Iconoclasm is back! Angry mobs of puritan zealots are storming the streets of various cities, toppling statues and tearing images apart. No picture is too sacred for their axes, which are set to erase any blasphemy from the face of the earth.
Admittedly, this opening sentence is an overdramatization of recent attacks on statues and monuments in the aftermath of the gruesome killing of African American man George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the United States on May 25, 2020. It is, furthermore, inaccurate in its characterization of these acts as a form of iconoclasm, which is—in the strict meaning of the term—the destruction of statues and pictures set up as objects of religious veneration.
For some reason, I find religious leaflets interesting. Previously in this blog, I wrote a post comparing two brochures that I had picked up in a church in Stockholm, Sweden. Perhaps it is this overlap between religion and marketing, between what is supposed to be sacred and what is supposed to be profane, that fascinates me about them. In this post, I will revisit this topic, but instead of comparing two religious brochures, this time I am going to compare a religious flyer with an atheist/secularist brochure.
The religious flyer was handed to me last June by an old man in the Swiss city of Bern (fun fact that not many people know: it is the capital of Switzerland!). It says, in German, “God’s YES to you…”. The organization behind the flyer, Society for Biblical Propagation in Bern, states no confessional affiliation in its website. It claims it is neither recruiting converts nor seeking donations but merely spreading biblical message.
I wrote a draft of this post two years ago (March 2015) in my notebook, but only now that I have edited it and posted it online. I have avoided making any substantial changes, so that it remains true as much as possible to my thoughts back then.
Those who know me personally or have read some of my posts here (Oriental(ist) Metal Music or “Is God really Dead?”) know me as a dedicated heavy metal fan. For 15 years, almost half my life, I listened almost exclusively to heavy metal music (along with few hard and progressive rock bands). I have also been a dedicated concert-goer, sometimes travelling to other countries just to attend a metal band I like. Heavy metal was in fact more than just music for me. It was, for most of these 15 years, an identity and an influence on the way I think and behave. I even wrote my MA thesis, back in 2010, about heavy metal in Syria and for a while I was thinking about doing a PhD in this field. As a faithful metalhead I looked down at all other styles of music, especially hip hop, and bragged how heavy metal surpassed it in sophistication, authenticity, anti-commercialism, and fan-dedication. In fact, two months ago, I would not have been able to name 10 hip hop songs, and if you asked my what was your favorite hip hop song, I would have said Gay Fish.
So after all that to turn to hip hop within less than two months came as a surprise to me personally before anyone else. So I have spent the past two weeks reflecting on this “radical” change and trying to understand how come it ever happened and why hip hop and not any other style of music. What has changed in my life or my environment that helped make this transformation? I will try in this post to give some answers to these questions.
Earlier this year, on a cold January morning, I was walking around in the snowy streets of Stockholm, not sure how to spend the few hours before the departure of my bus on an 18-hour journey to the far north of Sweden, when I came across a big brown church in a side street near the main train station. Being interested in religion, I decided to walk in and have a look in order to get an impression of Swedish churches.
Two different Christianities in two booklets
When I went in, which was few minutes after it had opened its doors to visitors, there were already 5 or 6 people inside. Some of them seemed to be homeless people who spent the night inside protected from the freezing cold. They wore rough clothes and had blankets and mats with them. There were also two people praying and another person sitting near the door, who, I assume, work for the church.