Thursday, May 3, 2012

The End

Ladies and gentlemen, the day has come.

After a good year of having a lot of fun with pop-cultural religious expressions, I have decided to call it quits. He Died For My Grins is now at an end. I felt that things were starting to get rehashed for a while now and finding new cool things to write about started to feel like a bother rather than a delight. Signs that I said what I wanted to say. Academically I will still pursue this topic ever further as I have been doing for the past eight months or so, but on a blog level, I bid you farewell.  I thank everyone who took the time to read any of my scribbles.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Billy Sunday

Sometimes those preachers could get hot and they'd boil for the Lord. One such man was Billy Sunday. A baseball player gone public revival leader, he is said to have been quite the figure. No theatrics too theatrical for this popular figure. I think the images speak for themselves. Billy Graham is obviously the heir to this (this) Billy's throne.

 Devil might have some slick tricks but Billy's got a chair!

 Ain't no crowd to tough for Billy!

 Climb it!

 The man knew his theatrics!

What is it with this guy and chairs?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Dispensational Charts

Some Christians believe that the end of the world is near, that first the elect or church of true believers will be raptured, after which seven years of tribulation will follow under the rule of the Antichrist, after which Christ will return and reign on earth for a thousand years. This is usually referred to as Premillennialism, expecting the return of Christ before the thousand years of peace. There's also Dispensationalism, when more than one phase in human history (or should I say Biblical history) is recognized. Together neatly they are called Dispensational Premillennialism. People that believe this actually worked it out in neat charts. I love these charts because they are minutely detailed and carefully drawn out, rationally organized intricate maps of an event that is quite hard to imagine will ever take place outside of a certain Biblical frame of reference. The charts really look like step-by-step instructions on how to fix your radio.

Man of the hour seems to have been Clarence Larkin who made these and countless others of illustrations like them.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Franz Anton Mesmer

Before I talk about Mesmer, I'd like to celebrate the one year existence of this blog. Yaaay! Attracted more traffic than I thought (since my hope was a million a day but my more realistic expectation was zero). Nice to see that that's approaching 150k hits now. Although sometimes I fear the end is near. And then I'm not talking about the rapture but about this blog. But we will see, sometimes I do seem to still come up with inspiriation.

Inspiration such as when someone says to me "oh, that's just mesmerizing!" and I ask (in stead of reacting to the marvel) "do you know where that word came from?" It's a reference to Mesmerism which is in turn the invention of Franz Anton Mesmer. At a time when such new things as magnetism were being discovered, this man thought he'd try and use this for therapeutic means which is also known as animal magnetism. He devised enormous metal tubs that he connected people to and put them in some sort of trance and his subjects were reported as having all sorts of visions and of course Mesmer could cure them. So was Mesmer a gifted healer, a misguided man of hope or a charlatan? Who the hell cares, the guy devised enormous metal tubs, hooked people up to it and it didn't even occur to them that this might be funny! Now thát's hilarious!

 Mesmer doing his thing without any tools. Yeah baby I like it raw!

 Tub action.

 Picture of the legendary tub itself. Not sure where this is.

 For those curious cats who want to build a tub of their own.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mormon Missionaries

Oh ladies and gentlemen sometimes I don't know why I blog about anything else but Mormons. One of the first things that really knocked me off my seat was photographs of happy Mormon families that were clearly compositions. I think it was even one of the first entries on this blog. But a year later and nothing has changed, I still think Mormons are among the best of the religious artists out there. The pictures of the Mormon missionaries depicted as having a meaningful conversation with strangers, really reaching out, really making them see things differently, there is such innocent hope that speaks from these pictures.

 This one made me laugh so hard. Is it wrong? I don't know.

 Have you seen this person?

 Compositions like this are just art!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Passion Rotterdam

No, not about Mel Gibson's movie. It's about a local production, The Passion, provided by the Dutch Evangelical Broadcasting Community with some support from the Roman Catholic Church and the Dutch Protestant Church. It was huge and spectacular. 1.7 million people watched it on television, more than 10% of the total Dutch population. I read nothing but praise about the technical aspect and the delivery. The artists were all local celebrities. Personally, this is an instance where two loves meet for not only am I fascinated by popular expressions of religious sentiment, I do have a weak spot for Dutch local artists too. There is something pathetic and familiar about it that strangely warms my heart just as much as Christian sentiment is able to. If Christ doesn't feel strangely familiar to me then at least the Dutch artists certainly do. And here they are, celebrating the story of my buddy Jesus!

