Sunday, 16 December 2012

Ultimate Concern

On the 15th of December, Sandy Hook Elementary School became the scene of one of the worst school shootings that America has ever seen; 26 people were killed, 20 of whom were children1 aged 6 of 7. Across the globe people were echoing Barack Obama’s statement that said “our hearts are broken today”2. Naturally, like any human, my deepest sympathies also go out to all who were, and are affected by this unbelievable act of violence.
A vigil was held at the local church, Saint Rose of Lima, where 23 year old Agron Selmani was stood quietly outside praying. Selmani was quoted in the Guardian as saying "I'm not a regular at this church at all. I'm not even Catholic, I'm a Muslim, but it doesn't matter right now"3. In the midst of the tragedy, the community managed to come together, regardless of religion.
In a previous blog, I explored how some of Miroslav Volf's work could be seen as an attempt to unite Christians and Muslims by proposing that they could have the same God; I concluded "surely it would be more effective to refocus on the religions' ultimate concerns andpractical ways to reconcile them”4. The community managed to find something that made their religion for that period, seem irrelevant, and unite regardless of nationality, age, or religion. This was an undeniably horrific event; but it also can teach us more than simply what matters to us as Christians, or Muslims, or Atheists, but rather what matters to as humans.
This is proof that in our multi-faith society we can still find ultimate concerns that unite us, ultimate concerns that have the power to transcend religion. I can only pray that in the future, we can find other ways to unite without such tragedy.

2 The Independent
3 Gabbatt
4 Macivor

BBC, ‘Connecticut school shooting: Children among 27 killed’, BBC, 15 December 2012, <
> [accessed 16 December 2012]

Gabbat, A., ‘Newtown gunman kills 20 children in elementary school shooting’, Guardian, 15 December 2012, <> [Accessed 16 December 2012]

Macivor, J., ‘God, Allah, and Volf’, Theology & the Theologian, 17 October 2012, <> [accessed 16 December 2012].

The Independent, ‘'“Our hearts are broken today”: US President Barack Obama in emotional address to the nation following Connecticut primary school shooting’, The Independent, 15 December 2012, <>  [Accessed 16 December 2012]

Monday, 3 December 2012

Should We Consider Popular Culture As A Source Of Truth?

 There is much debate amongst theologians about the exact definition or purpose of theology, however many consider it to be concerned with seeking truth. I am going to explore whether truth can be found in popular culture, and if so, whether it should not be sought as a source for truth independently.

Lynch defines theology as “the process of seeking normative answers to questions of truth / meaning, goodness / practice, evil, suffering, redemption and beauty in specific contexts.” 1. This shows theology to be an on-going process, implying that nothing is truly original and perhaps no conclusive answers will be ever be found. Contrary to scholars such as Astley 2, Lynch’s definition allows for believers and non-believers to seek answers, and thus equally partake in the process of theology.

Lynch lists four approaches to dialogue between popular culture and theology. Firstly, the applicationist approach, where existing theological beliefs and values are applied to questions raised by popular culture. Secondly, the correlational method, where questions from popular culture are correlated to answers from theological tradition; this method allows popular culture to set the focus. Thirdly, the revised correlational method, where theology and popular culture can each ask and answer questions of each other. Lastly, the praxis model which remains as open as the revised correlational method, but critiques both theology and popular culture based on their ability to promote liberation and well-being 3.

Lynch chooses to explore the revised correlational method as it “recognizes that truth and goodness are not the sole possession of one particular religious tradition or world-view” 4.  This of course seems like an appealing way to seek normative answers in a pluralistic world. There are several issues with trying to do theology that is relevant not only for different faiths but also different cultures. Although truth may not be the sole possession of any particular religious tradition or world-view (considering it to be so certainly makes inter-religious dialogue difficult), what each religious tradition or world-view considers to be truth will vary.

The issue with truth is that it ultimately comes down to subjective opinions. “For those who believe, no proof is necessary: for those who do not believe, no proof is possible.” 5. For this reason those who want to find truth in popular culture will inevitably find it, but this does not mean it is normative for all. Lynch’s definition of theology acknowledges that it is a process that occurs in “specific contexts” 6. The fact that theology occurs in different contexts means that different conclusions may be drawn; if this occurs then I personally think that the theological validity should be decided by each faith community rather than society.

Interestingly, Lynch suggests that the revised correlational method should be informed by the praxis model in order to encourage relevant theology that avoids being overly abstract 7. Personally, I can’t help but think that the praxis method is inherently biased as it places more importance on answers that promote liberation than answers that are true. Although not mutually exclusive, there are times when these aims may clash.

In modern society popular culture can influence and reflect what individuals believe to be truth. This is especially apparent in young people where popular music is “a primary, if not the primary resource” 8. There are times when popular culture can reflect theological truths, explain theological ideas more accessible way, raise questions that theology has not yet fully answered, or even be a mouthpiece that challenges theology. I think it can be beneficial for theology to be scrutinised and challenged by popular culture. Despite this, I don’t think that theology should be led primarily by pragmatism or the zeitgeist of the time (for further comment on pragmatism and the church I recommend this blog by Mark Walley 9).

Clearly theological truths can be portrayed through popular culture, often in a fresh and accessible way. However due to the ever changing nature of society and culture I think it is irresponsible to consider popular culture a primary source for theological pursuits of truth.


1 Lynch, 94
2 Astley, 2
3 Lynch, 101-104
4 ibid, 105
5 Author Unknown, cited in Pafumi, 35
6 Lynch, 94
7 ibid, 106
8 Bennett, 34
9 Walley

Bennett, A., Popular Music and Youth Culture: music identity and place, Palgrave, 2000.

Lynch, G., Understanding theology and popular culture, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2005.

Pafumi, G. R., Is Our Vision of God Obsolete?, Xlibris Corporation, 2010.

Walley, M., The Deceitfulness of Pragmatic Arguments, The Grove Is On Fire, 19 November 2012, <> [accessed 3 December 2012]