Spiritainment???

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The man whose soul is “growing” takes more interest in spiritual things every year…. The ways, and fashions, and amusements, and recreations of the world have a continually decreasing place in his heart. He does not condemn them as downright sinful, nor say that those who have anything to do with them are going to hell. He only feels that they have a constantly diminishing hold on his own affections and gradually seem smaller and more trifling in his eyes.
—J.C. Ryle

When amusement is necessary to get people to listen to the gospel there will be failure.  This is not the method of Christ.  To form an organization and provide all kinds of entertainment for young people, in order that they may come to the Bible classes, is to be foredoomed to failure.
—G. Campbell Morgan

One can only conclude that God’s professed children are bored with Him, for they must be wooed to meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games and refreshments.
—A.W. Tozer

I’m writing two positive posts this week on what the American Church is doing right. In fact, I was going to start those posts today, but before the story got cold, I felt I had to tie in last Friday’s post “The Church of ‘Tomorrow? What Tomorrow’” with a press release from George Barna.

Barna’s announced that he’s now heading up a new Christian media company that promises to deliver even MORE entertainment to Christians everywhere. (Barna labels this “spiritainment.”) The argument here is that Christians NEED quality entertainment that looks and believes just like them. (Read the press release. I’ll wait right here….)

Beyond the obviously insulting, syncretistic name that combines the precious Holy Spirit with entertainment, Cover illustration from Postman's 'Amusing Ourselves to Death' I’ve just got  to ask the obvious: Do we Christians need to be any more entertained?

I struggle with this immensely as a Christian seeking to write novels. Does the world need another novel right now, Christian or otherwise? To lift a book title from the late media critic Neil Postman, aren’t we already amusing ourselves to death ?

This plays into my last post on the expediency plaguing the American Church. Too much of our thinking is short-term. Our dependency on short-term fixes is due in part to our inability to break out of a media-induced five minute attention span. Because we’re so focused on entertaining ourselves, long-term goals are out because they don’t meet our craving for instant feedback gained through our perpetual need for entertainment. The result? We’ve made boredom the ultimate spiritual enemy.

What better explains the megachurchianity so rampant in this country? We’ve substituted a dog and pony show to keep people entertained, but at the cost of their souls. Who can plan for any thing long-term if the mildly-satiated crowd demands another quick fix to keep the experiential buzz going? If God’s not going to rend the sky and rain manna down on us at our beck and call, then why hold prayer meetings? Why slave for years as a missionary in a foreign land if you only get a few converts? Your Powerpoint won’t be all that interesting when you share in church next Sunday. People might yawn—the evidence needed to show that your act needs some refining.

Revival isn’t going to come through movies, no matter what George Barna thinks. Nor books, though it pains me to say so. The Spirit of God isn’t all that interested in entertainment, Christian or worldly. He’s calling out to you and me to die to self so that others might live for Him.

We North American Christians…

…watch too much TV.

…waste too much time at the movies.

…drop too many dollars on music.

…spend too many hours trying to stave off boredom.

…spend too little time before the Lord living out the Gospel.

In short, we need “spiritainment” like we need an electric dog polisher. All this entertainment is a drug that keeps us numb to what we should truly be doing: serving the Lord Jesus until there is nothing left of us.

I’m not against Christians having fun once in a while. However, I believe that in the United States of 2006 the pursuit of fun has completely overtaken the pursuit of God, even among Christians.

Speaking of the pursuit of God, I’ll let A.W. Tozer speak eloquently here:

No one with common human feeling will object to the simple pleasures of life, nor to such harmless forms of entertainment as may help to relax the nerves and refresh the mind exhausted by toil. Such things, if used with discretion, may be a blessing along the way. That is one thing; however, the all-out devotion to entertainment as a major activity for which and by which men live is definitely something else again.

The abuse of a harmless thing is the essence of sin. The growth of the amusement phase of human life to such fantastic proportions is a portent, a threat to the souls of modern men. It has been built into a multimillion dollar racket with greater power over human minds and human character than any other educational influence on earth.

