Sunday, January 11, 2009

That's Entertainment I: Howdy Jesus!

Texas. O.K., It Figures

Cowboy Churches

It's all about entertainment, isn't it? The Medieval churches banned public entertainment, but approved of "morality plays." Churches were designed to inspire awe and teach morality to the illiterate masses. The ceremonies were as dazzling as the churches could make them. The Renaisance was funded chiefly by the church.

All of that was to change with the Reformation. Pomp and ritual were frowned upon. The preacher became the embodiment of entertainment. Itinerant preachers were popular because they were known for their powerful rhetoric (and advance PR).

Hellfire and damnation was, if not a deterrent to sin, a sanctioned entertainment. Tent revivals were popular with singing and clapping.

Then came Aimee Semple McPherson and her showmanship.

WAXAHACHIE, Texas - Moments after flying headfirst onto the arena floor dirt, the man gets up and brushes off his protective vest as rodeo clowns rush in to distract the still-bucking bull.

The crowd cheers as the announcer reveals he's fine, just before the chute opens with another cowboy atop a menacing bull.

But this isn't a typical rodeo. It's an outreach ministry of the Cowboy Church of Ellis County, which has grown from about 300 to 2,200 members since it began nearly nine years ago. The church about 30 miles south of Dallas now bills itself as the world's largest cowboy church.

What's the difference between entertainment and religion?
Not a lot. Remember: in America, we've made a religion out of entertainment and entertainment out of religion. I won't even go into the "church=goodness" equation. Ever since man decided it would be better to worship a god in groups (safety in numbers), there have been hundreds of thousands of organizations for worship. As man progressed, rituals and places of worship became more and more elaborate, sometimes obliterating the god being worshiped. Pressure to join these organizations is immense. Remember the PEW research poll on Congress and religion we posted a while back? If you recall, no Representative or Senator was willing to be counted as "unaffiliated", even though a large segment of the population did so.

"Going to church" these days is really just an affirmation: you go to church, therefore you are a religious person. You go to a particular kind of church, you believe what that church preaches. But churches don't see things that way. Like the old stripper song, "Ya gotta have a gimmick," many churches know that they have to do something different to corral the herd. Medieval churches lured the faithful in with special relics. Reformation churches had golden-tongued preachers. Today we've got fog machines, light shows, rock bands, coffee shops, skate board parks. Throw in a couple of alien life forms and, brother, you've got yourself a church!

Just a thought.

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