ Christianity will have no foundation to endure the struggles and sufferings of adulthood), we also turn the outside world back. The young woman who approaches Christianity is likely to encounter this culture which may well be overwhelming. She is told not simply to go and sin no more, but to reject the entire culture she grew up in, to displace the foundation of music and art, books and movies, to embrace the ‘wholesome’ works coming out of Christianity.
Very often this wall sends the outsider away. It is too much to reject so much well made cultural products for the crappy stuff Christianity is so fond of producing these days. While there is good art in Christianity, so often bad art can sell with the Christian label attached. And so there rises another wall; an appreciation of beauty is foreign to Christianity.
There is really only one solution: we need to raze the bastions (I am shamelessly ripping off Hans Urs von Balthasar, though we’re not talking about quite the same areas). Christian culture needs to learn how to mingle with the broader culture. A few works have done this (popular Christian bands, some of the works of C.S. Lewis, good coffee shops) but they are straddling the wall which we in Christianity too often refuse to even acknowledge.
We are called to be a city on a hill, not a fortress. It is not our job to raise up barriers to God, but to tear them down. The challenges of Christianity are more than enough for most people, they need not be obligated to accept new and artificial walls. If we as Christians took it upon ourselves to make good art the walls would be meaningless, for men and women would flock to our music, to our books, to our movies, not because of an almost artificial label, but because beauty will save the world.