Saturday, March 08, 2008

Christianity, Gender Roles, and Wife Swapping

My post for Jason Clark's blog is now up, "Christianity, Gender Roles, and Wife Swapping."

It reflects upon a recent episode of Channel Four's "Wife Swap," connecting my interests in contemporary culture and the social construction of gender and gender roles. It also draws upon my research among lesbian Christians which explores the construction of selfhood in a religion which encourages selflessness.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Values of Metal?

I recently helped out a former Religious Studies student of mine by filling out a questionnaire about the values of metal music and I thought I’d post some thoughts about it here. Christian Goths have long been among my interests for future research, so it was a really interesting questionnaire for me.

For a bit of background, here’s some of the bands I listen to: Nine Inch Nails are my favourite, closely followed by Marilyn Manson, Rammstein, Tool and Korn. There’s also My Ruin, Disturbed, Apocalyptica, Within Temptation, Nightwish, and Lacuna Coil – the last four of which could be called rock opera or orchestral metal rather than industrial rock like MM. I also like Switchblade Symphony who are (a now-split) goth/electro pop group (NIN are also pretty poppy). Then there’s stuff like Lycia, Faith and the Muse, This Ascension, and Love Spirals Downwards, which are more like ethereal goth, and the Cocteau Twins, of course. The Mission and Siouxsie and the Banshees can’t be left out, and neither can a few others that harbour a love of eighties goth electro/pop, like London After Midnight and The Cruxshadows.

Anyway, here are my thoughts, distilled through the process of justifying my musical tastes to my partner – he is now at the point where he can have a great time at Marilyn Manson, NIN and Korn concerts! – and as articulated in a questionnaire about the values of metal.

In a nutshell, I think that the values of the music I listen to revolve around three things:

  • politics,
  • religion,
  • and sex.

Politically, RATM [Rage Against the Machine] are one of the most obvious band to mention in this respect. But I think that artists like Marilyn Manson, Trent Reznor [NIN] and Jonathon Davies [Korn] are particularly adept at tuning into a level of discontent with current social trends (capitalism and consumerism, for example) and current events (for example, the war in Iraq) and expressing this discontent creatively through music and lyrics.

When Marilyn Manson sings about fascism, he isn’t espousing that as an appropriate model for society; rather, he is trying to point to the fact that capitalism, liberal democracy, etc, is no more an appropriate model for society than fascism – it’s doing just as much damage to people as fascism does. These artists deconstruct the accepted meta-narratives of society, through which the status quo is justified and maintained, thereby trying to destabilise it through, among other things, word play, parody and anger.

A good example is the reaction I see in music to the position the UK and US took on the invasion of Afghanistan and the war in Iraq. It’s clear in Nine Inch Nails’ last album Year Zero, and even Muse are singing about it in their track Take a Bow! I don’t think that anyone can miss the anti-war sentiments in a lot of music today.

In terms of religion, the music I listen to does two things. Firstly, it critiques “traditional,” institutionalized, authoritarian, exclusivistic, patriarchal, homophobic Religion. This is most clearly seen in the kind of deconstructive lyrics I mentioned above, particularly in the music of NIN and MM, but another good example is Jonny Cash’s Personal Jesus which parodies televangelism and other aspects of American evangelical culture.

But, secondly, music enables spiritual experience and therefore constructs a much more positive (though definitely not institutional) religiosity that is probably more accurately called a spirituality. So, rather than having to contain any overt spiritual message in and of itself, metal is also a vehicle for me to have spiritual experiences.

And then, of course, there’s sex. Often, the lyrics themselves espouse particular approaches to sexuality – liberal, subversive, and explicit – for example, Nine Inch Nail’s Closer. However, other tracks are either less explicit in their lyrics or the music itself is sexual, with particular rhythms and bluesy chords which evoke the sexuality of metal’s musical roots. Also metal is often very poetic and mythological. Love and tragedy are a very common theme among lyricists – Marilyn Manson’s last album Eat Me, Drink Me is a good example of this!!!

In relation to these three things I think that metal deconstructs the normative value systems which uphold the status quo. Metal attempts to expose the power plays in contemporary society which privilege some of its elements whilst oppressing others. So its values are that of equalising power imbalances through espousing the values of marginalised groups.

I share many of these values, especially anti-war sentiments, socialist and anarchic political leanings, spiritual movements away from institutionalised religion towards what could be called an a/theism, and fluid sexual identity.

