Sep 26, 2011

The Gospel of Religious Pluralism according to Justin Bieber

Fascinating article on the young pop star and his religious faith, taken from CNN's Belief Blog. Since I met him about a year and a half ago, I feel a particular affection for this young performer - despite all the naysayers on the internet. The music is...well... a bit sugary, but then it isn't written for old folks like me, but for very young impressionable girls, and for them I think it's just fine. Let them have their magical moment with a young star who exudes decency from ever pore. What impressed me during my conversations with him is, that despite his religious origins in the Evangelical Christian "Right," he is warmly accepting of gay people in the entertainment industry, completely non judgmental and non patronizing.  He is also particularly sensitive about the Jewish members of his staff, especially his Jewish manager, Scooter Braun. This is why, when he is witnessing in public to his gratitude to "God"  at awards shows, etc. - while it may make some people squirm (including moi) - his sentences are carefully worded to distinguish between "God" and "Jesus."  (I'd like to thank 'God' for all my success. I'd also like to thank Jesus- Video Music Awards, 2011). After all, it was none other than Thomas Aquinas who said many years ago, "You cannot put the name 'Jesus' and the word "God' into the same sentence co-joined by the copulative very 'to be'" (i.e. Jesus is God), a witty aphorism which has been very much neglected down the years by Jesuolaters. Remember Karl Rahner's famous quip that most Christians were Jesuolators, who had divorced the mystery of Jesus from its inclusion in the heart of the Trinity. This thought has been echoed by many distinguished theologians, among them Jan Sobrino. Jesus, while a conduit or symbol of the divine, is not an absolute substitute for the ultimate mystery of the Godhead.  Justin, therefore, is not going to equate the two out of respect for the beliefs of his Jewish friends. Very wise, and very postmodernist, in line with the pluralist theology of Roger Haight, Paul Knitter, and Philip Phan. Justin has been taken to task by some for this practice, and accused of being theologically illiterate. Nothing could be further from the truth. He knows exactly what he is doing in respecting the sensibilities of his Jewish friends, particularly during the prayer sessions preceding each concert, in which Jewish and Christian prayers commingle, with no deference given to 'Jesus' as an absolute God Figure. I have to agree with the author of this article. The faith of this youngster seems very genuine, however awkwardly he may express it at times, employing hackneyed formulas (Jesus died on the cross for our sins). But that he has been touched by something very real within his inner being seems evident to those who really know him, which should give pause to those of us (like myself, I admit) who are sometimes harshly judgmental of the evangelical side of Christianity. Thank you, Justin, for showing us that the Spirit can touch the hearts of persons through a variety of theological/religious frameworks.

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) – Justin Bieber is one of the world's most famous pop stars but is also decidedly more Jesusy than his day job might lead some to believe.

When the young Canadian-born singer burst onto the scene, he was discovered in part by singing Christian songs on YouTube. But that is just the beginning of Bieber's faith journey, spelled out in a new book on the young star.

Cathleen Falsani sarcastically self-proclaims she is the "pre-eminent Justin Bieber scholar in North America."

Falsani has penned "Belieber! Fame, Faith, and the Heart of Justin Bieber," a book exploring the faith life of the tween sensation.

An award-winning religion journalist and a nationally syndicated columnist on the God beat, Falsani came to writing about Bieber almost accidentally.

"I was aware of who he was as a cultural figure. I was aware that he existed, that he was young, cute as a button and Canadian and that his music wasn't something that I generally listened to," she said.
She stumbled across an interview Bieber did with Rolling Stone magazine in which he talked about God. "I was like, 'OK, this is interesting.  Let's see if this is any different than all of the other young 'Christian' pop stars or actors.' "

She was intrigued by the "tone and tenor" of what the young teen had to say about his faith, so she dug deeper. Her young adopted son Vasco was talking about Bieber at the time, and a friend told her she ought to write a book on "the gospel according to Justin Bieber."

What she found was a compelling story of a young man born to an 18-year-old single woman who lost and then found her faith and her way back to church.

Falsani details how Bieber's mother, Patricia Mallette, openly shared her struggles with drugs, alcohol and a suicide attempt before she gave birth to Justin.

Mallette's faith journey took her to Jubilee Christian Fellowship, a nondenominational church in Stratford, Ontario. The church mirrors many charismatic churches in the United States with an emphasis on prayer and spiritual gifts.

"I would call it a charismatic or a Pentecostal church. The iteration of that looks a little different in Canada than it does (in the United States). It looks like any number of our evangelical nondenominational churches, but with a lot more arms raised. Very, very prayerful," Falsani described.

Mallette joined the praise band, which led the music on Sundays. "Being young ... they used to hang out, and she would bring Justin. That's when they noticed this kid's got unbelievable rhythm. And he's 2," according to Falsani.

From there, Bieber lived the life of a normal Canadian church kid, focusing on school and sports.
Bieber kept his musical talents quiet from friends until he was 13 years old and entered a singing competition. He placed third.

His extended family was not able to come and see his performance, so he and his mom began to upload videos onto YouTube so the rest of the family could see him singing. Some of his tunes were Christian worship songs and others secular pop tunes.

The videos hit in a big way.

Falsani explained that Justin's mom thought, "If God had a plan for Justin to be to a music artist, then surely it would be in the Christian industry, and God would send them a nice Christian manager. Suddenly, this 25-year-old Jewish kid from Connecticut called."

In 2007, Scott "Scooter" Brown discovered Bieber.
His career took off.  The family moved to the United States, and Bieber began palling around with music icons.

The haircut, the honey-dripped voice and the screaming tweens are the stuff pop legends are made of. Today, Bieber is a multimillionaire and an industry all to his own, but Falsani details in the book how he and his mother have maintained their faith.

Sprinkled heavily through "Belieber!" are tweets from Bieber and his mom talking about faith, quoting scripture and sharing a simple Christian narrative that God loves people.

Bieber explained his approach to Rolling Stone in February: "I feel I have an obligation to plant little seeds with my fans. I'm not going to tell them, 'You need Jesus,' but I will say at the end of my show, 'God loves you.' "

He does not take complicated theological soapbox stands. In February, he drew a lot of attention for articulating his opposition to abortion in a Rolling Stone article, but he was quick to say it was his belief and he would not force it on anyone.
The book also uses quotes from social media sites to evidence the positive influence Bieber's faith has on his young fans. Falsani sprinkles in quotes from Bieber's core audience - tween and teenage girls - and plays to their hand with a glossy color photo spread featuring pictures of Bieber being Bieber.

Though she considers herself a fan in his shadow demographic (the moms at the concert who secretly dig and buy the music), as a mother herself, Falsani appreciates the positive role Bieber's faith has played in his young career.

"I do think this faith he has is very genuine and very much his and not his mom's or anyone else's. It's not a marketing tool," she said.

Bieber's work with charity is well-documented; he gives a portion of ticket sales to charity, among other approaches.  Falsani is taking a similar role with this book, too. Part of the proceeds from her book are going towards the United Nations-backed Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.