Saturday, June 02, 2018

a review of Jessica Johnson's Biblical Porn is finally taking shape

Since this is Wenatchee The Hatchet it's not going to be short and in light of how much material has so often been purged in connection to the history of Mars Hill or to things Mark Driscoll has said the review will be front-loaded with a dauntingly large variety of material that's available for public consideration.  While Johnson's ethnographic study on what was once Mars Hill covers a two year period and has some follow-up research during the volatile final years, the history of Mark Driscoll's eagerness to address topics like sexuality, gender and sexuality in media presentation spans decades.  It's taken time to find the most relevant and arguably most representative moments in Mark Driscoll's career addressing these topics in public through media over a twenty year period starting in 1992 and culminating in the 2012 book Real Marriage.

Along the way I have come to a somewhat depressing thought that as information access explodes cultural memory for said information evaporates.  When people ask, all too often rhetorically, how it's possible that in a city like Seattle that a Mark Driscoll could have had so much success the answer is that, frankly, people in Seattle are not ultimately smarter or wiser than other people.  To put it another way, what Ellul wrote half a century ago was that the truly uneducated aren't literate enough to be swayed by propaganda.  Whatever was being proposed by an Ong-style "post-literature society" there's a real sense in which we aren't post-literate.  The word may have been humbled by the preference for the image but words still travel quickly.  If you saturate all media channels quickly enough what would be memorable in some other way is easily forgotten.  Mark said so many things about women and gays and sex and marriage that his story about how this one time he prayed God would kill a guy and supposedly that happened was forgotten by "everybody".  Even I had forgotten about it until I was reminded of it by Jessica Johnson's book and then, suddenly, I remembered it clearly and vividly enough to go trawl up the audio from the "Judah and Tamar" sermon; find the timestamp for the anecdote, and blog about the material so that it can be kept around for consideration.  When a guy tells a story like that and then later demonizes dissent it helps to explain why people inside Mh felt they could not speak up too much.  If Mark's casting his lot with charismatics then having someone who blogs about his doings come from an ex-charismatic/Pentecostal background might be handy.

So the review is finally likely to  go up in the next few days but it will be  a slog.  Can't sugar coat that.  I think the book is necessary reading for anyone who used to go to Mars Hill who can handle PhD level prose.  It's an academic monograph, be warned.

But Johnson wrote something that I think will be and has been lost in reviews of her work.  There is a propensity to put all the blame on mark himself and to miss what Johnson means by "affect".  Understanding what she means by "affect" is crucial because it unlocks the core of something about Mars Hill--we can't just keep scapegoating "him" without analyzing what "we" invested of ourselves and what 'we" got out of the participation.  Scapegoating a guy like Mark will lead us down a path to making the same kinds of mistakes but for different teams.  To be rather blunt about this point, if people think they have stopped drinking the Mars HIll kool aid and go all in for a Clinton or a Sanders or a Trump then they haven't stopped drinking the kool aid (not that I"m saying you can't vote for those people).  Breaking free of Mars Hill's toxic legacy is not just about uncovering the "what" of what was taught but understanding the potency of the "how" of its branding, virality and media saturation methods.  Its' hard to think of a church that had a more potent combination of sociological and horizontal propaganda.

Something Justin Dean said in a podcast interview was that he was proud that Mars Hill was able to use data mining to observe things about church member and media user behavior patterns, I think .. . if memory serves me.  That a church leader could say that's something to be proud of suggests to me that Mars Hill needs a great deal more academic study rather than being ignored as it has been here in Seattle and in Christian media.  People seem busy pretending that whatever happened was an aberration and not emblematic of the age.  Mars Hill might be a potent case study of the megachurch in the age of what some writers have called "surveillance capitalism" but all the key players who developed the architecture and infrastructure for that kind of system have been set on "moving on".  I hoe they don't all "move on". 

The Book of Judges is a ghastly yet paradoxically beautiful book for preserving some of the grisliest atrocities in the history of Judaism, not unlike how Jewish prophetic literature is a bit different from divinatory oracles in other settings from the ancient near east for having very harsh dissident literature that condemns the evils of ruling elites rather than just pandering to them.  I don't think I have to elaborate too much that I've drawn some inspiration from the biblical prophetic books as ancient dissident literature even if it is often a subliminal or subterranean influence that you wouldn't spot unless you were also steeped in stuff such as how Ezekiel repurposes literature venerating a pagan god to show how Yahweh will crush that god with the god's own weaponry.  Which ... well ... gets me thinking about how Mars Hill lived by the social media sword and in some crucial ways died of it. 

Back when Mars Hill was at its peak I had friends ask what it could hurt to meet with the leaders about stuff.  My response then, and now, is to invoke Judges 9.  Jotham didn't need to meet with the Shechemites, did he?  There was a place to say that the Shechemites and Abimelech could go down in ignominy for their cruelty.  So, ,yeah, if you can appreciate that there are stories of wicked leaders and abusive societies chronicled in Judges as a warning to "don't be like these people!" there's a lot of beauty hidden in the gore.  I think we do need a chronicle of the cumulative and collective failings of people of faith and especially of their atrocities.  If these things were recorded in the Bible for Jewish and Christians to consider as part of their respective heritages why on earth should we act as if in the light of more recent abuses that we should just "move on" and claim there's no edification in examining more closely what terrible things have been done to people in the name of ostensibly good causes? 

I feel like I'm half way through the review that should go up.  This may take a few more days of thinking and considering the material. 

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