Some of my favourite lyrics, some rock, some not (‘xcuse the French):

“Well did you hear, there’s a natural order? Those most deserving will end up with the most? That the cream cannot help but always rise up to the top? Well I say, sh*t floats. Bluntly put, in the fewest of words, c*nts are still running the world,” Jarvis Cocker, Running the World.

“This is Evolution, the monkey, the man, then the gun,” Marilyn Manson, Cruci-Fiction in Space.

“I pushed a button and elected him to office, he pushed a button and dropped a bomb, you pushed a button and can watch it on the television, those m*th*rf*ck*rs didn’t last too long,” Nine Inch Nails, Capital G.

“I never really hated the one true God, but the god of the people I hated,” Marilyn Manson, Disposable Teens.

Lift up the receiver, I’ll make you believer, I will deliver, you know I’m a forgiver,” Johnny Cash, Personal Jesus.

“And it give us sight, and you’ll see the light, and it burns so bright, now we know we’re right. When his kingdom comes, and thy will be done, we’ve just begun, we’re the chosen ones. You cannot win, with the colour of your skin, you won’t be getting into the Promised Land. It’s just another case, you people still don’t know your place, step aside, out the way, wipe that look off your face, cause we are the divine separated from the swine, come on, sing along, everybody now, God-given,” Nine Inch Nails, God Given.

“Cast a spell, cast a spell on the country you run. And risk, you will risk, you will risk all their lives and their souls. Death, you bring death, and destruction to all that you touch. Yeah hex, feed the hex, feed the hex on the country you love. What we’ve become, is contrary to what we want. Now burn, you will burn, you will burn in hell, yeah you’ll burn in hell for your sins,” Muse, Take a Bow.

“Return to me, return to me, return to me, turn to me, leave me no one. Return to me, return to me, return to me, turn to me, case aside. Return to me, return to me, return to me, turn to me, leave me no one. Turn to me, return to me, return to me, you’ve made me turn away,” Disturbed, Prayer.

“I cross the oceans, I cross the seas, I cross the mountains, like a new disease. Take a look at the Earth from a plane, you’ll see the Earth cut up and in pain. I’m the scum of the Earth, I am a cancer, I am humanity,” Filter, Cancer.

“Some of those that work forces, are the same that burn crosses,” RATM, Killing in the Name of.

“San Quentin, may you rot and burn in hell. May your walls fall and may I live to tell. May all the world forget you ever stood. And may all the world regret you did no good,” Johnny Cash, San Quentin.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Off to Boston, baby, yeah!

I got confirmation yesterday that my paper, "A New Kind of Christian is a New Kind of Atheist: Truth and A/theistic Orthodoxy in the Emerging Church Milieu," got accepted for the Society of Continental Philosophy and Theology conference on Truth, Postmodernism and Religious Pluralism that I've been banging on about in other posts. Very exciting!

I'd booked all of my flights and hotels already because the theme of the conference is so similar to that of my thesis and it would have been a great opportunity to network - even if my paper hadn't been accepted. But it has, so now I need to go and read loads of stuff to prepare for the inevitable questions I'll get and to pray that the Arts and Humanities Research Council are nice enough to pay for my flights!

Here's my brief introduction to whet some appetites concerning "a/theistic orthodoxy":

Jacques Derrida writes that, ‘[w]e have to elaborate another truth of the true, another way of experiencing the truth.’ Jack Caputo’s translation of continental philosophy into a deconstructive theology, which he has recently articulated as a weak theology, begins this elaboration. However, his reworking of Augustine’s facere veritatem, doing or making the truth in one’s heart before witnesses, into making truth ‘come true’ lays him open to a charge of inconsistency in his deployment of the term “truth.” However, this paper argues that the slippage which occurs between Caputo’s conceptualisations of truth is a necessary feature of his theology of the event.

This paper is set in the context of ethnographic data from the UK Emerging Church Milieu, wherein participants are increasingly drawn to both continental philosophy and deconstructive theology. Their notions of truth exhibit the gamut of understandings discernable in Caputo’s work and elements within this milieu similarly seek to celebrate the slash of undecidability between theism and atheism. In conversation with Caputo, I argue for the linkage of this a/theism to an understanding of orthodoxy which arises from the UK Emerging Church Milieu. I argue, therefore, that an “a/theistic orthodoxy” is a practical expression of Caputo’s project of a weak theology as it relates to the concept of truth.

I'll post about "a/theistic orthodoxy" again in the run up to the conference, and address (as I do in the paper) the apparent contradiction in linking these two concepts: a/theism and orthodoxy.