Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Kaufman, Kafkaesque Performance "Art"/Hoax That Is Most of Professing Christianity Today

Last week a hoax resulted in some believing that the "late" Andy Kaufman was still alive.  Some had already felt he had faked his death in 1984.  I knew little of Kaufman.  I remembered seeing him once on television when I was a teenager -- I never saw one episode of Taxi, a show on which he was a regular. Because of the reported hoax, I read a little about him and watched some of his material on youtube to explore the big deal.  It seemed that people found it difficult to understand who Andy Kaufman really was or whether he was really serious about his routines.  His performance was very different.  For that reason, he was difficult to categorize -- not a comedian or an actor, so a performance artist, just like what people might name certain kinds of avante garde art.

All drama and comedy is an act.  People are playing.  It isn't real.  Kaufman took this to a new level, because his act was acting.  On Taxi, many of the actors said he never came to rehearsals. They practiced with a replacement actor who played his part just for rehearsals.  If Kaufman had rehearsed, it would have revealed him as an actor, when he was simply playing one.  The person showing up to act was acting.  His act was convincing people it wasn't an act.  This was the same guy he was when he went home.  This is one reason why people believe he faked his death.  His life was such a hoax that they believed that his death must be one too.  When people watched him, they often didn't know if the joke was on him or if the joke was on them.  They wanted to "get it," wondering if there was really anything to get.  So many people "got him," when there really was nothing to "get," so that everyone then had to "get him."  What there was to "get" was that there was nothing to "get."  When people didn't get him, he acted like he didn't get their not getting him.  It is obvious that the joke was on everyone who watched Kaufman.  People watched him, it seems, to see if they could see who he really was or if this really was him.  He was known to read from a book, like Gone with the Wind, and then just keep reading and reading out loud, but people wouldn't leave because they thought he must be doing something they were supposed to get, so they would stay.  What was funny was the act, that he was getting away with it, and they were part of it.  What did he do?  "He read Gone with the Wind."  That's all?  "Yes."  You had to be there.

Since acting is only an act that actors take seriously, why not make acting an act?  Now even the actors don't know if it's an act or not.

Kaufman was a perfect "artist" to represent the modern world.  He deceived people with an act, all the while living out the act himself.  The people of this world walk through life believing a lie, and they practice with their entertainment, which is a lie.  Video games.  Movies.  Music.  People look at a piece of modern art and act like they get it.  They lie to themselves that there is something there. Homosexual marriage is an act.  People know it isn't marriage.  They know it.  It's part of the act.  Turning a world into a genderless society is an act.  Unisex bathrooms is an act.  It's ignoring the obvious, and the joke is on us.  Men move inexorably toward an end that they lie to themselves that they won't face.  And those around them treat them as if it isn't an act, but some serious pursuit.  They can't take anything with them, but who cares?  We'll still treat them like they're rich.  Jesus said they were swimming in a dragnet and James said they were hogs being fattened for a day of slaughter.  They politely go on with the charade, acting like nothing is wrong.

I say Kafkaesque because of the Kafka figure of the man with the pole, fishing in the empty bathtub.  No one is fishing, and yet someone is fishing.  But not really.  Kafka was illustrating absurdity, the absurdity of someone acting all objective about his fishing.  This world was rightly absurd to him, as Solomon illustrated in Ecclesiastes.

The Kaufman hoax got me thinking about professing Christianity today, and I'm going to write two posts about it, targeting three aspects.  I'm going to write about Christianity, because it's become like the world with its own act.

The Bible is convincing.  Christianity is convincing.  It can be real.  It does not need to be a performance art, because scripture is sufficient.  People who do not believe have turned Christianity into an act, a Kaufman like performance art that replaces faith with an act.  They're in an empty tub with a fishing pole.  The world has its own act.  Christianity has borrowed a Christian version.

The Charismatic-Continuationist-Revivalist Performance "Art"/Hoax

Perhaps you've read the Bible, so you know what's in there about signs and wonders, apostolic miracles, the kind done by Moses, Elijah, Elisha, the Apostles, and Jesus.  The Bible though isn't good enough.  It just seems like it would be better if there was more, something that would match up with the previously mentioned people, but it doesn't.  All we get is the Bible, doing what it says, people being converted, their lives changing, when they repent and believe.  We sing psalms and hymns, pray, obey the Bible. Hmmm.

So let's have apostolic signs -- tongues, miracles, and healings.  OK, so not exactly what's in the Bible.  No problem.  Let's have the act instead.

