Life Imitates Art

One year at the National Association of Broadcasters Convention, I sat next to a young woman who introduced herself as a Hollywood writer. Her goal, she said, was to produce a successful prime-time television show expressing Christian themes. Inwardly I shook my head. Little does this young woman know the barriers she's up against in Hollywood, I thought. But months later, I discovered that she did know—and that she had surmounted those barriers in a dramatic way. The woman's name was Martha Williamson, and her show, "Touched By An Angel," has since become a stunning success, bringing serious Christian themes to a wide television audience. Oh me of little faith. Christians are constantly bemoaning the lack of wholesome fare on television, but Martha Williamson rolled up her sleeves and did something about it. She gives a wonderful model of how we are to obey the biblical mandate to redeem the surrounding culture. To carry on the fine work that people like Williamson are doing, we need to start by analyzing what's wrong popular culture today. Why is so much television and rock music woven through with themes of immorality and rebellion? The answer is that popular culture, like all the arts, is shaped by worldviews. Up until the Enlightenment, art was seen as a way of expressing profound truths. Not necessarily literal truth; yet even symbols and metaphors reflect something true about reality—like portraying angels with wings or saints with halos. Beauty itself was seen as a kind of truth. But in the Enlightenment, a new theory of truth was born—that the only real knowledge derives from what can be seen, touched, and measured scientifically. Since angels and halos cannot be seen or measured, out they went. Beauty itself is an ideal that cannot be measured scientifically, so out it went, too—relegated to the realm of subjective fantasy. But if art was no longer about truth, then what WAS it about? Many artists began to define art as the creation of an abstract, idealized world—and from that ideal world they hurled down thunderbolts upon the real world for all its shortcomings. Thus was born the idea that art is about criticism and revolt—a means of shocking conventional society. Filtered down to the popular level, this view of art inspired movies and rock music that today launch a relentless attack on traditional values. If Christians want to help halt the degradation of popular culture, we must understand it is not merely a result of declining public tastes: It is a direct result of a change in worldview. And instead of merely decrying the decadence, we need to roll up our sleeves and offer positive alternatives—imitating the inspiring success of Martha Williamson and many others. C.S. Lewis once said that the only way to drive out bad culture is to create good culture. We need to recognize that artistic talent is a gift from the Lord—and that developing those talents is the only way to create good culture.


Chuck Colson


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