Daniel Radosh’s Rapture Ready! is a sociological experiment of sorts. What happens if the liberal leaning, Jewish New Yorker embarks on a hands on exploration of the parallel world of Christian pop culture, one that takes him to Midwestern Christian Lollapaloozas, Bibleman appearances, and Christian themed pro wrestling matches? The result is a book that is by turns funny, bizarre, and thoughtful, as it looks for the “darkest corners of this parallel universe” but more often than not finds common ground. Radosh is a contributing editor at one of my favorite magazines, The Week, and frequent contributor to another, The New Yorker. He also pens a funny and eclectic blog.
The Millions: A lot has changed in the country in just the last couple of years since you started working on Rapture Ready!, with the politics associated with born-again Christianity falling out of favor to a certain extent. Do you think that the change in the political climate will change the way Christians express themselves through pop culture?
Daniel Radosh: I wonder if to some extent you don’t have your cause and effect backward. That is, the political power of the religious right is starting to wane at least in part because of some of the changes within evangelical culture that I document in the book. Young Christians, expressing themselves largely through pop culture forms — music, magazines, books, web sites — have been challenging the conservative leaders of the church. Even younger Christians who may themselves have conservative politics don’t believe that such politics ought to be linked to faith, or that being a Christian means you must be a Republican. Rank and file Christians’ dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq and the response to Katrina, in particular, weakened the ability of the more gung ho leadership to continue to rally people in support of the Bush administration.
As the political scene in general has shifted, more and more progressive Christians have been liberated to speak up. And I think we’ll see more of that. On the other hand, there has also been a backlash — an attempt to protect “Bible-based Christianity” from the “grace” or “red letter” movement. This rear-guard action also takes pop culture forms, such as the insanely militaristic Battle Cry rallies. So I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a return to militancy in some Christian rock, for example.
TM: You focus a lot on Christian music in the book. Is this because that is what most interested you or do you think this is the most important segment of Christian pop culture?
DR: More the latter. Modern Christian pop culture pretty much began with the Jesus people movement of the 1960s and 70s, and its earliest manifestation was Christian rock. So it’s been around the longest, developed the largest audience, and, perhaps most importantly, the scene has grown big enough to reflect the diversity of evangelicalism.
TM: In the book, you recount some episodes that offended and angered you during your exploration of Christian pop culture. Was it hard to keep yourself from writing something “angry” as opposed to the funny and reasoned book you produced, or did you find that the reasonable, humane impulses of Christian culture outweighed the aspects of it that offended you?
DR: Can’t I have it both ways? There are definitely aspects of Christian culture (not to mention individual Christians) that I came to respect, admire and simply enjoy. But they didn’t make me hate the offensive stuff any less. Rather, they simply made me realize that the offensive stuff, while it demands and usually gets the most attention, isn’t representative of the entire church, so that maybe made me less angry. Also, I’m not a particularly angry guy, so that helped.
TM: How much of the book got left on the cutting room floor? Were there any episodes that you wish had made it in?
DR: Early drafts of the book were crammed with every strange or funny thing I encountered. But it got repetitive and slowed the narrative down, so I don’t really miss it. Some of that stuff ended up in the multimedia appendix on my web site. I do miss a chapter on geocentrism, which got reduced to one paragraph at the end of the creationism section. It was a lot of fun, but didn’t fit the pop culture theme of the rest of the book. I’m hoping to turn it into a magazine article at some point.
TM: Now that the book is out, what are some of the things you’ve heard from born-again Christians who’ve read it? Do they resent it or find it refreshing?
DR: Judging from the Christian blogosphere, there’s definitely a lot of interest in it, though most of these folks haven’t actually read it yet and I’m not sure what they’ll think of it when they do. Of those that have, many have really embraced it. I’ve gotten some very nice e-mails, done a lot of Christian radio interviews, and was even asked to write an article about my experiences for a pretty cool Christian magazine called Relevant. More conservative evangelicals have found it entertaining, but are a little put off by my liberal perspective. I’d be worried if they weren’t.