}

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Weirder and weirder

There have been plenty of times I’ve wondered about the sanity of my fellow Americans, or, at least, despaired about the condition my homeland is in: Irrational voting behaviour, religious fanaticism, the demonising of immigrants, citizens willingly giving up basic freedoms—all this and more.

So I guess it should come as no surprise to me that the descent of America should be played out on national television. Nevertheless, I was shocked into gobsmacked disbelief when I watched the “Idol Gives Back” episode of “American Idol” (which aired in New Zealand last night).

Much of it was, as I would have expected, over-the-top attempts to make the viewer get all teary and give money. Schmaltzy, cheesy, hard sell—I expected it all. But when the Idols got together for a group song at the end of the show and sang a Christian hymn, my jaw dropped (and there’s not much about America that can make that happen anymore).

What were the “Idol” producers thinking? Were they thinking at all? The song was—to use an especially apt phrase—god-awful, but the problem was that a song about Jesus specifically was both inappropriate and offensive.

There are many non-Christians who watch Idol, yet they were ignored. And what of the Idols themselves being forced to sing a Jesus hymn? What could be the justification for possibly forcing non-believers to expose themselves?

This was a show about giving money to charity, which is not an exclusively Christian or even religious idea. Why did the Idol producers decide to make it Christian by using an inappropriate hymn to Jesus?

My hostility is not toward Christians or Christianity, but to the assumption that everyone is Christian, however weakly, and so no one would be offended by an irrelevant Jesus hymn being sung by the Idols. This is part of the growing trend in America where Christianity is both assumed and promoted over all other beliefs and non-belief.

I’ve written recently about christianists’ attempts to turn the US Army into a specifically “Christian” army. I’ve also written many times about christianist attempts to force their religion and beliefs onto all Americans. Unless people stand up to oppose this—especially rational Christians—the far right will succeed in turning America into a theocracy.

Freedom of religion means nothing without freedom from religion, and religious oppression is always wrong, including when it’s Christians doing it. From what I’ve read, I’m pretty sure their Jesus wouldn’t be too happy with the antics of some of his followers, whether they watch “American Idol” or not.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting, you comment on freedom of speech and then get huffy about the producers of the show practicing that right. Why are you so sensitive to a christian hymn?

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Thanks for commenting. I welcome all viewpoints, even those that disagree with me, so you don't need to be anonymous here. Unless you want to be.

Anyway, I never actually said anything about freedom of speech. Of course the "Idol" producers have it, as does everyone else (and I'm obviously exercising mine in the post).

My point was that they were using an irrelevant hymn about Jesus as a closing show number on a show soliciting donations for charity and there were many problems with that choice.

It's important to note that it wasn't a "Christian hymn" (a hymn with a Christian perspective), but rather one about/to Jesus specifically. There are many fine "Christian" songs in which belief in Jesus isn't necessary to share in the message. A hymn to Jesus, on the other hand, assumes a shared belief structure.

In the post, I said that charity is not an exclusively Christian or even religious idea. I'd add that plenty of non-Christians and atheists give money, too. So, linking this charity event to Jesus was inappropriate, and it was also offensive to some people.

I was also saying that it was inappropriate to put the Idols in a position of potentially having to either sing something they don't believe, or expose themselves to condemnation for not believing. Maybe all the Idols are Christians who attend church every day, or maybe most were atheists (I have no idea). But if an Idol didn't perform due to his/her beliefs (or, maybe lack of belief is more accurate), there are plenty of Americans who would've launched a campaign to get rid of that Idol. It was wrong to introduce that possibility into a competition that's about singing, not religious belief.

But I also said: "My hostility is not toward Christians or Christianity, but to the assumption that everyone is Christian, however weakly, and so no one would be offended by an irrelevant Jesus hymn being sung by the Idols. This is part of the growing trend in America where Christianity is both assumed and promoted over all other beliefs and non-belief."

For me, this is not about speech or even religion, but rather it's about the political assumption about the inherent superiority of Christianity, and the expectation that all Americans must share it. The producers took an essentially political stance by acting as if all the viewers either were Christian, or that singing about Jesus is benign. They were definitely wrong about the first, and I also think they were wrong about the second.