OK, we preach, teach the Bible, but what about God speaking through me?  Or maybe He speaks through an invitation hymn, because He might do that?  He tells me things.  And you can tell, because something's happening when I preach, a little wild, a little extraordinary, and it's emotional.  People feel it.   They laugh.  They cry.  They're moved.  It's alive and not dead.  God is working.  You can tell.  We've got people coming.  We've got people being baptized.  The power of God is working.  We hand out small toys and candy to get them to come, we scare them, we call them to come to the front, we tell them to ask Jesus to save them, we tell them they've been saved, give them assurance, tell them they can be be baptized after we get permission from the parents, of course.  We tell them they're going to heaven.  We keep bringing them.  We keep giving them things.  It's working.  God is working.  God is speaking.  He really works through the songs at the end.  Those convict.  The Spirit works.  You can hear it in the voice of the preacher.

Most of this is performance art.  It's a hoax.  We want there to be a work of God, so we make it happen. That's revivalism.  So what happened in Acts is happening to us.  It isn't but we can make it happen, and then it happens.  And then when it happens, we can say that God is doing it.  You've got to have the power of God.  You pray for it, or say you've prayed for it, then do the kind of things that will lure unbelievers.

The Bible isn't going to be good enough.  The message of salvation isn't.  You could tell them, but they aren't going to like it unless you add some things to it that you can provide at the building.  You could explain it the best you could, but that's not going to be good enough unless you do something with your voice, and tell stories.  Remind them that God is speaking to you.  This is an act.  It's not happening.  It's a hoax.  It is performance art.  People want to "get" it.  People are given a basis for "getting it," so they think they do.  The performance has been a success.

People validated Kaufman by coming to see him.  He was paid for his act.  People talked about him.  They still do, even after his death.  His performance was such that people still think he might be alive.  These Charismatic-continuationist-revivalist churches validate each other.  They don't question.  Other Christians are polite to them.  Don't want to hurt their feelings.  It's not in good taste to question someone's religion or faith.  It's not ecumenical.  It's not catholic.  It's too dogmatic.  It's considered unloving.  And so it spreads.  It is validated by all the people who won't question it.  These aren't miracles like the Bible.  These are impostor.  They are an act.  God isn't speaking through these people.  He didn't tell them to do the things they say God is telling them.  God's power isn't being manifested by their ginned up revival atmosphere and emotional pleas and solicitations.

People knew Kaufman was absurd.  Knew it.  That's what made it funny.  But his was merely entertainment.  If you were fooled by it, you were still entertained.  It didn't matter.  At worst, it was a waste of time, a postponement of a serious decision or a worthwhile endeavor.

With this professing Christian stuff, it is deceiving people in the most serious, most important aspects of life.  It is making a charade, a game, an act of what is eternal and of God.  We can't laugh at it, even though it's more absurd than Kaufman.  Kaufman acts like he doesn't get that he's not funny.  Unless he was insane, which maybe he was, Kaufman knew.  Some of the leaders of the act I have described in professing Christianity have convinced themselves that they are something real and legitimate.  It's the deceitfulness of sin, as absurd or more so than anything in the world.


Ken Lengel said...


There is an interesting corollary to this in the explosion of reality shows and social networking on the internet.

I believe reality shows are so popular because people want something to escape reality. In a postmodern world without absolutes, a reality show allows us to escape our own reality. Social networking has done the same as many create false personnas in order to express themselves in ways their present reality wouldn't find acceptable. (It's not true in all cases, but many do)

In addition, men do all they can to create their own realities which are more palatable than the true reality in which they live.

I am teaching on the Holy Spirit at present and discussing the current matter of affairs regarding Charismatics and Continuists. I shared a story from a personal experience a few months back. A woman was walking with her son in a local store. He started to tell her a story that she sensed was a lie. She even stated she was there and did not witness what he said happened. Upon his insistence to the story, she replied to him, "that's ok [Johnny], it's your reality, you go with it, you own it!" I know creating our own narratives is nothing knew, but in our postmodern world, especially with the challenges of the Charismatic movement, men are creating the reality they want, rather than the reality that is so, which is founded on the reality of the Scriptures.


Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks Ken.

I guess I knew that this post wouldn't be so popular, or it would go more deeply than readers would want. However, I think it is one of my most important posts. I think most of professing Christianity is faking it or is fake, an act. I explain why here.

Ken Lengel said...


I agree. Deep thinking often will lead people to a reevaluation of certain truths, and the resulting observations are often not what they want or they invade and upset their reality.

It's why some theologians and pastors limit how they determine biblical, timeless truths today. They unknowingly limit their understanding to the authors intended meaning exegetically, but fail to search for the timeless truths and make application to today's world from them.

It is this "it's not found in the Bible" approach that allows people to justify things like CCM, because God doesn't talk about chords, guitars, etc. in the Scriptures. They can claim to be great expositors, but fail when it comes to the rest of the manner in which the Scriptures direct our steps. Avoiding the deep thinking allows expositors to build their own reality around what they think or their fellow pastor friends think ought to be reality.

Thanks for your efforts. I, for one, appreciated your post.