Don’t Stop Believin’
Don’t Stop Believin’: Pop Culture and Religion from “Ben-Hur” to Zombies by Robert K. Johnston
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
There were, I’ll admit, some interesting essays in this work. When you have a hundred to pick from, chances are you’ll find a few good ones. From the religious concepts found in The Godfather and Harry Potter, to the influence of Christianity on Mister Rogers, to the comparison of The Little Mermaid and God’s plan of salvation, to the Mormon themes in Twilight, these ones linked well-known pop culture people, movies, and books to religion and Christianity as I had been expecting to find throughout this book.
However, most of this book was a hodgepodge of biography, movie plot summaries, religious comparisons, and philosophical thoughts on various pop culture icons without any clear central theme or structure. The extent to which religion entered into each entry varied greatly. Some contained only a passing reference to it, such as questioning “Did the spiritual power contained in the African religious rituals release him from European or Catholic constraints?” Others focused on how the person’s religious beliefs shaped his or her life. Still others focused on how religion was portrayed (intentionally or not) by his or her life. And then there were the ones that made me go huh? that had no mention at all of religion, or that only mentioned it vaguely, saying things like that the subject “recognized the ‘spiritual function’ in which they created” (whatever that’s supposed to mean).
Theologically, this book left me confused and irritated. I finished the entries without any idea what message the authors were collectively trying to get across. There’s many vague references to “spirituality” or morality or spiritual matters that lack any sort of scriptural backing or substance. Lines about “through our adoration of these sports ‘gods,’ it may be that we encounter a mythic symbol of the means by which we are able to enter into this untarnished reality…” or “reminding us of the religious power of celebrity” (referring to how we idolize them) left me wondering if this was supposed to be a Christian book at all. Although the publisher is and the foreword and conclusion seem to imply that this is the case, the authors seem to go out of their way to avoid any sort of solid, Christian doctrinal stance.
In the conclusion, Johnston argues that God uses pop culture and the non-believing world as a continued revelation, and while God absolutely can work through unbelievers, I vary from him theologically in that I choose to take the “Traditional Approach” (which he condemns) — that “when dialoguing with popular culture, we should start with our theology and use our faith to judge the meaning of all else.” I prefer my revelations directly from the “God-breathed” Scriptures, and nothing Ellen or Oprah or Dr. Phil can say will change that.
Overall: A vaguely “spiritual” look at influential pop culture icons of the last decades.
Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a review copy of this book.