What do you do when kids are more likely to pick up a copy of the latest Harry Potter than a copy of the Bible? For some consumer-savvy Christians, it's a case of if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, according to a University of Western Sydney sociologist.
In his new book 'Religion and Popular Culture: a Hyper-Real Testament', Dr Adam Possamai explains how the Church is embracing popular culture and modern technology in a bid to bring the flock back to Christianity.
"Today's religious wars between Christians and other 'believers' are being waged on a 21st Century battleground - the Internet," says Dr Possamai, from the University's Social Justice Social Change Research Centre.
"Evangelicals are going into battle devotees of the Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings' books and movies, while other Christians are developing websites and computer games in a bid to capture peoples' spiritual hearts and minds.
"It's the traditionalists' response to the growing phenomenon of hyper-real religions, which is how increasing numbers of Westerners are finding their spirituality."
Hyper-real religion is the modern world's new 'pick-and-mix' form of spirituality, explains Dr Possamai.
Consumers find themselves identifying with small parts from an array of religions, and are then combining these with elements of popular culture to create a customised brand of "religion" that best works for them.
Dr Possamai says many Church leaders and followers have realised that stand-and-deliver religious services just don't cut it in today's techno-mad society if you want to reach and preach to the masses.
Instead, they've developed their own Christian-based computer games, like 'Captain Bible in the Dome of Darkness', where a computer-generated hero, armed only with a Bible and prayer, fights the forces of evil.
"In 'Captain Bible in the Dome of Darkness', the Bible corps sends the hero into a city imprisoned by forces of deception. Here, Captain Bible must overcome many obstacles and counter the attacks by using the power of the Scriptures.
"There are Christian Dungeons & Dragons role-playing games which are biblically based, too."
Dr Possamai says it's a way for many Christians to happily combine their faith with consumerist culture.
"Just because you're a Christian doesn't mean you're not a consumer," he says.
"There are websites like ChristianGoth.Com - a virtual meeting place for Christian Goths and other Christians. It doesn't aim to convert regular Goths to Christianity, rather it's about proving to pastors and anyone else that not all Goths are Satanists or witches.
"Another example is White Metal music, which is a Christian form of Black Metal music."
Dr Possamai, says you only have to surf the Internet or log on to a chat room to see how a wave of hyper-real religions has swept the world.
"Hyper-real religions date back to at least the 1960s, when the neo-pagan group, 'The Church of All World', found inspiration from the science-fiction book by Robert Heinlein," he says.
"Movies, books and television serve as the springboard for many hyper-real religions - the most popular being Jediism, a fictional religion from 'Star Wars', which has inspired thousands of Australians and others around the world.
"Then you've got more recent films like 'The Matrix' spawning a new generation of hyper-believers. Matrixism combines chapters from an Aldous Huxley book with the Baha'i faith, and incorporates the use of drugs to 'reach another realm of reality'.
"One can only be impressed by the way believers/consumers mix old religions with popular cultures; re-inventing ancient religions such as shamanism, Buddhism, Taoism and even Catholicism to validate the own form of spirituality."
'Religion and Popular Culture: a Hyper-Real Testament' also explores post-modernity, consumption, subjectivism, identification, esotericism and capitalism to put hyper-real religions into context.
Dr Possamai says it took one year to write the book, "although it has been many years in the making". He says the book serves as an observation of the phenomenon, and doesn't draw any moral conclusions.
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