And the ominous thing is that its power is almost exclusively evil, rotting the inner life, crowding out the long eternal thoughts which would fill the souls of men, if they were but worthy to entertain them. The whole thing has grown into a veritable religion which holds its devotees with a strange fascination; and a religion, incidentally, against which it is now dangerous to speak. For centuries the Church stood solidly against every form of worldly entertainment, recognizing it for what it was—a device for wasting time, a refuge from the disturbing voice of conscience, a scheme to divert attention from moral accountability.

For this she got herself abused roundly by the sons of this world. But of late she has become tired of the abuse and has given over the struggle. She appears to have decided that if she cannot conquer the great god Entertainment she may as well join forces with him and make what use she can of his powers.

So, today we have the astonishing spectacle of millions of dollars being poured into the unholy job of providing earthly entertainment for the so-called sons of heaven. Religious entertainment is in many places rapidly crowding out the serious things of God.

Many churches these days have become little more than poor theaters where fifth-rate “producers” peddle their shoddy wares with the full approval of evangelical leaders who can even quote a holy text in defense of their delinquency. And hardly a man dares raise his voice against it.

I haven’t read too many critical voices of Barna’s call for “spiritainment.” Add mine; I see this as little more than a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Don’t label me a prophet here, but I can’t help but think this “spiritainment” is all going to turn out very badly in the end.

37 thoughts on “Spiritainment???

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  2. Perhaps I read a different press release than you did, Dan… though, that can’t be possible since I did use the provided link… I’m not sure what you are reading (into) Barna’s words regarding “spiritainment.” But as I read the press release, it sounds like Barna’s newly formed goals include making an attempt to provide quality media products that maintain a Christian world view in order to help others come to a saving relationship with Christ. Unfortunately, this is NOT what happens in most of our “entertainment-driven worship services” of the megachurches… What Barna is suggesting appears to be bathed in integrity and purpose… a real purose – not a driving purpose…

    I personally applaud Barna’s efforts and look forward to seeing how the Lord might use these teams of creative Christians to help bring the light of the Gospel to a planet that desperately needs Jesus.

    • Dan,

      If you read the press release carefully, you find the goal right here:

      Our objective is to be the forerunner in a new genre of multimedia we are calling spiritainment. My research has shown that people – especially young people – absorb an amazing degree of their values, beliefs and lifestyle practices from the media content to which they are exposed. Most of that media is based on worldviews that do not honor God. Good News will produce media of many types – movies, television, Internet offerings, mobile phone content, books, magazines, digital worship clips and music – to raise spiritual questions and draw people closer to God and His truths. We are fully committed to marrying biblical theology, superb creative talent, strong stories and high-quality production in the most appropriate media as a way of blessing God and His people.

      Stated differently, our vision is to provide accessible and high-quality content that challenges the mind, captures the heart, refreshes the spirit, and pleases the Lord. Ultimately, we want to be leaders in a movement to reclaim all forms of art as a gift to God and to be a vehicle God uses to foster dramatic transformation in the lives of many people.

      I don’t see anywhere that this effort is designed to bring people to saving knowledge of Christ. It clearly is meant to counteract worldy entertainment with “spiritual” entertainment, a 1:1 exchange. It does not appear to be evangelistic, instead catering to people who are already believers.

      A quick look at any youth group will show that the kids involved have already done the 1:1 exchange. They wear clothes splashed with all sorts of Christian slogans, listen to Christian music, and talk about wholesome movies with Christian themes. But as Barna’s own research shows, more than 80% of them won’t make through college with their faith intact. Yet, Barna wants to add MORE of the kind of entertainment that didn’t help these kids in the first place?

      To quote Larry Norman here: “We need a whole lot more Jesus and a lot less rock and roll.” Even if that rock and roll is packed with a Christian worldview.

