How to Use Pop Culture as a Community Apologist

I’ve been contributing to a series at the Christian Apologetics Alliance with the goal of encouraging people to become “community apologists.” The purpose of the series is to help the local church develop an intellectual defense of Christianity by raising up, in every community, “someone with an interest in apologetics who will make themselves available to teach apologetics in their church and community.”

Since one of my areas of interest (I can’t say “expertise” quite yet), is using pop culture to demonstrate the existence of a universal moral intuition, I thought it might be important to remind these community apologists that anyone who wants to engage the church, in addition to being able to wade around in the historical, evidential, and logical arguments for faith, needs to be able to dip his toe in the pond of pop culture.

Why? Because this is where many people live. And if they don’t, their children do. And while TV and films may not be fodder for the teleological or cosmological argument for God’s existence, it is the perfect place to start a discussion on the moral argument for God.

For anyone not familiar with the moral argument for God, it’s pretty straight forward. While there are several variations of the syllogism, the basic idea is that most people throughout the world and throughout history have a moral intuition that certain things are always right (truth, loyalty, bravery, compassion, self-sacrifice) and certain things are always wrong (wanton cruelty, the killing of innocent people, stealing, lying, etc.)

The most famous version of the moral argument probably comes from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, in which he writes:

These, then, are the two points I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious ideas that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.

Once we’ve established that these universal moral intuitions exist, it’s not hard to move from there to the assertion that they must have a source—a moral lawgiver, if you will. The challenge that many community apologists will face is that in a post-modern culture, many people will claim that good and evil are relative—that there are no moral absolutes.

The apologist says “sure there are.” The skeptic says “prove it” and the pew-sitter says “how can I demonstrate that to my friends?”

One answer is just to watch TV (or read a book or watch a movie). I currently watch Bones, Criminal Minds, The Mentalist, Midsomer Murders, Sherlock, Doctor Who, and Warehouse 13. (Yes, I like murder mysteries and science fiction.) Without exception, these shows are predicated on the unquestioned assumption that everyone (except the occasional sociopath) instinctively knows what’s right and what’s wrong. There is never any discussion as to how they know right from wrong or whether the pedophile had a good reason for raping a child. The good guys all know what’s right and they all know it instinctively.

The kicker is that many of these shows are either produced by self-identified agnostics and atheists or the main characters are, at the very least, not Christian. But that doesn’t stop the writers from feeling confident enough in their worldview that they never question it. As a recent promo for Criminal Minds said, “Some people fight crime; these heroes fight evil.”

All apologists have their favorite arguments for the existence of God, but I sometimes think the moral argument gets short-changed. Which is unfortunate because, in a way, it’s the easiest of the arguments to illustrate. Almost everyone watches TV or reads or goes to the movies. And almost every superhero blockbuster, murder mystery, or sci-fi cult favorite has as its foundation an intuitive, unspoken, and unshakable commitment to a shared morality.

As I wrote in a post last year called “Excuse Me, But Your Moral Absolutes are Showing:”

In a 2005 episode of the BBC’s Doctor Who, The Doctor is on a space station that broadcasts nothing but game shows in which the penalty for losing is death. In this world, the “weakest link” gets incinerated in front of millions of people.

In a key scene, The Doctor turns to the manager of the station and says “Your staff executes hundreds of contestants every day.”

“That’s not fair,” the manager replies. “We’re just doing our job.”

“With that response,” growls The Doctor, “you just lost the right to even talk to me.”

The fascinating thing about this scene is that it takes place in a universe in which God does not exist. Yet in this simple exchange, The Doctor reveals that not only does he believe that there are moral absolutes, but that everyone should intuitively know them and be held responsible for violating them.

In another example written a few months earlier, I wrote a lengthy essay about my excitement when I started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix:

What the characters are fighting for is not just a simple behavioral standard; it is the foundational morality of the universe. Death is bad. Life is good. Hate is bad. Love is good. Selfishness is bad and selflessness is the greatest good of all. Every character in the Buffyverse presumes an understanding of the greater good that is always implied but never articulated—and is simply woven into the fabric of creation. Jesus is only mentioned once or twice, and God even less, but His character permeates their world.

The archetypal struggle between good and evil is so essential to Buffy’s calling that it is never questioned. The four main characters are universally united behind the idea that vanquishing evil is worth whatever price they have to pay. And absolutely central to this intuitive morality is the assumption that while redemption is possible, self- sacrifice is always required to achieve it.

The interesting thing is that the creator of Buffy, Joss Whedon, is not only a great director and a really cool guy, but an atheist. He also directed last summer’s “The Avengers,” what some consider to be one of the greatest superhero movies of all time.

I say all this to encourage community apologists to engage pop culture and find within it “God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature.” And use what they find there to demonstrate not only how God has revealed Himself in His creation, but how acknowledging universal moral intuition is yet one more logical argument for the existence of a good God.

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DISCLAIMER: Blog entries made by individual authors reflect the views of the author and not necessarily the view of other CAA authors, or the official position of the group at large.
About Leslie Keeney

Leslie Keeney is getting her Masters of Philosophical Studies at Liberty University. She is interested in moral apologetics, and how myth, narrative, and pop culture can reveal the best of man’s universal moral intuition. Leslie lives in Lynchburg with her husband, two kids, and two cats. You can connect with her on Google+, Twitter, and Facebook. Leslie blogs at The Ruthless Monk

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  • http://www.facebook.com/joshua.gibbs.737 Joshua Gibbs

    Great Post! I would have liked more practical advice on using pop culture for apologetics however. I’ve also been thinking a lot about how science fiction shows the existence of God lately. The kicker is that the series and movies that best demonstrate God’s existence imaginatively, that know how to tell a story about God without hitting you over the head with some message, they’re all written by non-Christians! Space Odyssey, Contact, Signs, Prometheus, etc. – the movie versions are usually far better, but still… We need to learn how to tell stories that touch on basic issues of faith without turning people off. By the way I love Doctor Who too, but I’m not so sure God doesn’t exist in the Whoniverse – even if the Doctor is. After all he was wrong about the Devil…