How the past is perceived and how the many stories we pass on from generation to generation are preserved has a great deal to do with what religion holds sway in that time and of course, how popular culture chooses to depict historical events. Many upon many visions of the past have likely been skewed to serve a greater purpose or expunge qualities and practices of a culture that do not paint a pleasant picture of those who are descended from those who participated in such events. Religion tends to give voice to the past in a manner that speaks of deeper meaning and a call to tradition, whereas popular culture seeks to unveil a simpler, basic explanation of events. History is presented in the best light possible whether it is by one social construct or another.
As social constructs both religion and popular culture are quite capable of repositioning history and altering facts that are known to only those who were in attendance during the occurrence. As it has likely been done before, history has been altered to represent what others wish to see and what they seek to display in order to further their own agendas. Religion and popular culture are no different in that they each will work together or attempt to tear at one another in an attempt to showcase the histories that are most relevant and noteworthy. From an historical standpoint neither construct is entirely accurate when it comes to reporting upon events that have happened in the past.
In terms of religion much can be said about perception and how it is used to guide the faithful through history. If one goes back far enough they can see just how several aspects of the church, no matter the denomination, were begun. Author Vincent Miller goes on to state that simplistic manners in which religion imparts great meaning (2016) can be seen in modern day worship, transcending history in a manner that popular culture does not always accomplish. The act of creating a superstition, or a belief, or a simple recognition of tradition, is often enough to insure that what is perceived will be more or less what is followed by future generations.
A very good example of this comes up in Colleen McDannell’s book, Material Christianity (133), when it is asked how ordinary, everyday materials are made into agents of religion that are seen to impart spiritual meaning. So many people are caught up in the religious and holy aspect of the thing that they have forgotten the how and the why of it. Many no longer even bother to think upon the reason behind the supposed sanctity of certain objects any longer, taking public opinion as truth and the faith in the construct of religion as gospel. It is easy enough to ascribe importance to inanimate things, events, and even people.
Through the use of popular culture, religion has evolved throughout the years, largely keeping to its original form. It has adopted what is seen as needed and dropping only that which does not adhere to a past that is capable of withstanding scrutiny, but in times of great need will call upon its own past to further cement the belief of its followers. Popular culture plays the role of the filter when it comes to history, though it too can be spot on or fail miserably in retelling the events of the past. Together the two constructs offer a view into the past that is beset by bias and cannot be fully trusted as the absolute truth. In keeping to their own biased views of what constitutes the truth about the past, religion and popular culture often grant a picture that is biased in one way or another.
Even those who practice religion are responsible for the lack of any true perception that can be experienced by those who come after. As spoken of in detail by Paul Harvey (142), those who were converted to Christianity accepted the doctrines and practices, but still managed to use it for their own need and in their own manner. The construct changed unknowingly as those that adopted it as their own adhered to several aspects of religion but excised the rest, creating a new culture and a new religion of their own that was built from the foundation of the original social structure. This lack of any true perception concerning culture and religion muddied the waters even further for those who came after, insuring that yet another change would occur.
In the act of preserving history and representing its vast stores of knowledge and experience the modern historian and theologian will do their level best in sticking to facts and traditional knowledge. But bias is a common occurrence in human kind and will sow seeds of discontent when said researchers find bits and pieces of history they might not agree with or think is entirely valid. As their task is usually to present the historical facts and data of both culture and each were constructed and molded into their current form, it stands to reason that they will seek a manner in which to present the material in a way that appeals to those who will access such information. Tradition and culture change throughout generations, with old practices either being adopted by the successors or taken in bits and pieces.
In this way the history of religion and culture alike have changed and will continue to do
so as popular culture demands. Consider the fact that only a few decades before it might have
been considered sinful to not attend church, or to practice church doctrine even when away from
a place of worship. Following that consider the state of worship in the modern age and how the
old traditions have slowly but surely began to dwindle away as the new era adopts its own
judgments and views towards the practice of religion. As much as the core beliefs and traditions
of any religion have remained the same, popular culture has dictated its own involvement in bringing change and new development to many different religions.
Throughout history popular culture has been created, maintained, and largely kept by elites among society that often deem themselves as guardians of culture and what is important. What is deemed as crucial to the beliefs of the masses is not always what holds true with such elitists, as higher forms of art, expression, and living are seen as measures by which the elite determine what is to be recognized as important. In other words if those with the greatest power and influence say that an object or practice is worth keeping then it must be. While the fallacy of this is that those in power do not always have the best interests of the masses, the reality is that history has been written and re-written by those who maintain the elevated, elitist status.
Humanity is given the rules, methods, and principles by which to live and worship through the elite social constructs that emerged early on during the first years of civilization. It is a common thread between that unites past generations and current ones in how the views towards religion and popular culture have been created. Those with power and influence seek to insure that tradition is followed based upon the precepts that they have accepted and expect others to follow, while those who are without power or influence take matters upon themselves and create yet another subculture that adheres to the original but is modified for their needs. In each generation it is a necessity by which to continue the influence and adaptation of traditional values.
While tradition continues to thrive the methods and practices that popular culture instill within religious practices are constantly adapting. Whether it is by personal bias or necessity religion will always be adapted to the needs of each culture. People take what they want and leave the rest when it comes to religion. This practice is among the only constants that remain.
Harvey, Paul. “African American Spirituals.” Material Christianity. Ed. McDannell, Colleen.
New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995. 139-140. Print.
McDannell, Colleen. Material Christianity. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995. Print.
Miller, Vincent. “Spirituality and Popular Culture.” Catechist. 2016. Web. 21 April 20