  3. Francisco

    Some thoughts as they flow through my mind.
    1. When TPOTC was released I saw some religious leaders on t.v. saying “now, revival is coming into the land!”. Although I believe God is Sovereign and some people might have been touched by the movie (beyond the shedding of tears) I might be wrong but I have not seen or heard accounts of such revival taking place anywhere in America or any parts of the world. My concern is for some people who dare to have a formula mentality like “watch TPOTC=revival”
    2. I grieved also when I see some people quoting movies at length and with great accuracy (of course if it is the 15th time they have been watching it). To be fair, I haven’t seen them – neither have I ask them do so- to quote me a passage of Scripture or even a few verses beyond John 3:16 or Rom 8:28 but it is very likely they will not.
    3. I heard yesterday my pastor praying this to God on behalf of the church “we don’t want just information but transformation”. So, for the little bit of fun, I don’t know what can count for that but I think board games, dominoes, chess, puzzles, legos are a great help and really fun. I’m not much of an outdoor person but I don’t have problem with people practicing sports. That’s good!
    3. Isn’t it enough with the veggietales that now we have sincretism creeping into the church? Was the life in the Spirit meant to be lived watching movies and not reading the Bible? Many religious movies add or substract parts to the biblical rendering and that is dangerous because an undiscerning believer can take what he sees as the word of God and then miss the point if we ever goes back to bible and read the relevant passage. For instance, once I watched a movie about Jacob and his wives. We all know that Rachel dies but in the movie she is alive holding Benjamin and smiling with Jacob as the movie ends. Don’t you get at least concerned when you see that? If that enters into the mind of a child it is very difficult to get it out. I still can remember the figures of a JW’s book my sister and I were handed out when we were kids, how much more a movie can impact for the good or for the ill a child?

    • Francisco,

      You nail it on #2. Biblical knowledge is dramatically decreasing among Christians according to Barna’s own polling, but he’s working to bring them entertainment that has Christian themes, but will probably only replace the Bible in their hearts? You’ve already got churches who spend more time showing movie clips during their pastor’s sermon than actually reading the Bible.

      #3—If you want fun, fun that interacts with other people rather than being personal is the best. The kinds of entertainment Barna’s dishing smacks of the individualized kind that does not unite people in relationship, but caters to their own personal world. We’ve got enough of that kind of junk.

  4. Francisco

    Some thoughts as they flow through my mind.
    1. When TPOTC was released I saw some religious leaders on t.v. saying “now, revival is coming into the land!”. Although I believe God is Sovereign and some people might have been touched by the movie (beyond the shedding of tears) I might be wrong but I have not seen or heard accounts of such revival taking place anywhere in America or any parts of the world. My concern is for some people who dare to have a formula mentality like “watch TPOTC=revival”
    2. I grieved also when I see some people quoting movies at length and with great accuracy (of course if it is the 15th time they have been watching it). To be fair, I haven’t seen them – neither have I ask them do so- to quote me a passage of Scripture or even a few verses beyond John 3:16 or Rom 8:28 but it is very likely they will not.
    3. I heard yesterday my pastor praying this to God on behalf of the church “we don’t want just information but transformation”. So, for the little bit of fun, I don’t know what can count for that but I think board games, dominoes, chess, puzzles, legos are a great help and really fun. I’m not much of an outdoor person but I don’t have problem with people practicing sports. That’s good!
    3. Isn’t it enough with the veggietales that now we have sincretism creeping into the church? Was the life in the Spirit meant to be lived watching movies and not reading the Bible? Many religious movies add or substract parts to the biblical rendering and that is dangerous because an undiscerning believer can take what he sees as the word of God and then miss the point if we ever goes back to bible and read the relevant passage. For instance, once I watched a movie about Jacob and his wives. We all know that Rachel dies but in the movie she is alive holding Benjamin and smiling with Jacob as the movie ends. Don’t you get at least concerned when you see that? If that enters into the mind of a child it is very difficult to get it out. I still can remember the figures of a JW’s book my sister and I were handed out when we were kids, how much more a movie can impact -for the good or for the ill- a child?

  5. John

    They make electric dog polishers?!?

    I’m still using an old gas-powered dog polisher. I need a new one, though. The pull-start string keeps breaking.

    Just kidding. Excellent post. I personally struggle with these issues all the time. It takes a lot of work to keep from being distracted by all of the “stuff” that we have in our world today.

    Those Tozer (et al) quotes are excellent. The eerie part is that they were written more than a half-century ago. How much more has the problem of entertainment grown?

    • John,

      You’re right about the quotes; things have only gotten worse. I think Ryle, Morgan, and Tozer would be appalled to see Christians leading this charge to plug-in and tune out even more.

  6. Beverly

    I guess I lived in Alaska too long. . .my dog polisher is elbow-grease driven 🙂
    I think the last thing that American “churchians” need is another source of entertainment, secular or Christian. Among the women I mentor and “be mom” to, their need is to slow down, to have less input, and to learn to truly “be still, and know that [God] is God . . ” More movies/TV/mobilephone/magazine options still do not promote relationship, any more than parents being exceptionally proud that their children spend hours in front of nintendo playing “christian games.”