But what do I see? In 2012? Nothing but criticism from both the secular and the religious sides it seems. Most striking is that the secular side is complaining about this story being portrayed irreverently. What! If anyone the secular side should be able to recognize that the idea of religious integrity is suspect at the very least. Either the non-religious have not yet completely emancipated themselves from religious sentiment or they abuse an idea of religious integrity to bash a type of popular entertainment that they can't stand, for of course it is the intellectuals that complain about this. Most likely a combination of both.

But even from the theological side I hear complaints. Really? Well go ahead and dig your own grave with complaints for shovels then! If popular culture is seen as something that can only corrupt religion then pretty soon that religion will be over and done with. I would like to see how someone from the United States would react to this European type of criticism. "Are they crazy?" My fictional evangelical American friend might ask. "The Gospel should be told and made heard, whatever it takes," he would argue. I guess the US has more of a tradition of catering to popular sentiment, making use of popular entertainment and modern media. Also in the US the religious emphasis seems to be more on experiencing religion than subscribing to a set of beliefs. The reasons for things growing differently in the US and in Europe are many but the bottom line is, if the EU clergy isn't going to wise up they might keep an eye on the classifieds ads printed next to their angry letters in the newspapers.

Trailer of the show.

The whole thing can be seen on the website:

Friday, April 6, 2012

Christian Art: Jason Jenicke

Sometimes I see them. These mothers. They have a baby and for some reason they believe that this is a unique and remarkable achievement. That this little creature - oh isn't he just adorable - came out of them. Oh yes folks can you believe that, isn't that something? Isn't that something you never saw happen before? No it happens all the time. Yet these self-content mothers have this arrogant glow about them like they just performed a miracle and the world owes them a favor or at least all the respect it can conjure up. These hell-creatures usually pop up in front of you in bike traffic, in a quiet coffee place or next to you on the train, where they will loudly proclaim their love for their baby at the slightest hint of this baby crying. At a much higher volume than this baby crying too. Horrible terrible creatures with an overestimation complex, if such a thing exists.

It is exactly this narcissist glow that the artist Jason Jenicke in my opinion nailed in his depictions of Mary, mother of Jesus. I don't care if your son is the Son of God though, the gloating still annoys the hell outta me!


Saturday, March 31, 2012

Book Review: Visual Piety

David Morgan. Visual Piety : A History and Theory of Popular Religious Images. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1998.

In literature I often find this book mentioned alongside Colleen McDannell’s Material Christianity, R. Laurence Moore’s Selling God and Heather Hendershot’s Shaking the World for Jesus as a cornerstone in the field of researching the material reality that helps shape religious practice. Mr. Morgan is a very productive man but this book seems to have been a trailblazing one. Be that true or not at the very least I think it was breathtaking, and even at times unsettling.
            The first thing that makes this book stand out is method. I love both McDannell’s and Moore’s books, but there is still something that lacks. Both perform historic research. That’s fine of course and they do go to great lengths to try and reconstruct what all the material goods actually meant to people living at the time. But testimonies can only tell you so much about what people actually did with all these things (a limit McDannell in her book in a moment of honesty actually laments). This is however something that Morgan actually looks into by means of a modest research. He asked people about their personal experience regarding Sallman’s Head of Christ. This yields some interesting results that go beyond merely looking at the products and the testimony of its users from the past only. In a way one might say it’s even more real, because instead of having to second guess about what people meant when they wrote about their experiences in an unreachable past, you can just ask them. Of course you might still get it wrong, but at least you can go straight(er) to the source. Morgan is the first one I encounter that makes use of sociological method in addition to historical research in trying to understand better the reception of popular religious material culture.
            Another thing that struck me in this book is that it sometimes chilled me. This should really only mean two things: The world is a horrible place and Morgan is a damn good writer. I got the cold shivers running down my spine reading about the way that Christianity is turned from a lovely ideal of how to raise your children teaching them values of kindness, solidarity, forgiveness and compassion to a nazi-esque ideology of exterminating all members of the human race that aren’t “really” Christian. The reasoning goes that what starts as a good idea about raising your kids quickly turns into the idea that you can only make sure people turn out okay if you start from birth. If you don’t, it’s already too late. What does that mean? That you should be born into Christianity and if you aren’t then there is no hope. Therefore, it is reasoned, Christians should focus on raising good families and little by little try and exterminate all other rivaling people that are supposedly beyond redemption. It turns religion into family and tribe and takes away the idea of Christian by choice and turns it into Christian by birth (seemingly a very un-American idea by the way, usually preferring believer’s baptism over infant baptism, emphasizing personal choice over fate). Driving this point home both intellectually and emotionally is not an easy task and certainly in my opinion Morgan managed to do this and it hit me hardest since reading Jon Savage’s Teenage where he talks about the horrible and lonely death of Anne Frank.[1]
            Morgan’s ideas are innovating. His sharp observations, clever use of research results and his ability to tell stories like the one above and others, like that of Muscular Christianity, make this book a standard on the theme of material Christianity in the United States and in fact one of worth in its own right.

