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Moral reading, part II

Posted by Robin Abrahams  June 9, 2008 07:03 AM

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And if you were thinking that that Susan Neiman book just sounded a little intellectually rich for your tastes--if you'd rather have your meditations on God and man filtered through more of a Morgan Spurlock, Jon Stewart kinda sensibility--then look no further. Dan Radosh's Rapture Ready: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture is the book for you.

Radosh is pretty much the ultimate New York Jew, with an irreverent (and profane!--folks, can we please just assume that every blogger I link to who isn't a Muslim fashion blogger will be profane, so I can stop always warning about it?) website, adorable twin toddlers with hipster names, a streak of music snobbery, and a love-hate relationship with The New Yorker. In Rapture Ready he immerses himself in a world he never made. From the book's website:


Through 18 cities and towns in 13 states — from the Bible Belt to the outskirts of Hollywood — Radosh encounters a fascinating cast of characters, including Bibleman, the Caped Christian; Rob Adonis, the founder and star of Ultimate Christian Wrestling; Ken Ham, the nation’s leading prophet of creationism; and Jay Bakker, the son of Jim and Tammy Faye and pastor of his own liberal, punk rock church.

From Christian music festivals and theme parks to Passion plays and comedy nights, Radosh combines gonzo reporting with a keen eye for detail and just the right touch of wit. Rapture Ready! is an eye-opening survey of a parallel universe and a unique perspective on one of America’s most important social movements.

It's pretty rare that the actual promotional website for a book will sell the book short, but I think this does. It sounds like a "haw-haw, look at the rubes, aren't we cleverer back in the blue states" tour of a cultural freakshow. It's not, not at all. Radosh didn't do this as a stunt, he did it to genuinely engage with a culture within his own nation that he didn't understand. He's open about his own biases and shortcomings, and responds with astonishing intellectual and emotional honesty to the people and ideas he encounters. (Toward the end of the book he has a face-off with a virulent critic of IVF--the procedure responsible for those aforementioned, and much beloved, hipster twins--that is downright painful to read.)

The honesty is reciprocated by the Christian authors, musicians, marketers, and ministers that Mr. Radosh encounters, and a series of surprisingly sophisticated conversations emerge. What was Jesus's message? How can a countercultural movement work within the dominant culture without being compromised by it? When art is created in the service of a message, can it ever be more than propaganda? Can we critique consumer culture by making products that deconstruct it? Is kitsch an appropriate way of communicating to people who aren't capable of understanding anything but kitsch? When do you know that you've dumbed down or diluted your message too much? What is the dominant culture anyway, and why does pretty much everyone feel like a persecuted minority these days?

These, obviously, aren't just questions that evangelical Christians are, or should be, asking themselves. Environmentalists, libertarians, feminists, rationalists--everyone with an ideology, with a belief system, that they want to evangelize for is grappling with these issues.

So it's a serious book. It's also a really funny book, because Mr. Radosh is one funny guy, and because he's got a rich, rich lode of material to work with, from Christian Pro Wrestling to "Witness Wear" (referred to by critics as "Jesus Junk")--everything from Testamints to sandals with inspirational verses and symbols on the bottom, so you can imprint the very sands you walk upon with the Lord's message--to a long discourse with Stephen Baldwin. (The presence of any Baldwin brother, of course, ramps the comedy factor of any real-life or media event up by approximately three, a ratio known to scientists as "the Baldwin effect.")

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at missconduct@globe.com.
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Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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