    • Bev,

      We’re all attracted to some form of entertainment. We wind up putting a lot of energy into pursuing it, but as our lives get more hectic in other regards, the need for entertainment to fill a perceived need to slow down only grows. This fuels the hectic pace even more.

      I think a lot of us just need to drop out of the entertainment cycle and be satisfied with other, more beneficial sources.

  7. I’ve been around a while… ain’t no newby here… seen it all. And I guess I see no problem at all with the idea of creating exciting, interesting and creative media that is not filled with sex and violence and cussing and the like – – I think it might be nice to turn on the TV or go to a movie and actually feel confident that what I am about to view – and allow my family to view – will not be hammering them over the head with images and words they don’t need. I see ZERO problem with what Barna is suggesting…

    But, then, I’m a bit of a visionary with a heart for using the creative talents God has blessed me with to further His Kingdom.

    • Dan,

      I know plenty of Christians who live and die by their TVs. They’re watching secular dreck and filling their heads with nonsense. But to switch them over to Christian TV is little better. They’re still sitting there, not reaching out to others, not doing the work of the Gospel, not interacting with real people.

      When all is said and done, I think no one on this planet who comes to the end of their days is going to look back and say, “You know, I should have watched more Christians TV or seen more Christian movies.” If that’s the case, then we’re spending too many valuable resources on things that will perish, Christian or not.

  8. Brilliant post Dan, and I loved the quotes! these men certainly prophesised the future of the church. Keep up the good work.

    Be encouraged!
    GBYAY

  9. David

    I’m not sure if Barna is headed in the right direction or not. Probably not… I can’t help but think of how the PAX network was supposed to be one of the solutions of Christian Media, but it hasn’t done well and it seemed to have worldliness creep in. And the original shows and movies have been horrible. The “Christy” movies they made as a followup to the excellent short-lived CBS series (which did a decent job portraying real Christians and real Christian themes) was nothing short of painfully bad media. Painfully bad.

    So, I have my doubts about this.

    We gave up cable and broadcast TV three months ago. We don’t miss it. My parents gave up on the Dish because there was nothing good to watch. We only watch old videos and DVDs.

  10. Warning – I’m a bit argumentative today… LOL! Okay, so we will continue to “shine the light” but ONLY in ways that WE BELIEVERS think are “right” and “appropriate” out of FEAR that “the world” might sneak in to our efforts? Did I read this correctly? So – this means, we’ll keep going with the “flannel graph” approach to Sunday school even though it bores the kids to death… we’ll continue offering watery, wimpy worship services that do nothing more than satisfy the “to do list” mentality we bring with us into the church, and we’ll stop attempting to bring more creativity to the presentation of the gospel because we are afraid of “looing like the world?” Sorry, I see this is far too black and white – and, I am a very black and white guy! Jesus actually utilized the communication took of his time – storytelling – to share his message of hope with those he came in contact with. Were he alive today, don’t you think he would figure out a way to communicate to us using OUR communication tools and media? Or would he walk the city streets, never using any sort of transportation, never cracking open a lap-top or cell phone – and simply – TALK to people?

    I think it’s great to have standards that we set. Of coures we need to do that. But, too many of us are willing to ignore the reality of how the world around us is changing. I am not saying “become MTV.” All I am saying is – REALIZE that MTV exists and that everyone we want to share the gospel with ALSO KNOWS that MTV exists… and the less we are aware of this reality, the less effective we will be in sharing the gsopel. As I have said before – the key to all of this is that WE WHO CREATE this “spiritainment” always remember WHO the MAIN focus is – Jesus! If we remember that, then HOW we tell others about Him is far less important…

    • Dan,

      We have to watch the dichotomies that we setup. Christians are classic dichotomy creators and that can stifle real conversation. It’s not always either/or on positions.

      I don’t believe the argument here is between old-school flannelgraphs and eye-popping video presentations. Ultimately, the question is the best way to reach people that speaks to the soul and doesn’t merely entertain. In that regard, well-done flannelgraphs may very well beat eye-popping video in terms of long-lasting results.