[1] Might I add to this that it took a good English writer like Savage to finally break my native Amsterdam shield of cynicism about the fate of Anne Frank, making sure I actually heard it for the first time after having heard it already told uninspired by bad teachers a thousand times before.

Friday, March 30, 2012


So there you are, an ambitious evangelical Christian, that wants to preach the Word to the youth. What do you do? You could create an animated series. That is difficult though, because you must first learn to understand the idiom and the technique, which doesn't always work out that well. But what other options are there? Well why not just buy the rights to some cheap Japanese cartoon series and dub it over in the native language of your country cramming it full of Jesus? That is what the local Evangelical Broadcasting Network here seems to have done with the Japanese series Katri, Girl of the Meadows, that they renamed Nathalie. This story is strange anyway and somehow very modern and international. The 1980s series is Japanese and based on a Finnish book set in Finland during the First World War. So already the series is culturally somewhat of a stretch. But then the Evangelical Broadcasting Network here in the Netherlands bought up the rights and made it into a Dutch series with a strong Christian message. This is not on a Golden Rule do-unto-others level, Jesus was invoked himself. It was quite explicit. I am amazed now (although perhaps a bit naively) that the series wasn't evangelical at all to begin with. In a way, just buying some secular series and then dubbing it into sanctity is quite cunning. If you can't beat them, rob them blind?

 Katri, a.k.a. Nathalie.

Dutch DVD front.

Dutch intro song.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Veggie Tales

So in line with my recent entries on Christian kid's shows (like SuperBook and Davey & Goliath) today let's talk about the one to end all others: Veggie Tales. This is one of the few crossover success examples of evangelical popular cultural products being picked up in the secular market too, not just remaining in the evangelical subculture, according to Heather Hendershot. It's pretty much your cutesy series about anthropomorphic vegetables (a divergence from the usual animals) that go out on adventures. Subtle certainly for evangelical Christian standards is the embedded message that doesn't focus on Jesus but focuses more on proper behavior and interpersonal (intervegetable?) contact.

 Okay maybe they aren't always that subtle.

Source: Hendershot, Heather. Shaking the World for Jesus: Media and Conservative Evangelical Culture. London: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Atheist Stickers

Yesterday I was at a punk show in Belgium. Good stuff. Mohawks, loud music, a lot of shouting, singing and dancing, the works. One other thing that was also there was an anarcho punk merch table. They were selling a lot of stuff, promoting vegetarianism and saying that the state should be abolished, but what caught my eye were some anti-religion stickers.

It did make me think about the phenomenon of merchandise. This is somewhat my specialty. I always wonder why people buy and use merchandise. A lot of times it seems to me that it has to do with identity. You wear shirts, put stickers on everything and get a whole bunch of fridge magnets to let other people know who you (think you) are. Ironically, most of the time it doesn't matter what it says, as long as it says something. In the case of atheism arguably things even get weirder, because the identity construction revolves not around what you are, but what you aren't.

