Hipster Christianity & Imam Idol

In a competitive religious marketplace, producers are becoming increasingly savvy and perhaps even post-modern.  Although some old-timey producers bemoan this commercial development, others are embracing it.

Over at Rupert Murdoch’s transformative Wall Street Journal, the 20-something Brett McCracken churlishly warns his cohort about the “Perils of Hipster Christianity,” and discusses some of the uncool ways in which churches are making themselves over in an effort to win the hearts and minds of his generation:

There are various ways that churches attempt to be cool. For some, it means trying to seem more culturally savvy. The pastor quotes Stephen Colbert or references Lady Gaga during his sermon, or a church sponsors a screening of the R-rated “No Country For Old Men.”

For others, the emphasis is on looking cool, perhaps by giving the pastor a metrosexual makeover, with skinny jeans and an $80 haircut, or by insisting on trendy eco-friendly paper and helvetica-only fonts on all printed materials. Then there is the option of holding a worship service in a bar or nightclub (as is the case for L.A.’s Mosaic church, whose downtown location meets at a nightspot called Club Mayan).

This however is just the tip of the uncool iceberg — some iChurches exist only online and twitter the Good News, while others offer the simulacra of sex:

Evangelical-authored books like “Sex God” (by Rob Bell) and “Real Sex” (by Lauren Winner) are par for the course these days. At the same time, many churches are finding creative ways to use sex-themed marketing gimmicks to lure people into church.  Oak Leaf Church in Cartersville, Georgia, created a website called yourgreatsexlife.com to pique the interest of young seekers.

Flamingo Road Church in Florida created an online, anonymous confessional (IveScrewedUp.com), and had a web series called MyNakedPastor.com, which featured a 24/7 webcam showing five weeks in the life of the pastor, Troy Gramling. Then there is Mark Driscoll at Seattle’s Mars Hill Church—who delivers sermons with titles like “Biblical Oral Sex” and “Pleasuring Your Spouse,” and is probably the first and only pastor I have ever heard say the word “vulva” during a sermon.

This kind of play is not limited to competitive religious markets; governmental-religious authorities in Malaysia are equally worried about the youthful lack of interest in traditional Islam and life according to Sharia.  To pique interest, they have turned to un-reality television and produced a show called “Imam Idol.”  Over at Spiegel, Nicola Abe reports on the series that is sweeping adoring and fashionably hijabed Malay teenage girls off their feet:

It’s like American Idol. Except in this Malaysian reality TV show, the goal is to find a religious role model. Young men compete in challenges such as washing corpses and ferreting out unmarried couples. The winner gets a MacBook and the chance to lead prayers in public.

It is not, in other words, really like “American Idol” but is a religiously refracted subversion of the authentic article.  Somewhere simon is crowing and Jean Baudrillard has posted on Facebook: “The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth — it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true.”

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