      The Christian message is NOT about entertainment. But too many times, we’re entertainers first and teachers second. That’s a big mistake. It’s like we don’t trust the Holy Spirit to capture someone’s affection on His own, we have to pump up the jam to ensure it. The problem, though, is that I’ve never seen that work. It distrusts God to be a person’s all-in-all and winds up driving out the Spirit by its sheer entertaining audacity.

      If there’s a dichotomy here, I think the most valid one exists in what you say here:

      As I have said before – the key to all of this is that WE WHO CREATE this “spiritainment always remember WHO the MAIN focus is – Jesus!

      But I believe that people who make “spiritainment” ultimately lose that focus as they worry about all the other pieces of making entertaining media. This leads to trite material almost every time.

    • Dan,

      One last thing.

      MTV may exist, but nothing substitutes for one Christian reaching out with his or her life to one unbeliever. That’s what the world is dying for. Trying to make the Gospel work by sidestepping that inter-relational step ultimately requires us to make our message more entertaining in order to compensate for that critical lack.

      It also makes Christians lazy because it allows them the out of saying that rather than investing in the life of a lost neighbor or coworker, one can give that person a video or CD. I even think that our overreliance on bringing someone else to church so that they can hear the Gospel presented by someone else, rather than you or me, is also kind of lazy. I think the whole seeker-sensitive thing made that worse and handing out videos and CDs only compounded the problem.

      This is not to say that people can’t come to Christ after watching The Passion, but huge scores of people did NOT, even though Christians thought they would. People aren’t that dumb, though. They want to see Christians involved in their lives in meaningful ways, not getting handed a video.

      I think “spiritainment” will only make the situation worse.

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  13. Hi Dan,

    First of all, let me say that I whole heartedly agree with you that we have gone seriously wrong in our devotion to entertainment. But as you say, we have to be careful about setting up a dichotomy here. Your quote from Tozer says it well:

    No one with common human feeling will object to the simple pleasures of life, nor to such harmless forms of entertainment as may help to relax the nerves and refresh the mind exhausted by toil. Such things, if used with discretion, may be a blessing along the way. That is one thing; however, the all-out devotion to entertainment as a major activity for which and by which men live is definitely something else again.

    A limited amount of time spent in godly entertainment is a good thing. But most Christians have bought into our society’s wholesale devotion to entertainment as the chief goal of life. That is a problem that we need to address in the church, and one which will not diminish without increased godliness and spiritual maturity.

    A second issue is the availablity of acceptable entertainment options for Christians to use in moderation. Sadly, many Christians not only devote themselves to entertainment as the chief end of man, but they also expose themselves to forms of entertainment that are built on values antithetical to the Christian faith. We need some discernment! We also need some acceptable entertainment. Most younger people today won’t be satisfied playing Monopoly or doing crossword puzzles. We can’t expect everyone to move to Amish country and throw away their TV.

    Now for a third point. I think that to a frightening extent most people (both Christians and non-Christians) form their world view on the basis of the media. Many Christians do the “Christian” thing on Sunday and think like a pagan the rest of the week. We need to recognize the power of movies and other media to communicate values and world view, and use these tools more effectively. I’m sure that Paul would have used every tool at his disposal to advance the Gospel. It is possible for the right sort of movie to raise questions about truth and the meaning of life that can provide an opening for the Gospel. I’m not talking about some of the old blatent “hit them over the head” Christian movies, but something much more subtle. Unlike Tozer and Morgan, we no longer live in a society that accepts most of the fundamental world view assumptions of the Christian faith. We need to engage in what Frances Schaeffer called “pre-evangelism.” The right use of media could be an important tool here.

    • Ken,

      Like I said, I’m not against entertainment, just too much of it and the wrong kind.

      We need more interacting/relationship-building entertainment. We need to do things with others, with each other being the source of the entertainment, and not some inanimate third-party device.

      I think we Christians should be in each others’ homes more and less our own. We should do more as a community than as individuals or individual families. In this way, entertainment is also an investment in community and in the lives of others.

      None of what Barna is proposing plays to that reality. It only reinforces the current media frenzy that has disconnected people, with many choosing to live in their own little world than the real one.