 I love the primitiveness of this one.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Davey and Goliath

So after yesterday's SuperBook, more on kids shows. Another one that I see popping up in literature every now and then is Davey and Goliath. This is somewhat fascinating. If SuperBook seemed to still match the standards of its genre, this does not seem to be the case with Davey and Goliath. It's somehow very stiff. First of all in a technical sense. The stop-motion animation isn't smooth. It's crude and uneasy. Perhaps this is inherent to clay-animation itself, but even so, this just looks and feels clumsy. I wouldn't say heartless because it seems the people did actually care about what they were doing, they just didn't really know how to do it. It looks amateurish. This shows even more in the stories though. I've watched a few episodes now and... there isn't really a story. Just some morals in sequence that are so big you sort of gasp for air every time they punch you in the stomach with one. No plot or script or nothing - and a gruelingly slow tempo to add. No suspense either. Which brings me to another striking feature: where is evil in this world? The most evil things seem to get are only a suspension of good, after which a quick restoration of good follows to underline that ultimately all is fine and dandy in this here lovely God's creation. Postman Pat, although twenty years younger still the secular series that Davey and Goliath remind me of primarily, also doesn't have evil, but somehow it's different. In the lovely sweet universe of Postman Pat the creators seem to have consciously suspended evil although they damn well know it's out there in the real world. In the case of Davey and Goliath the creators seem to want to illustrate that evil doesn't really exist, giving it a feverish quality because they don't seem to convince even themselves of this fact. With Postman Pat it's a game, with Davey and Goliath it's dead earnest.

Friday, March 23, 2012


So this is an old pre-animé type Christian animation series. I remember this kind of series, they always looked rather cheaply produced (probably because they were). Endless shots of heads of two altering frames to cut costs, that sort of thing. Brought home probably by the Pokémon series. But I know it more from the old eighties series like Nils Holgersson and the Wizard of Oz animated renditions (oeh and that terrible one where they wanted to teach you about the human body. It was awful. No matter how young you are, you automatically react allergically to educational-purposes animated series). It wasn't very good but hey I was ten, it moved, that's all that mattered, I was happy with it. Even though the Evangelical Broadcast Network did have some series of its own, I don't really remember this one. Only vaguely perhaps but given that I was hardly even in my double digits of age my mind is likely to play tricks on me and fill in blind gaps with lies. Anyway, since there were secular animated series, of course there were also evangelical counterparts. This one seems, given the standard that it emulates, not bad though. The premise seems to be your average computer-gone-bad because of which some kids are sucked into another reality type model. Of course in this case they end up in the many stories of the Bible. Probably this series isn't so bad because the Bible stories do beg to be turned into an animated series... well okay perhaps not all books and stories but still quite a few of them.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bloody Bloody Bible Camp

Not a spontaneous product from a religious culture, but quite like Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter, this one is too good not to mention. The idea is already genius but Jesus Christ makes a quick appearance, played by none other than porn clown Ron Jeremy. Now thát's what I call casting!

I bet they included a "don't you hate it when people try and stuff their religion down your throat?" joke.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Christian Art: Corbert Gauthier

Once again all is well and good in Jesusland!

 Smile! It's Jesus!

Love that "Golly gosh darn it would you just look at that folks!" pose of Joseph there.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Left Behind: The Movie

So, it's been a while now that I've been wanting to talk about this. But the day is here. That dragon of a movie: Left Behind. My latest experience with this movie was in class recently where a good chunk of the movie was shown. This was for a Christianity in the United States class and everyone was paying close attention, scrutinizing for religious symbols, scribbling down notes carefully. But... nobody laughed? The poort acting, the weird story twists, the crippled dialogue? Nobody noticed?
Perhaps I'm biased about this movie, having read what especially Heather Hendershot had to say about it. The team behind it was all psyched about making the very first crossover movie success, thinking they'd take Hollywood by storm. With a movie based on a best-selling book, appealing not only to the evangelical subculture from which it sprang but also to the broader public, they did have reason to expect it.
Yet nothing more than a gush of wind it turned out to be. Or in fact, according to the reviews, a very smelly fart. A by now infamous description of the movie by the critic Desson Thomson writing for the Washington Post that reads "A blundering cringefest, thanks to unintentionally laughable dialogue, hackneyed writing and uninspired direction" pretty much sums up the common sentiment about this movie amongst reviewers. Not even the own team was all too wild about this movie, where didn't have too much praise to sing for it and even the evangelical periodical Christianity Today sighed out a quiet "ahem."
Granted, in the long (long long) run, it did generate some money with video sales. However, it was meant to shine at the box office. 17 million going in, just over 4 million grossed... that's a far cry from the spectacular success that the makers had anticipated. The idea that they could live up to the Hollywood norm with this movie is beyond naive. But why did the team behind this movie think it then?
Hendershot touches on a couple of reasons. One is that the producers thought this movie was quite subtle because they cut back on all the “Jesus”es flying around. Still, for any outsider watching this movie, it’s pretty clear what’s going on. It’s a good bit of end-times propaganda. You almost watch it not as a fiction movie but as a scenario for what is about to happen according to its creators. Also to me it seems these people had no critics at all. They sort of just... went along with it. I know that bands sometimes tend to think they made the greatest record ever because they convinced themselves of this fact in their isolated bubble and not because they critically compared their product to other ones out there. Usually also then, cold harsh reality tends to prove such bands wrong. The feel of this movie very much reminded me of such bubble-reasoning. Whatever the reason might be though, it presented us with a pearl of oblivion from the evangelical subculture!

