The Arts

A Nineteenth-Century Plan to Redeem Culture: Was it Successful?

The plan

James Fraser (d. 1885) had a novel idea: redeem the theatre. He saw that it portrayed ideas, displayed unwholesomeness, and evoked responses contrary to modesty, dignity, and purity. He was not alone in this sentiment. Clergy widely, strongly, and vocally opposed the theatre. However, church-goers were still attending, enjoying, and even being employed by it.

Fraser envisioned the theatre being used for good, so that it would positively influence audiences and also be a legitimate form of amusement for Christians—one that was dignified, modest, and not degrading. In his opinion, it was futile to exhort Christians to avoid the theatre altogether, because it was a popular form of amusement and he believed Christianity could effect a positive change in and through it. Therefore, redeeming the theatre was the ticket.

As the second Bishop of Manchester, Fraser was in a position to try to persuade those inside and outside the church that his idea was valid and that change was possible. He was well-liked and respected, even by Nonconformists. He was firm in his beliefs and convictions, but not dogmatic, and an advisor and peacemaker on issues outside of the church, such as labor disputes. However, in nineteenth-century England, his redeeming-the-theatre idea was radical.

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Christians and Mythology (Part 3: Benefits)

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Mythology is everywhere (see Part 1), and there are biblical reasons that Christians should not necessarily break out in hives when they encounter mythology (see Part 2). The good news is that there can be much more to the Christianity-mythology relationship than narrow-eyed tolerance. There are numerous practical benefits to having a good understanding of mythology.

1. Meeting historical/cultural expectations

Knowing where we came from is just part of being an educated person. As one pastor has pointed out, we expect grade school students in Maryland to learn Maryland history—so as heirs of Hellenic and Latin civilizations, we owe it to ourselves to be somewhat knowledgeable about Greco-Roman culture.1 It’s simply our history.

We also have a Judeo-Christian history, but let us learn both instead of gravitating towards one over the other. Neither let us pretend that Christian history is pristine compared to the stories of polluted pagan mythology. Biblical history is nothing more than stories of God’s salvation of pagans.

One could argue that we are to be counter-cultural, and that is true in a certain sense. But being counter-cultural does not mean that we have to counter everything.2 At times, Paul argues from both creational and cultural norms.3 Creational norms are fixed, but there are also acceptable cultural reasons for acclimating ourselves to our surroundings. We may not like some aspects of our culture, but we should be educated in the culture that we find ourselves in.

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Christians and Mythology (Part 2: Propriety)

JanusRead Part 1.

The ubiquity of mythology is undeniable, but to what degree should Christians interact with mythology? An answer in the third-century would most likely be in the negative if answered by the church father Tertullian, who famously asked, “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” Tertullian didn’t have time for a “mottled Christianity,” mixed with Platonic philosophies or other heresies.

But what about an answer in the twenty-first century? What amount of involvement with pagan mythology is proper? Christians and non-Christians alike have had differing responses to this question.

Bradley Birzer writes,

To the modernist, “myth,” like religion, merely signifies a comfortable and entrenched lie. For the postmodernist, myth simply represents one story, one narrative among many; it is purely subjective, certainly signifying nothing of transcendent or any other kind of importance. For religious fundamentalists, myths also represent lies.1

Some fundamentalists may object to Birzer’s taxonomy, but I have witnessed a similar reaction by a fundamentalist leader. A few years ago, I presented this topic at a conference for educators, and at lunch, just before I held my workshop, I mentioned to an inquiring stranger2 that my workshop had to do with the benefits of mythology. He commented that it sounded like “benefits of paganism” and questioned whether there could be any benefits of paganism.3

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Christians and Mythology (Part 1: Ubiquity)

When the last Harry Potter book was released to a frenzied fan base a few years ago, one literary historian searched the past for a comparable work that attracted such zealous devotees, and what she uncovered was Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop.1 Dickens’ novels were released as serials in England, which was typical for that time, so audiences had to wait for weekly or monthly installments. As the last shipment reached American shores in 1841, impatient fans beset the ships and demanded to know if little Nell was alive.2

Stories have the power to excite us, and it is axiomatic that people love stories. But I want to talk about specific kinds of stories: myths.

Ubiquity

Mythology is everywhere. You can’t go a day of the week without encountering some form of mythology. Literally—look at the days of the week. In English (originally a Germanic language), all of the names of the days of the week come from Germanic and Norse mythologies, with the exception of Saturday, which is Roman (Saturn is identified with the Greek god Cronus).

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"We complain about the calumnies and caricatures of Christians on the big screen; and then, when an Academy-Award winning film shows us at our very best, we complain that scenes depicting harsh, inner-city reality are too true to life!"

Film Review - Milltown Pride

by David Oestreich

The truest moment of human emotion in Milltown Pride comes when Will Wright (Thomas Sneed), a young man from the more genteel side of his North Carolina town, thoughtlessly uses the discriminatory term “lint-head” in a conversation with his friend Chick (Ben Ascher), a denizen of the textile-mill workers’ village. In that moment, the fabric of goodwill woven between them through years of setting aside class differences to share their mutual love of baseball unravels to a very thin and tense thread.

Unfortunately, instead of thoughtfully exploring the potentially rich subject of social tensions between the privileged and the disenfranchised in the 1920s Carolina mill culture (much less demonstrating how the power of the gospel addresses those issues), Bob Jones University’s Unusual Films has, in Milltown Pride, opted to produce a “feel-good summer movie” with a lot of Christian trappings.

The film’s protagonist has just left home and the overbearing authority of his father (played by producer Darren Lawson) to pursue his dream of being a professional baseball player. He hopes to accomplish this by making the local mill team and playing well enough there to catch the eye of a minor league scout. However, in order to play on the mill team, he has to actually work at the mill—something his bigoted, classist father would not tolerate. At the mill, Will meets and pursues the affections of Ginnie Douglas (Becca Kaser), a young lady who works in the office and happens to be the daughter of the man who runs the mill. Her father, in turn, happens to be a guru to would-be baseball sluggers.

But, while seemingly on the fast-track to realizing his dearest hopes, Will does face significant obstacles. One is his teammate Pike (Logan Phillips), a brooding malcontent who has disliked Will from the day they first met as kids in the sandlot. When Will’s baseball prowess earns him the instant admiration of the other players and favorite-son status with the coach, Pike attempts to undermine Will’s popularity and ability in any way he can.

The larger obstacle Will encounters, however, is his own lack of self-control. Not long after he arrives in the mill village, he is sneaking off after practice to the village’s makeshift speakeasy for a sip of moonshine. Out from under the authority of his parents, his ambivalence towards God surfaces, and he quickly loses control of his drinking, his athletic performance and his relationship with Ginnie.

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