There is current news of the prospects of explicitly “Christian” media. There is a long-standing dynamic in the media marketplace focused on the boundary between secular and “Christian” titles and products.
Many Christian artists have aspired to “cross over” between these domains, and there has been an understandably evangelistic aspiration to do so. The idea, seemingly, is to pull off a kind of legerdemain where an unsuspecting secular or general audience would stumble onto a Christian message without intending to do so.
A secondary impulse is presumably to provide “safe” programming for Christians at large in the common culture.
Whichever is the objective, this has existed within a larger, long-standing, claim that the secular media are somehow inimical to the Christian message. There is lots of literature on this, from the scholarly, to the popular. (For a good account in the scholarly literature, see Michael Lindsay’s ambitious book, which contains a chapter on the topic).
This conversation got new spark this week with two incidents. First, it was announced that the Motion Picture Academy had decided to rescind an award nomination for best original song. The rebuffed song is “Alone, Yet Not Alone,” composed for a film by the same name. The film is a feature effort by a group of film makers loosely identified with the ominous “Dominionist” branch of Protestantism, and features an anachronistic story line pointing to the triumph of white, Christian culture on the North American continent. An account of the controversy, and of the film, can be found here.
The Academy’s reasons for this action had to do with alleged influence over the nomination process. The original nomination was, indeed, a surprise, and there were lots of questions about how it had happened in the first place. Regardless, this action has unsurprisingly fueled a response on the right side of the religious culture wars. The narrative is the expected one, that “the media” are irredeemably hostile to Christianity.
This is a very complex issue, one that is not treatable in blog length, other than to point out that this conflict is actually inevitable. No individual religious perspective could hope to find its way, as a differentiated cultural object, into common circulation without being “marked” in some way. Otherwise, what is the point? And this “marking” will necessarily make it marginal. There is nothing that can be done about this, in spite of the position of some—including the “Dominionists”—that a particular religion should be at the center of culture and politics, a sort of “state religion” familiar from places like Iran.
Those concerned with the prospects of Christianity in public, mediated culture, though, can take heart from the other news of the week: Amazon’s decision to start its own Christian imprint “Waterfall Press.” Most major book publishers have long had Christian lines, and so this is kind of unremarkable.
It also does not address the larger issue, as these Christian imprints continue to operate with that marking on them, and thus function more as a haven for the Christian reading public (and Christians do read and buy books) than as an actual “leavening” of the culture—to paraphrase a common sentiment. What this imprint will offer will be a whole range of books from commentaries to self-help, to spirituality, to “Christian Fiction” (the most interesting of all—see Alone Yet Not Alone above).
But, in a discourse that often paints “the media” with a broad brush as the bete noire of the Christian world, this is an example of those media instead reaching out to that audience.
What hovers over this whole argument are two larger questions/issues. First, that all of this demonstrates how definitive, and in most ways uncontested, the role of the market is in valuing and organizing religion through its control of the religious marketplace. Second, that within that marketplace there are some fundamental affects on religion. In this case, that to enter the media marketplace, they must necessarily differentiate themselves, and find their “brands” in a horizontal marketplace of “supply,” and thus relativized and unable to make unique truth or values claims outside that framework.