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Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Living Boldly in a Culture of Unbelief. That the subtitle of The Politically Incorrect Jesus (BroadStreet Publishing), the new book from journalist and Renaissance Communications President Joe Battaglia which I recently reviewed and which inspires Christians (and other believers in timeless God-given principles) to quit succumbing to P.C. pressure and to boldly and forthrightly express the positive ideals Christianity and faith in God offers a seriously out-of-balance world.

Joe, who is a friend of mine, recently answered some questions I had about the , yes, politically-incorrect ideas put forth in his book.

JWK: What inspired you to write The Politically Incorrect Jesus and what do you hope readers take from it?

JOE BATTAGLIA: I wrote “The Politically Incorrect Jesus” because I was concerned about the intellectual dishonesty many well-meaning people embrace in an attempt to mollify the self-appointed PC police in our midst. Stating truth and stating the obvious have suddenly become unacceptable, as now we’re supposed to affirm all opinions, behaviors and attitudes.  

I wrote to Christians in particular, and to anyone in general, dissatisfied with the growing lack of common sense and honesty in our public discussions, upset with the moral decline in civility and carte blanche acceptance of all behavior.  The goal is to get people talking honestly and to foster true dialogue in the public square.

I want readers to think about what Jesus clearly taught and stood for, and to consciously build personal principles that withstand passing public trends. I’d like readers to decide how Jesus might act toward his political adversaries. We may disagree with PC thinking, but we always know that Jesus calls us to act in love.

JWK: You suggest that, despite talking a good game about things like diversity, the political and cultural elites of our day actually derive their power from dividing us. Can you talk a little about what you mean by that and how that is done?

JB: I tried to explain that the roots of politically correct thinking took hold in the fertile ground of unrest in European class struggles of the 19th century. There was so much pent-up anger toward the ruling elites of that day by the common people as to how they were treated (or really mistreated) that class struggle seemed to be the only way to break free from that stranglehold. So, Marxist thinking was conceived to set up an “us vs. them” mentality to fight the oppressive ruling class. It was meant to divide people, so it needed to create a group of bad guys. Division and mistrust is the quickest way to divide anyone. And as we know, this Marxist dialectic fueled the thinking of people like Hitler and Stalin to construct ideologies to create the greatest cultures of fear in the 20th century that led to horrible atrocities. 

Fast forward to today. The cultural upheaval of the 60’s became fertile ground for those wishing to impose their Marxist version of society here in America, so they imported that thinking and began to set up a similar “us vs. them” mentality to pit races against each, older generation against the younger, liberal vs. conservative, etc. Classic Marxist thinking.

The idea was to emphasize differences between people to make them afraid of each other, or to remove national and individual symbols of identity from the public square, or to say that equality meant that no one could disagree with another…all in the name of “tolerance” or “diversity” so no one is “offended.”

But all that does is create misinformation, isolation, ignorance, fear and indifference. And we’re paying the cost of that now in our culture.

JWK: How is Jesus’ notion of diversity different from how the word is defined in our current culture?

JB: When you look at God’s creation, no two things are alike. Not even identical twins are identical. The reason simply is because God’s fingerprints on His creation are as diverse as He is. So, to me, diversity is closer to God’s heart than uniformity.  It has nothing to do with blanket acceptance of all behavior.

Diversity in the politically correct sense is accepting behaviors and positions of any and all kind regardless of whether they contradict God’s laws of creation. Big difference.

JWK: You write that “I know Jews who are Christ followers. I know Muslims who are Christ followers. And I know Christians who aren’t.” Can you elaborate on that?

JB: Sure. We have forgotten that Christ is not confined to or defined by religion. He has nothing to do with religion because he is so beyond religion. But we like to fit him into our box of religions for any number of reasons. Christ presents himself as savior to all people and we would be amazed at who truly wants to embrace Him for whom He really is. I have met people of all faiths and no faith that actually love the Jesus of the New Testament, but not necessarily the Jesus that has been deconstructed to fit into a religious box by so-called Christians.  So, what do we call them? What do they call themselves? Our vocabularies do not leave room for those people.

So, I know people who exist in their Jewish or Muslim worlds or no religious world who act more like Christ and claim to be Christ- followers, while I’ve been surrounded by those who call themselves Christians and act nothing like how Christ calls us to act.

