Risk, Art, and Truth

Christian pop culture in America often seems consumed by a concern for safety, or more specifically, harmlessness. This has always frustrated me, even though I am not a noted risk-taker in most situations. In fact, I grew up in a very safe Evangelical environment. I had a vague understanding of pop culture until I reached college years, and even now I often have to claim "homeschooled" when it comes to 80's and 90's movies, music and tv. But over the years, I've become more frustruated with the constant pursuit of harmlessness within the Arts among Christians.

I used to soapbox about it all; Christian bookstores that did not carry Tolkein or Christian radio stations whose slogan was "safe for the whole family," or friends who were not allowed to watch PG-13 movies until after they graduated from high school. I remember ranting about it to my co-staff-director at summer camp as we ran errands in the 15-passenger van in downtown San Diego. Surprised by my uncharacteristic vehemence, he ribbed me about quoting Narnia's "good, not safe" principle for the rest of the summer. The summer camp we worked for covered Christian apologetics in the curriculum, and despite my passion for working there, it was rare for me to take a decisive part in the many debates and discussions among the staff. But on this topic I was more willing to take part. It seemed more personal to me than arguments of Calvinism vs. Arminianism, or methods of evangelism.

Famously, medical students are taught the principle of primum non nocere, "first, do no harm." And wikipedia.com tells me that "Since at least 1860, the phrase has been for physicians a hallowed expression of hope, intention, humility, and recognition that human acts with good intentions may have unwanted consequences." The principle is that a cure may be riskier and more painful than doing nothing. In many ways, Christian pop culture holds to the same principle. The goal in most Christian popular art is simply to be innoccuous, seemingly out of fear of doing harm.

The difference between a physician taking risks, and a Christian in the arts taking the risk of vulnerability, is that the cure is certain; however, it is certain to do harm in some ways as it heals. But it will heal, in the end.


MCustis said…
I agree with your post here. At some point Christianity lost its ability to set the trends of the popular or artistic culture. There are many examples: composers like Bach, Renaissance artists, authors like Dostoevsky or C.S. Lewis). It was Christians who were making new and exciting contributions. Now Christians merely follow the popular culture trends but with “safe” versions (epitomized by Christian parody items like the Jesus/Starbucks logo shirt or Calvin praying instead of peeing on cars’ back windows). I think we could do much a better job of reaching our culture by focusing on making original, powerful, “good, not safe” (but still responsible) contributions.