I had only managed to read a few pages of my advance copy of Daniel Radosh's Rapture Ready!: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture before it turned out that my girlfriend, the lovely and talented Sara Mead, had snagged it for myself. Fair enough, I thought, she can have it, but only if she agrees to write a review for my blog! The nefarious plot worked:
I think Matt thought I'd gone a little crazy the day I started reading Daniel Radosh's new book Rapture Ready, because I kept breaking into hysterical laughter every couple minutes. As someone who grew up on the border between mainline and evangelical protestantism, I recognized a lot of the more ridiculous elements of Christian pop culture Radosh's book highlights--but even 100% secular people will find plenty of things to crack them up here (see, for instance: Testamints, Heritage USA, "Jesus is my Girlfriend" music, The Christian Eminem). Making fun of Christain pop culture is easy--there's a lot that deserves to be made fun of. What makes Rapture Ready worthwhile is that Radosh--a secular Jew--goes beyond mockery to engage seriously with Christian believers who make, consume, and even criticize Christian pop culture, to explore what it means to them and the broader social implications of the existing Christian pop culture sector.
Radosh's exploration of Christian pop culture brings him in contact with some serious hot button issues--abstinence only education, creationism--and he offers some sharp observations on them. But I found the book most interesting when Radosh gets away from the political to engage with individual Christians about their lives as believers. Our public conversations about religion focus primarily on the political and cultural: Right wing Christians are obsessed with regulating sexuality! Lefty Christians care about social justice and environmental stewardship! We almost never talk about the emotional and personal reality of religious devotion as it plays out in a believer's life on a day-to-day basis. Radosh's engagement with the pop culture that forms part of many Christians' day-to-day religious experience (he points out that, for some Christians, pop culture is their primary spiritual experience), and his encounters with Christians from across the theological and political spectra, provide readers with a rare opportunity to look into what personal devotion really means to believers in practice. Rapture Ready ends in a call for both Christians and non-Christians to seek greater engagement with one another--and suggests pop culture as one potential vehicle for advancing such exchange. Radosh himself has already served as an excellent role model for such engagement.
Thus far, I've read the part on "Jesus is my girlfriend" music which is, indeed, very easy to make fun of and Radosh makes fun of it effectively (I skipped to this part recalling a hilarious Glenn Dixon lecture on the pornographic subtext of Christian music that I'd heard about a year ago) and I'm looking forward to the rest. Every now and again, I run into someone who hasn't already read Radosh's PowerPoint Guide to American Literature. If you are one such person, then by all means hurry up and click the link. You'll think "I should probably buy this guy's book." And, indeed, you should.