A new great schism? The (lack of) separation of church and entertainment

The message — and the material — is felt. The T-shirt is plain, save for the fabric letters emblazoned down the center: “Sex, Drugs & Christian Rock.” To the right of the mannequin stands a proselytizing Jesus more “illuminating” than usual — this one doubles as a nightlight. Bordering the table are Jesus flasks that just beg the question: What Would Jesus Drink? (Answer: Wine.) Situated across from swanktified hipster employees checking out swanktified hipster customers, the Jesus/Buddha sale display at the SouthSide Works Urban Outfitters is a holy matrimony between roadside garage sales and any bookstore with the word “majesty” in its name.

Alcoholic prophets and mocking Ts — has this hipster hotspot turned into a heathen heaven? A glance at the increasing infiltration of religion into the consumers’ lives, though, makes those light-up Christs seem a little overdue.

Gain and ABel

The campus buzz that followed the Activities Board (AB) showing of Pirates and Marty Griffin’s subsequent obsession is as tired as the stars who made the actual film. “I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. They didn’t need to stress it that much,” said BSA sophomore Erin Weideman. When your daily “pirates” AND “porn” AND “carnegie mellon” Google search takes you to www.porneditorials.com, you’ll find an article in which the director of Pirates, Joon — who, like Jesus, is popular enough to pull off the one-name deal — attributes the commotion to his film’s explosive budget and “great cast.” Activities Board chair Andrew Moore is quoted in the article, originally published in the UW–Madison Badger-Herald.

This semester’s showing of another TBA porn brought with it more chalked sidewalks and Doherty posters, only this time they didn’t have busty vixens luring patrons and their $1 bills. Christian organizations offered alternative activities to the porn, countering the money shots in McConomy Auditorium with a screening of the unflinching 2005 Best Picture winner Crash.

Samson said “Get off the air”

The parent-friendly edited versions of songs are never any fun; all they seem to do is recall the forgettable days of junior high dances and parentally advised Coolio CDs. But radio stations across the country, especially those run by high schools and colleges, are vigilant in making sure “Drop It Like It’s Hot” skips a few beats before reaching your eardrums. The motivation for this extra caution? A newly launched crusade against them — only this time, the battle armor is some stationery and the sword a swift pen.

Radio stations from coast to coast have found themselves in a David-and-Goliath matchup against organizations out to shut down their airwaves. With strict sanctions being religiously upheld by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), media outlets are paying the price for violations such as on-air cursing (which we all know can slip out as easily as, say, Janet Jackson’s nipple at the Super Bowl).

Christian institutions have led the charge against these smaller-staffed stations, which often do not have the budget to compete in a legal stoning. But what could quickly be interpreted as a metaphorical attempt to guide these children — with their drinking of spirits and fraternizing with women of ill repute — to the Light is more like a battle for the airwaves.

Carnegie Mellon’s own WRCT has not been completely immune to the frequency fight. Stories have circulated around the station for years of a band of zealous right-wing fanatics, Pat Robertson manifestos in hand, pocket New Testaments in tow, who in the ’90s were determined to take down WRCT — and succeeded. General manager Matt Siko explained a less titillating tale. WRCT’s frequency, 88.3, stepped on the sandaled toes of and caused interference with the neighboring station 88.1, “He’s Alive” radio. It was not a Frankenstein serial.

“The rumor goes that this Christian station would have volunteers sit in two-hour segments and listen to WRCT, waiting for us to commit a violation to report,” Siko said. WRCT’s directional broadcasting, accentuated toward the east, resulted in some mixed airwaves — which just meant some fuzzy Scripture might interrupt the chorus of that song by that band you didn’t know the name of anyway.

As other stations of similar size and mission in America are being taken down by challenging Christian groups, Siko remains confident of WRCT’s safe standing. “We do a good job,” he said, crediting their unassailable programming to “station management [being] cognizant of FCC law.”

“We are a force for good,” said Siko, which probably isn’t too far from what the Goliaths are arguing, too.

Jonah and the babe

So it’s kind of like American Idol, only the idol in question is an actual one, and He would probably only be classified as an American by some government officials. The new A&E show God or the Girl already faced harsh criticism before it aired on Easter Sunday. And they’re not even bitching about the missing question mark!

The show follows four men — none of whom are named Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John — as they embark on a spiritual quest to determine whether to devote their lives to the Big Guy Upstairs. The “Girl” part of the title is a reference to the girlfriends the would-be celibates are contemplating leaving, not some reality show test where the holy rookies are strapped to a chair with their eyelids pulled back and subjected to a slideshow of Sears underwear advertisements.

“This will help the public see that when a man decides to go into the seminary, it takes some time and prayer. He has to ask himself questions like, ‘Do I want to get married?’, ‘Do I want to stay single?’” said Father Tom Burke, vocation director at the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Burke works with men considering the priesthood. The title of the show, he says, “sounds strong,” and he believes the program will ultimately prove beneficial for all viewers curious to see what drives a man to don the white collar.

Burke’s story sounds like perfect fodder for the A&E show. Ordained only five years ago, Burke has a college degree in broadcasting communications and held a gig as a radio host. The decision to enter the priesthood took a year and a half full of job resignations and relationship breakups. “It’s not a popular career; people always ask me, ‘Why are you a priest?’ and I have to respond, ‘Why not?’” said Burke. “Hollywood and the media focus on the materialistic society, but there are people who take a different route.”

Cases like God or the Girl and The Da Vinci Code illustrate an enigmatic countertrend in the media. It used to seem like the church was cashing in on Hollywood, with lucrative book deals and increasing cooperation with the power elite. Now we have Mel’s thoughts on Christ in the top 10 box office champs of all time, and TV shows about modest Christians created for viewers who often don’t want to see a real priest in person, let alone a fake one on TV.

All hail the profit

Next May, the film adaptation of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code will open the Cannes Film Festival in France and probably go on to be a box office success of, well, Biblical proportions. Movie studios are noticing the immense profits that come with putting God in their films, even when he’s a lion you can visit only by traveling through a magic wardrobe.

Sermons are peppered with movie endorsements, and the box office benefits of these recommendations are making movies, and not candidates, the chic thing to promote at the pulpit.

Newspaper headlines tell of another fossil found to refute creationist claims. Evangelical Christian John MacArthur tells Larry King if medical science finds homosexuality to be genetic, it needs to “read more Scripture.” John McCain, eyeing a presidential run, is now buddies with Jerry Falwell, who he once deemed an “agent of intolerance.” Maybe this religious infiltration in the media isn’t indicative of a growing gap between believers and non-believers, but a progressive step toward mutual dependence. The Word — and the money — is being spread.

The extent of religion’s consumerism is as unpredictable as an atheist screening of Sister Act. Perhaps the next question won’t be “Did Judas really betray Jesus?” but “Were those CK briefs Christ was wearing on the cross?”