American Christians are flocking to the movie theaters to watch the latest in Christian pop culture. This year, three overtly Christian films flashed across our movie screens: Son of God, God is not dead, and the upcoming film Heaven is for real. They exhaust contemporary American Christian metanarratives, i.e. penal substitution, God is our friend, the desire for an afterlife over the present one. Moreover, these films are apologetic tools for Christians to witness to their family and friends. But some questions come to mind: Are the producers of these films, knowing that Christian subculture is plentiful in the US, motivated by money (manna) or the gospel? Are they using capitalism to subvert it for God’s kin-dom or merely perpetuating capitalism to keep the subculture afloat to eventually make more money later?
I assume the producers, directors, and all those in the films really just want the money. Sure, if it has a positive message, that’s good too; but it is really about the bottom line. Here we could use Nietzsche’s parable of the madman to help us understand how American Christianity is more of a marketplace, than a religion. Nietzsche famously pens, “God is dead.” Sadly, too often, this line is taken out of context and quoted on church signs saying things like “”God is dead” – Nietzsche” then underneath reading “Nietzsche is dead” – God.” Kinda funny, but not entirely true.
In Nietzsche’s parable, the madman runs into the market-place in the early morning. He carries only a lantern to light his path. He cries out that he is looking for God. The people, who have no regard for God, ask him mockingly, whether God is taking a vacation or maybe in the bathroom. The madman eventually declares in a long speech that God is dead and that we are God’s murderers. Once the speech ended, the madman throws his lantern on the ground, and declares,
“I have come too early, my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.”
The madman’s words resound truer today than ever: what should shock us is not the phrase “God is dead,” but that we are the ones responsible.
We drag out God at gunpoint to the middle of the woods with our Christian subculture that speaks to fashion more than any kind of reflective theology.
We murder God when communities are built on trigger points rather than grace.
We put a nail in God’s coffin every time we financially support a subculture than actually caring for those in our community.
We are God’s coffin bearers and spit on God’s grave when we forsake our call to love without distinction to only find strength in our ideology.
Thankfully, we have a chance to abandon the giant sinking ship of subculture and ideology for something more authentic–where we can get our hands dirty, understand the world as chaotic, yet beautiful, and ride in small boats, really toughing out the waves. Christianity, or for that matter any religion, should not be simple. Faith should not be only one prayer, or a ten-step program, or a sermon series that solves it all; it’s about the journey with the Divine and one another. We need to take responsibility for who we are in our neighborhoods and our family. Let’s not bury God with our pitiful ideologies, but participate in a life imagined by God through our rituals, Sacred Texts and experiences together.