Elevate Difference

Christotainment: Selling Jesus through Popular Culture

For years now, “Bible-thumping ideology” has clashed with a mainstream popular culture that seems to stand for everything fundamentalist Christians oppose. That is, however, until fundamentalist Christians discovered how they could harness the power of popular culture to sell their own messages of purity, penance, and prayer.

This is where Shirley Steinberg and Joe Kincheloe’s anthology Christotainment: Selling Jesus through Popular Culture begins. Christotainment looks at how conservative Christians have sold movies, NASCAR, music, toys, and even talking vegetables—and, in the process, peddled their own ideologies and values to a blossoming market of believers. Chapters dissect the social, cultural and political identities afforded to members of the “Christotainment” community, as well as the implications of turning faith into a commodity that one can purchase on DVD or wear as a shirt. 

“Christotainment” is also approached as a political movement. Joshua Newman and Michael Giardina’s chapter “Onward Christian Drivers” examines how the Republican Party harnessed the loyal fan base of the “NASCAR nation” to win votes that propelled Republicans to massive victories in 2000 and 2004. Later, the politicization of faith is discussed within the context of censorship and the war against rock music. Through these, the authors suggest that the “ever ready army of right-wing Christian fanatics and demagogic populists” nurtured by “Christotainment” promote intolerance and threaten democratic ideals.

Like all good anthologies, Christotainment tackles a core issue from several different perspectives and engages a variety of audiences in the process. Ultimately, the critical lens they use to explore “Christotainment” may turn off those who are already a part of the “Christotainment” culture. However, their scholarly examination of the ramifications associated with the commercialization of faith remains sensibly balanced with enough cultural vignettes to keep it accessible and interesting to all readers.

Written by: Gwen Emmons, May 23rd 2009