Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Don't Be a Fundamentalist Anti-Fundamentalist

My younger sister started listening to "alternative" music in the 1990s.

She'll be quick to point out that she discovered it before the vast majority did, too. She likes making sure that everyone knows that.

The allure was obvious. Alternative music as a genre was pioneered by musicians who--for entirely creative reasons--recognized that capitulating to a majority-driven enterprise machine would never allow them to achieve their artistic potential. They'd be continuously compensated for achieving mediocrity. They didn't want that. Who would?

It's hard to blame them. So a post-60s anti-establishment was born, and the criticism against the establishment was palpable. By rejecting the direction of mainline producers, the quality of music became hit-or-miss. But when it hit, it was out of the park. And the best of them then became producers themselves, influencers and decorated leaders who claimed not to be leaders, the unwitting presidents of the anarchists. Which of course helped produce even more really good alternative music.

There was an unexpected problem: it worked. By the mid-90s, the "alternative" that was trying to rebel against popularity was more popular than pop. This left its adherents with a bit of an identity crisis. The rebels against the establishment had established themselves as a new establishment. There's precious little for a trained revolutionary to do when the revolution is over, except perhaps to rebel against their success. Until that works.

Do we do the same thing in our Western churches? A lot of us seem to rather enjoy caricaturing the "radical religious right" (and with good reason!). But once we've seen the self-destructive contradiction in the "our way (of humility?) is the only way" mentality, do we become a bit too manic in our anti-fundamentalist campaign?

It reminds me a bit of the "to hell with freedom of expression" sign that I saw a protester carrying after the Muhammad cartoon travesty in Belgium a few years ago.

When we reach the point where we're fighting to make sure that everyone agrees with our strong opinion that those with strong opinions should be ridiculed, might it be that we're swallowing salt water to quench our thirst? We'll die trying to eradicate fundamentalism with a fundamentalist fervor.

Maybe, just maybe, we have to make room for a little bit of fundamentalism in a non-fundamentalist world.

Otherwise, we might become fundamentalist or something.

Geez, this is confusing.

"That's alternative to alternative"
--Todd Snider, "Talkin' Seattle Grunge Rock Blues"