  14. I just want to state, for the record, in case I might have been misunderstood, that I 100% fully and completely agree with and stand behind the idea George Barna speaks forth about CREATING CHRISTIAN-VALUE ENTERTAINMENT for our society. Again, he is NOT suggesting that we turn “church” into a nighclub… He is simply saying that it’s time for something BETTER on tv and in the movies… what, nobody here AGREES with this????? We’d all RATHER be constantly scratching our heads trying to figure out if the next adventure movie is good for our kids to see – or for us to see? We’d rather WONDER if there MIGHT be so much foul langauge it would make Eddie Murphy blush? THAT’S what we WANT???? If so – I am in the wrong club.

    Offering moral, entertaining and creative media is a GREAT idea! I can’t wait for the first few movies, tv shows, and other media to make it’s way into the mainstream. You know why? Cuz at least someone is DOING rather than just TALKING about change…

    • Francisco

      It seems like you are missing the point Dan is making here that I believe is building up relationships with our neighbors in a face-to-face approach, investin our time in the lives of believers and unbelievers around us. Btw, the pre-evangelism Schaeffer was talking about included a lot of investing in the relationship with the people interested in hearing him and although he referred to the role of art, music, literature, etc, he ultimately sought to understand the worldview of people he interacted with and with such info he reasoned with them and shared the gospel. Although he made a video I guess, I don’t think he would have handed you out a copy and let you there. That would have been plain lazyness. I’d recommend reading “The God who is there”.
      Btw, yesterday I enjoyed sand voleyball, dinner and talk after dinner with my small group people. 🙂

      Grace to you,
      Francisco

  15. Incognito

    While I agree that we shouldn’t use entertainment as an evagelism tool and leave out relationships we need to have something to counter the enemies message that is going out in the media every day. Christians should be active in various media providing an alternative viewpoint to the one that the world gets every day. There are millions of people that will never darken the door of a church or small group or give the time of day to someone they know is a christian because they have written us off as irrelevant. Mass media is where the world informs itself today. If we have a voice in the media some of these people might actually hear our point of view and might actually want to have a relationship with Christians. My main concern with “spiritainment” is will it be lame like most christian entertainment?

    Entertainment doesn’t have to replace relationship but unfortunately in the world it has. People today are rather impersonal and put up walls to relationship. If entertainment is all they can accept then we should at least try to communicate with them in a form that will impact them. I don’t mean that church should be reduced to entertaiment either. I agree completely that it is unlikely that anyone will come to a saving knowledge of christ solely through spiritainment but it may at least sow some seeds that may be reaped through relationship

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  17. Very provocative, Dan. Our obsession with media leads us to interact with everything with a TV-screen flatness and a self-indulgent focus. I just got a stiff lesson in what it means that Baby Boomers in general have treated their children like a media addiction, at Parent Orientation for my daughter’s college. Read about it at Mother-Lode.

  18. onthuhlist

    Dude,

    You have gracefully put into words a collection of ideas and conclusions that God has been waking me up to recently. I say “right on”, and won’t try to further the conversation by repeating what you’ve already said. I’m a songwriter, and though my SAT verbal score was abysmal (though the math and other analytical sections went splendidly), I still attempt to express truths in my stumbling way. My latest lyrics-in-progress mirror similar concerns – how many ‘Christian’ songs (including worship songs) sing to a ‘you’ who is never defined anywhere in the song.
    ———————————
    What’s the problem with Christian music?
    We don’t even mention the name of Christ anymore.
    If you’re singing ’bout Jesus, prove it.
    The Muslims are singing your song to a God with no son.

    We’re singing “Bless your name”
    But if it’s just the same,
    We’d rather not say who we’re singing to,
    We’re just a bit ashamed.

    What’s the matter with Christian music?
    We don’t even mention the name of Christ anymore.
    The Christian “Top 40 Countdown” proves it.
    A nameless “you” is all that we’re singing for.

    Radios playing your song.
    The Krishnas sing along.
    They’re not affected, good or bad,
    By your self-focused feelings-based ramblings.
    ————————
    The reason this is a pet peeve of mine is because we live in a multi-religious culture now, and one can no longer assume that the listener of a song knows you’re singing about Jesus or the God of the Bible. Just visit Detroit – tour the Edsel Ford mansion, and you’ll find a Krishna temple. A few miles away in Hamtramck, they’re issuing the Muslim call to prayer.

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