Conclusion

The aim of this chapter has been to explore what popular culture is telling itself about God. The following themes have surfaced.

There is some iconoclasm toward the iconoclasts, toward those who would murder God. Among the post-boomer generations are many who were raised outside of the direct influence of religious communities who consequently do not have many of the resentments toward God that stem from being exposed to the shoddy instruction and hypocritical piety that religious congregations, as human institutions, sometimes offer. They are grabbing for bits and pieces of the stories about God that they were never told, assembling them as bricoleurs with little external guidance. Among these are some who fervently believe that God will intervene if religion will only get out of the way, and others who have a deep and inarticulate worry that, due to our neglect and abysmal behavior, God has moved on to other things.

Some take the view that God is more like us than theology has typically allowed. Among these, a new cluster of divine attributes is emerging. God can be evasive, temperamental, playful, vengeful, adventurous, overwhelmed, irresponsible, on a journey of self-discovery, loving like we are loving (in a fickle way), distracted, a sensualist, weary, demoralized, sad, and, most of all, lonely.

And then, there is an awareness in some quarters that sustaining the moral life might depend upon faith in a sovereign reality that is benevolent - in the idea that the absolute power in the universe has ordered the exercise of its own powers according to recognizable moral values. Otherwise, such holdovers as altruism, solidarity, compassion and self-sacrifice make little sense. While the idea is still around that belief in a "sky god" is a distraction from devoting oneself to strive for justice in this world, it is not as prevalent as it once was - at least not in popular culture.

Another development is that what has traditionally been understood as divine providence is imagined by some at the moment as the work of angels among us. Angelology in popular culture ranges from angels who pursue us doggedly and attend to all the details of our individual lives - facilitating our movement through heavy traffic, advising us in making smart consumer decisions, and easing our transition through death - to angels who simply watch, with a mixture of curiosity and compassion, the passage of human life, like hamstrung cops walking a beat or old-style ethnographers observing exotic tribes. By others, providence has been taken over by the polytheism of commodity fetishism and a universe re-enchanted with mythical powers represented by the iconography of brand logos, distracting us into a multitude of penultimate concerns. By yet others the role of divine providence has been transferred to technology, as the great, protective matrix in which we spend our lives, from which we obtain our blessings, and which demands and receives our absolute loyalty.

Subtler gadgetry combined with the great, sweeping, invisible force of the World Wide Web is also receiving trust and aspirations that in the past had been reserved for God. Whatever deep need we have for there to be a power in the cosmos that is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, the constant whisper of knowledge and rumors on the Web provides a convincing simulacrum. And there are speculative metaphysicians, like Scott Adams, who are promoting the apotheosis of the Internet as the knitting together of God, a new monadology that is thoroughly pantheistic. "Googling" is a way some of the faithful in this camp seem to satisfy their needs for enlightenment and prayer.

Finally, there is the deification of the abyss that is emerging among some advocates of postmodernism. Overcome by the withering side of the holy, popular culture is envisioning various gods of the abyss, ranging from the wild Übermensch of Oliver Stone's Mickey to a religion of sheer delight in the simulacra that now compose the world, with no expectation of meaning beyond the flux of significations that they provide.

The doctrine of God that can be discerned in popular culture has this strange profile, pulled as it is in different directions. But most importantly, there is a great willingness to entertain the possibility of divine transcendence in its various modes, and to experiment outside of institutional religion with what it might be up to.

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