So, who is the real Christ-follower? I use that statement to make the point that we might really think about the Jesus we really follow and trust.

JWK: You say that it’s important for Christians to go beyond the comfort zone of their churches and engage the culture in dialogue — but that there is a difference between finding Middle Ground and Common Ground. Can you explain that difference?

JB: First, we often fear associations with people different than us because we feel that our belief systems might be ridiculed or that we are unsure of our beliefs in the first place. That makes us uncomfortable. In isolating ourselves from others who are different, we fail to realize that God has his people everywhere. And that association would broaden our love of the concept of The Body of Christ, and therefore enable us to appreciate more of what Jesus did for all of mankind rather than just for me.

We have to understand that when culture asks us to find middle ground on issues in order to appease all belief systems, it often means compromise on issues that are absolute for which there is no middle ground. So, it often leads to antagonism between people. The higher ground in these cases is to seek common ground where we can find intersections of reason and similarity that does not force us to compromise and sell out on our faith. This is a much better road to take.

JWK: You write that the PC notion of eliminating concept of absolutes — in terms or right and wrong — has contributed to creating a less secure and more fearful culture. Can you explain? And have the PC Police really eliminated the concept of absolutes or merely replaced one set of precepts for another — that are actually harsher? I mean it seems to me that they can be every bit as absolutist about their own world view and can come down on people pretty hard me who dare say say things are outside the lines they have drawn.

JB: Boundaries are part of the fabric of the universe.  If you do X, such and such will happen. God’s laws are inviolate, and the Word of God is NOT an a la carte menu. As parents, we know that allowing children free will to do anything is not in their best interests. True freedom has limitations.

So, in a PC culture, the more we try to eliminate limitations, and deny the cause-effect relationships of the universe, we, like children, grow up fearful. Love imposes boundaries for safety, not for the denial of pleasure. We are now seeing the results of denying the obvious around us in pursuit of this PC society where everything is OK, and truth is relative (which is absurd). We see more fear, more hate crimes, more deviancy, and so forth.

Things are harsher, as you say, because these new “ground rules” are created simply because of ideology and without love in mind, whereas God establishes laws and the boundaries because of his loving nature.

JWK: You talk about channel surfing in your book — and finding little of value while doing so. It seems to me that part of the problem with television is that — due to cable bundling and the clever use of demographics (which elevates the value of some viewers while devaluing others) — networks are getting our financial support whether we watch them or not. It doesn’t matter if we vehemently oppose what their programming stands for, they still get our money. The free market place is subverted while, over time, they also subvert traditional culture. What I’m asking is, in your view, is the whole TV system corrupt?

JB: Well, let me say that first, we have to understand that as Christ-followers, we are always to be the counter-culturalists. The digital age has created the opportunity for anyone to have their 15 minutes of fame, regardless of what it’s for…whether to uplift or denigrate. So, to me, it’s not just the TV system that’s corrupt, the entire human experience is corrupt without a Savior to exchange that corruption for God’s design of beauty, grace, love, etc.

I know this is taking your question in a direction other than yes or no.  But, remember, Jesus came to redeem the whole of life…because the ENTIRE world groans for a Savior, as it states in Romans.

All the things that we all find meaningful in life exist because of God’s grace. That’s why we must be counter-culturalists so we can be the walking, breathing exhibitors of all that’s beautiful in life.  

JWK: My feeling is that it’s no longer enough to produce values-friendly films and TV shows.  Christians and other believers should utilize new technology to create other alternative delivery systems that reach out beyond the choir while also observing the basic principles of faith — for example faith in a loving God, kindness, forgiveness, gratitude, wisdom and respect for those with whom we disagree. Your thoughts?

JB: Christ-followers should redeem EVERYTHING they touch. And EVERYTHING they think. I use the quote in my book by Scottish statesman Alexander McLaren that “saints are not people living in a cloister after a fantastic ideal, but men and women immersed in the common work of everyday life, and who amidst the whirl of the spindle in the mill, the clink of the scales on the counter and in the hub-bub of the marketplace, are yet living lives of conscious devotion to God.”

Because all of creation, including the science behind all technology and systems, are of God’s design, then we should strive to find and use all methods and tools for the common good of man and the proclamation of the Gospel to redeem all of creation.

