PUNK THEOLOGY By Peter Corney
Punk Rock was created in the UK by the Sex Pistols in 1975 with Johnny Rotten, joined later by Sid Vicious; they were closely followed by another creative Punk band The Clash. They took the rock scene by storm and created a whole new wave of music that was a vehicle for a radical form of political dissent from the establishment. Their concerts often ended in a riot! They also inspired new styles in dress and fashion. Later this was followed by Punk art, Punk poetry and even Punk film such as the classic “The Decline of Western Civilisation.” They were anti-establishment, anti-authority, anti-capitalist, nonconformist and iconoclastic. They were for freedom, equality, direct action and free thought, opposed to selling out to the dominant culture.
The name and image has been hijacked now by all sorts of alternative and New wave arts and social movements who want to challenge the established artistic or cultural scene. There is even a self-styled “mystic Punk -art collective” called “Punkasila” based in Jakarta of all places that is to perform in Melbourne soon.
As someone who survived the 70’s it occurred to me that some contemporary theology could be described as “Punk Theology” – iconoclastic, rejecting the historic tradition and anti-authority. But where it differs from authentic Punk is that strangely it is not opposed to selling out to the dominant culture, a strong theme in genuine Punk. In fact much contemporary liberal theology is accommodationist – reducing and adapting the Gospel to the prevailing culture and its plausibility structure- what it finds easy to believe and is congenial to its morality. Despite its radical pose it is oddly intellectually provincial, reflecting the attitudes and values of its times. Rather than offering a critique of the contemporary culture and its values from the foundation of the historic faith it does the opposite. A visit to a “Progressive Christianity”, “Progressive Spirituality” or “Emerging Christianity” website will be enough to reveal how un – Punk much contemporary liberal Christianity has become. Alternatively read Ross Douthat’s very insightful book “Bad Religion”, especially chapters 5-7, (Free Press 2012)
A truly authentic Punk theology would radically attack and critique the contemporary intellectual and cultural idols of hyper modernity. These idols include Western cultures hyper individualism and narcissistic selfism, its redefining of personal freedom as the freedom from any restraint’s on the individuals choice, its reduction of decisions about sexual ethics to the narrow private concept of individual consent, its boundryless radical inclusivism and hypocritical cultural relativism*, its intellectually lazy religious syncretism that refuses to grapple with fundamentally contradictory ideas and world views. Then there is the empirical and reality denying embrace of ‘new literary theory’ and deconstruction to justify the rejection of any objective meaning in human communication – turning every interpretation into a mirror of the self’s inner world of murky motives and emotions and our dysfunctional psyches. This radical subjectivism eliminates all objective meaning and any moral and ethical criteria. Then there’s its highly selective and phoney embrace of Eastern Mysticisms idea of the self as a divine spark that if realised will not just connect you to but merge you with the Divine. Re- packaged for Western consumption by the merchants of the self- realisation and self- fulfilment movement this naive adoption of Eastern ideas feeds our contemporary inflation of the self. It adroitly avoids the real message of Eastern Mysticism, the elimination of the self in the ‘great sea of cosmic consciousness,’ a kind of ultimate suicide of the self, definitely not a congenial idea to the ego focussed selfism of the West! ** If we still had a Biblical memory we might recognise the echo of the Tempters lie from Genesis 3:4 seducing us away from listening to God’s voice, “…you will not surely die…. you will be like God…” But alas all we hear now is our own.
The list of the Wests present cultural follies that a truly Punk Theology could challenge is a long one but you get the idea.
I say, bring back ‘The Clash!’
*See the article on this website: “Christianity’s radical challenge to Cultural Relativism” (Category: “Christ and Culture.”)
**See the article on the website: “ Remaking the Western Mind – How God and the Self Blurred into One” (Category: “Christ and Culture.”)