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Religion and Popular Culture

A Hyper-Real Testament

Series:

Adam Possamai

Popular culture can no longer be exclusively seen as a source of escapism. It can amuse, entertain, instruct, and relax people, but what if it provides inspiration for religion?
The Church of All Worlds, the Church of Satan and Jediism from the Star Wars series are but three examples of new religious groups that have been greatly inspired by popular culture to (re)create a religious message. These are hyper-real religions, that is a simulacrum of a religion partly created out of popular culture which provides inspiration for believers/consumers. These postmodern expressions of religion are likely to be consumed and individualised, and thus have more relevance to the self than to a community and/or congregation. On the other hand, religious fundamentalist groups tend, at times, to resist this synergy between popular culture and religion, and at other times, re-appropriate popular culture to promote their own religion. Examples of this re-appropriation are Christian super-hero comics and role playing games, Bible-based PC games, and ‘White Metal’ music.
To explore these new phenomena, this book views itself as the ‘hyper-real testament’ of these new religious phenomena by addressing the theories, among many others, of Baudrillard, Jameson and Lipovetsky, and by exploring the use of fictions such as those from Harry Potter, The Matrix, Star Trek, Buffy and The Lord of the Rings.

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CHAPTER 2. Consumer Religions 41

Extract

CHAPTER 2 Consumer Religions Introduction In the movie Dogma, a Catholic priest has firmly decided to bring the flock back to church. Looking like a kind of general-priest who has had the rough experience of fighting in the front line, he is ready to launch a marketing war. His task is not an easy one. To reach his aim, he decides to move the "atavistic" church to contemporary consumer culture and thus market his faith with the sign of the times. One of his first actions is to uncover a new image of the Christ at a press confer- ence in front of his urban church. The old imagery of the Christ suffer- ing on the cross and dying for our sins, no longer fits with a society of leisure in which suffering and pain are not well marketed. In a consumer society that holds people together, not as citizens but as consumers, the majority of people are more interested in a religious quick fix than to follow a long journey of spiritual pain/gain. The Priest then gets rid of the cross, the Christian symbol of torture, puts an inviting smile on the face of Jesus, and places him in a thumb up gesture to give him a more welcoming posture. The new representation of Christ is now called the "Buddy Christ" and is everyone's friend; exactly like the McDonald's clown. With this new marketing device, the Priest is now ready to compete with other religions and bring believers back....

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