JWK: You have a chapter in your book called “Golden Rules or Golden Calves?” I’m wondering if, in your mind, the concept of “golden calves” can be applied to Hollywood’s seemingly endless awards season. Has storytelling become an ego-driven business as opposed to a means of handing down learned wisdom from one generation to another? 

JB: Well, if you have no one other than yourself to glorify, we will always continue to look for more ways of self-aggrandizement in order to affirm our worth. Hollywood HAS TO continually create more awards because their system demands self glorification. The more we stray from Biblical awareness where we find our true security and identity, we will need more opportunities to fill that void and vacuum in or hearts.

Remember, the golden calf was made to supplant faith as the evidence of what’s unseen. The ancient Israelites in the camp needed a reassurance of faith so they chose to create an idol instead of waiting for God to speak through Moses.  We do the same today, as we replace the evidences of God’s creation and design with our own idols.  It’s all about ego now.

Great storytelling has not been the only thing to suffer in this culture.  We are endlessly trying to find the void in true community by posting things on Facebook, Instagram, texting, etc. The addiction is simply because we are wired for community and storytelling. When we no longer affirm that, we resort to the mindless and endless search for establishing community.  And one glaring example of that decline is in the film community, among others. With no faith, we then resort to creating things to revel around.

JWK: How do we push back and win against political correctness without eventually becoming the sort of thought police that we oppose?

JB: By staying grounded and focused on Jesus. That’s it. The church that has lost its focus on Christ has become as virulent an example of thought police as those we complain about. They speak out of condemnation, which is not born from love. Jesus spoke from conviction, which is born from love because He cares for our souls.

Look for these signposts of a hard heart—when our doctrine becomes more visible than our love and when people put litmus tests on who can come to the foot of the cross and find forgiveness. And when we raise the flag or anything higher than the cross. Those are warning signs.

JWK:  You’re known for your support of inspirational cinema. What movies have most inspired you? 

I think there are many movies that have been inspirational without being faith based, and which embody principles of valor, courage, sacrifice over convenience, etc. And humor! I have endless movies that have inspired me.

Now, if you mean faith-based cinema, then I really like anything that Alex and Stephen Kendrick have produced because they are great storytellers. They convey timeless truths, albeit rather simply in some of their early films. All anyone can do is offer God their loaves and fishes to use for His purposes. Their movies have been successful because they COULD convey those messages in such a way that people looked beyond lesser production values at times to see the greater message. And allowed their hearts to see those, as well.  I would caution critics to not become so enamored with great art so they lose sight of simpler art forms that change lives. So, include Facing the Giants and Courageous here.

I think movies like Soul Surfer and When The Game Stands Tall were inspiring because they captured those values I listed earlier… courage in the face of adversity, sacrifice, etc.  Same for October Baby as it illumined the greater issue of the value of every life and put a human face on it. Very inspiring.

And coming up, I think people will find Do You Believe? very inspiring.

JWK: Any TV shows — new or old — that get the Joe Battaglia Seal of Approval?

Well, I go back a few years since I’m a product of the 50’s and 60’s. Whether it’s The Honeymooners to Star Trek to Seinfeld to 24 to 60 Minutes—the ability for writers, actors and journalists to portray menial every day existence in ways that made us all laugh or captured our imagination or kept us on the edge of our seats for an entire show or can give us great behind the scenes stories. Currently Blue Bloods gets my vote as it portrays how men can embrace God and use the name of Christ in prayer rather than in vain, yet also deal with doubt and family struggles.

JB: After this book, what other projects are you working on?

I’m always working on so many projects at once, most of which have nothing to do with writing, as you know. We just finished a remarkable project with the one night Fathom Entertainment event, Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus, which is an exceptional documentary.  And I have another six or seven movies/series this year already that I will work on to create the Christian radio promotion, including Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s A.D. mini-series on NBC .

We’re also helping Luis Palau and his team on their major initiative in New York capped by their day long Festival in Central Park in July called CitiFest.

And, along with a friend of mine, I helped to launch a few months ago a weekly column “Faith Matters” for U.S. News & World Report that speaks of faith in the context of current events from a wide spectrum of disciplines.

On the writing side, I have another two titles for books that I’d like to write at some point in the future…so we’ll see how that unfolds.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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