Osteen, Driscoll and the Masking of our Ideology
by Peter Rollins
March 21, 2014
I once attended a conference where a religious presenter attempted to defend authentic marriage. In his argument he referred to a problem he felt was created by the kind of celebrity marriages witnessed on TV. He argued that these take away from the depth and authenticity of true marriage by giving people unreasonable expectations concerning both the day and what will happen after it. As part of his defense he even evoked the name of Jean Baudrillard (author of Simulacra and Simulation).
But the approach taken by the presenter was actually a perfect case of what Baudrillard was arguing against. The logic of Baudrillard is not that celebrity marriages mask or eclipse some authentic marriage ritual, but rather that they actually help support the idea that there is such a thing as an authentic marriage ritual.
The obviously fanciful spectacle, in other words, enables people (like this presenter) to argue that there is an authentic alternative located in reality.
“Real” or “authentic” marriage ceremonies are themselves a form of contrivance that can encourage unrealistic expectations and demands. The ancient rituals such as the exchange of rings, declaration of vows, or giving of the bride are all performances taken from religious systems that have simply been around for longer than the type of thing we might witness on the fantasy of reality TV.
Places like Disney World are problematic in the same way because the very fantasy they create actually sustains the idea that the way we structure our lives outside that space is somehow the way things really are, rather than itself an expression of fantasy. The very fact that we can easily discern that Disney World is ideological means that we are more likely to forget that we ourselves are immersed in ideology in our daily life.
One of the main problems with the extravagant forms of religious ideology we see played out in figures like Joel Osteen and Mark Driscoll might not lie in their own obviously ideological character, but in the way that they solidify the idea that there is a non ideological community beyond them (one somehow not immersed in Western Values etc.).
Witnessing their overt ideology thus plays into the hands of those who would like to ignore their own ideological saturation.
The Walt Disney World of Osteen’s church and the Hell House adventure of Driscoll’s communities are then dangerous precisely because they can prevent us from seeing the political and cultural constellation of our own positions.