PS: I do remember now, that when I did finally see the movie after having heard so many bad things about it, I did think: Was that it? I had somehow expected to see the very worst movie ever. In fact, I was looking forward to this. Give me the worst movie to end all worst movies! It was bad, sure, but that bad? I didn't really think so. Could it be then that there was a little bit of politics involved? Secular media cranking the critique dial up a notch or a few to punish the unrealistic expectations of the high-and-mighty evangelicals? The production team did present itself for target practice going on and on about how great this movie was and how it would show all people the way of movie-making of the future, but I don't know if it deserved quite the all-devastating criticism it got. I for one have seen worse. Far... far worse!

Source: Hendershot, Heather. Shaking the World for Jesus: Media and Conservative Evangelical Culture. London: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Aimee Semple McPherson

So lets talk about the fierce Sister McPherson. She was an active evangelist in the early twentieth century. She was an itinerant revival priest as they are called, roaming the world and preaching the gospel. Her services were quite something alright, hailing from the more expressive side of the Pentecostals, extravagant even for Evangelist norms. Tongues swinging, drunk on the love for the Lord, letting out some of that good old glossolalia. And of course bodies dropping to the floor everywhere and people getting up dancing, shouting and of course an occasional faint here and there. Du religion spectaculaire mesdammes et messieurs! Also, McPherson was a pioneering spirit in that she made use of the all-new mass-medium, the radio, to reach her audience everywhere. Her persona was an inspiration for a lot of fictional characters too, like for instance the preacher boy in the movie There Will Be Blood and I'm pretty sure she was a source of inspiration for the character of Sister Shara in the movie Elmer Gantry. Good movies by the way. But back to Aimee then. She was, in short, one hell of an entertainer, be it for the heavenly cause.

 Preach it Aimee!

 Screw the Batmobile. This Gospel Car is my kinda ride!

Drop it like it's hot!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

George Whitefield

So see if you know this one. You're sitting in class and the topic is on George Whitefield, an eighteenth century Anglican preacher. The teacher talks about how influential he was in spreading more of an Arminian type of Christianity in the United States than the Calvinist one that was already manifest, which allowed more room for personal choice. You are told about his impressive sermons that even the religious skeptic Benjamin Franklin thought were remarkable. You hear about how he is able to command an enormous crowd of thousands, all hanging on his lips in a time when there was no microphone around yet. He invented the gesture of heaving your arms into the air, he introduced the outdoor religious gatherings, he was, in short, a figure of note for Christianity in the United States. And then they hit you with this:

It's not even so much the fact that he's squint-eyed - in fact the teacher was quick to add "blessed are the squint for they get to behold God twofold." But it's just that after all that pep talk you just don't see this coming. It's very hard to keep a straight face. This is supposed to be a serious class right, with serious people, bright minds that are not distracted by frivolous detail but keep their eye on the intellectual ball... oh how hard it was to hold in my laughter! To you, dear reader, I confess.

Whitefield was a man of note though, so let's not keep it at his cross-eyedness and add some more artwork. With him raising his arms on high for example.

 Bring 'em to their knees, Georgie!

 Put your hands up! This guy invented it.

 At times Georgie could be a bit of a pouty face. Nice Princess Leia hairdue though!

Friday, March 2, 2012


Probably the central symbol of the commodification of religion: the bobblehead! Lets see what we can dig up.

 Some Jesuses first then.
 Swing it, Jesus!

 Add a little bit of Moses.
 Add a little bit of pope.
 This Rabbi looks like he had a hard day at the synagogue.
 Buddha? Buddha!