Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Keeping the Fidelity in Stereo Catechesis: Opportunities and Dangers Inherent in Transmediation of the Gospel as Illustrated in Sister Act I and II

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Keeping the Fidelity in Stereo Catechesis: Opportunities and Dangers Inherent in Transmediation of the Gospel as Illustrated in Sister Act I and II

Article excerpt

Richard Olsen

University of North Carolina at Wilmington


This paper examines the opportunities and dangers that can emerge when attempting to make the Gospel relevant to the "new culture" as articulated by French scholar Pierre Babin. It argues that inherent dangers exist when attempting to adapt the Gospel to the characteristics of members of the new culture. These inherent dangers--and the need to try to reach out despite them--are clearly illustrated in the Sister Act movies. Of particular note is the shift of focus from God toward music and personality as agents of change. The paper concludes by suggesting the term "interface" as a potentially useful addition to Babin's lexicon in discussing transmediation and the Gospel.

"I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, you have been searching for Me, not because you see the miracles and signs but because you were fed with the loaves and were filled and satisfied. ...

For the Bread of God is He who comes down out of heaven and gives life to the world"

(John 6:26, 33). [1]

[1] Although church attendance in the U.S. rose slightly after September 11 2001, until that time most surveys indicated that the organized mainstream Church was not doing a good job of bringing people into direct experience with God. "The gap between believing and belonging is widening, however, with church and synagogue membership down and a slight but steady increase in the unchurched population while the growing percentage who believe in the divinity of Christ has risen six percentage points between 1978 and 1988" (Gallup and Jones 1989, 2). Clearly, many people want to come to Christ, they just don't want to come to church! One of the reasons for this, argued by Babin (1991), is that many churches have failed to adapt to "the new culture" brought about by technology, particularly in communication and media. This paper will introduce the overlooked scholarship of Pierre Babin, explore some of the characteristics of the new culture that as he defines it, and look at some of the challenges that emerge when attempting to relate the Gospel message to that new culture.

The New Culture According to Babin

[2] Extending on the work of McLuhan and others, Babin argued that a new culture exists. This culture has six general characteristics salient to our discussion. First, this culture is right-brain dominant. As contemporary media have made it easier to move from text and sequential/linear messages to images and holistic messages, the right brain has become the center of sense-making. Audiences have become experiential and intuitive, as opposed to rational in orientation. The proliferation of "trash TV" talk shows illustrates this preference. Audiences rarely want to hear traditional "experts" discuss a particular dysfunction from an objective, albeit learned, position. Instead the goal is to hear, see, and experience the dysfunctional people "in person." Many people have also decided that the visceral experiences of the dysfunctional guest are more "true" than the testimony of traditional experts. This shift is consistent with the shift offered by Brummett (1991). He noted that media logic shifts the focus from a rational discussion of issues to a focus on narrative structure. This shift in orientation clearly has implications for evangelizing and even faith itself. As Babin (1991) pointed out, "Faith perceived by the left hemisphere cannot be the same as faith perceived by the right" (55). Even if one argues with whether there is a literal division in the brain, the idea that contemporary culture has migrated toward the characteristics once clustered under the right brain division remains viable.

[3] A second key characteristic of the new culture according to Babin is audiences' affinity for modulation. Modulation is a notion similar to vibration. Since media comes at us in waves (sound waves, light waves) and appeals to the entire being, audiences respond with their entire being. …

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