Religion and Pop Culture

Religion and popular culture. The words conjure up seemingly irreconcilable images of Jesus and compromising photos of Britney Spears. Rev. Gary Thorne, the Chaplain of the University of King’s College believes that popular culture actually stems from religious belief.

“Popular culture is religion,” he says and how we relate to each and the basic values of our society have their basis in religion.

All primitive people are religious to one extent or another, he says, adding that regardless of whether its God, Buddha or Allah, everyone has the same innate desire to want a connection with the divine, regardless of whether or not that connection internal or external.

It is this connection that bridges the gap between religion and popular culture, which Thorne describes as being, “nothing but the religion of the day.”

Thorne also condemned attitudes of some religious leaders, who he says are more accurately described as cult leaders. He says that people who become involved in fundamentalist religion are really reacting to anything they see as dangerous. He says they seek out other people with a similar mindset.

They draw boundaries defining what they accept as right and wrong and attack anything that falls outside of those boundaries. Many people seem to find more meaning outside of religion than within it, says Thorne. Despite this encouragement to seek spirituality outside of the church, some people find that this is not enough and are drawn back to religion Thorne says.

The real power of religion is community, says Thorne. He adds that many people have been leaving the church because of the belief that there is more integrity outside of the church than within it.

“The problem is outside of church there’s more integrity in terms of actually living up to the values that people dear.” Most of the mainstream religions have caught on to these important facts yet, but, “they don’t have as massive a PR department as the Roman Catholic Church does,” says Thorne.

Father James Mallon, pastor of St. Thomas Acquinas Canadian Martyrs Parish, disagrees.

“In general, religion is portrayed popular culture … in a negative way.” Mallon feels that it’s gotten to the point that he feels grateful if a “person of faith” is depicted as a normal human being instead of as a hypocrite or an abuser.

Mallon also feels that religion and popular culture aren’t mutually exclusive. The 2001 government census indicates that 80 per cent of Canadians are religious and of those 40 per cent are Catholics. Mallon believes that as the majority of Canadians practice a religion of one form or another, it would be foolish to say that religion has no effect on the development of popular culture.

“It’s in the blood of our nation.”

Mallon also believes that a dialogue between popular culture and religion is necessary. Mallon celebrates a special mass for teenagers on Sunday nights. On these occasions, he often references popular TV shows, such House, Lost and 24. Mallon goes on to add that he believes that, in spite of the sometimes negative reactions of the media to religion, there are a lot TV shows and movies currently in production with strong positive moral and spiritual messages.

Mallon is dismissive of society’s infatuation with celebrity. He believes that the fervour with which some people follow a particular athlete or actor is misplaced spiritual energy and would be better spent in the church.

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