The Problem with Christians Doing the 'Harlem Shake'
Regardless of what the ramifications are for this particular song, Christians—whose faith relies on the context of its own teachings and symbols—generally need to take interest in where cultural phenomena come from and what they mean.
The same impulse that has us thoughtlessly clicking and sharing viral videos trains us to disconnect the thing in front of us with the story behind it. Our lives as Christians are all about the story of the Gospel, and we don't want our traditions distanced from that story…by us or anyone else.
The commodification of religious beliefs is nothing new. Just think of how long people have been wearing cross necklaces without believing in the man who died on the cross or quoting Bible verses without having read the chapter of the Bible they came from. Church leaders have long warned against this "picking and choosing" from our traditions.
The rapid pace and widespread reach of the Internet makes it easier than ever for us to settle for "abstraction and shallow engagement." This isn't just happening with the "Harlem Shake." Nearly every online sensation soon spurs Christian versions, from a remake of Rebecca Black's "Friday" called "Sunday" to Liberty University's Christmas carol rendition of the bed intruder song. Eager to be "in the world but not of the world," to show that they don't take ourselves too seriously, Christian groups gladly play along.
Posting a parody or taking part in a meme often brings that thing into the Christian world instead of forcing participants to examine what's going on in broader culture. We consider pageviews, retweets, and mentions as engagement, though all can be done without recognizing the original context of an idea. In fact, when something's gone viral, it's often impossible to even find its source and context.
I don't think the answer is for us to power down our iPhones and roll our eyes when someone sends us "the next 'Gangnum Style.'" Nor do we need to overanalyze every mindless meme that comes up. As Christians, our approach—as with many things—should be balanced and thoughtful.
Before sharing the latest thing everybody's tweeting about, Google where it came from and consider how it got from there to everywhere. There may not be life lessons tucked into SNL Digital Shorts or LOLcat photos, but it's worth asking: What do people love about this? What makes them want to click? What does its popularity say about our society at this time?
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