The first time I encountered Russell Brand's thought was when he interviewed the Westboro Baptist Church and juxtaposed them with some rather liberal Christians. I found this exercise pointless and doubted I could ever give him another chance at bringing forward any meaningful conversation or thought to my universe. However, after a couple months I realized that if I can still enjoy Richard Dawkins on occasion, despite that fact he makes similar types of fruitless arguments toward the end of his book God Delusion (as though a handful of rude Christians or a handful of really open minded Christians represent any real spectrum of Christian thought) then I can give Brand a second chance as well.
My girlfriend also happens to be rather fond of Brand, so in an effort to give him a second chance, I acquired tickets for his Aug 23rd show in Calgary. The stand up show which is entitled Messiah Complex represents an interesting mix of religious pluralism, a touch of postmodern philosophy in the vein of Jean-Francois Lyotard's incredulity toward's metanarratives (whether Brand realizes it or not), along with a few standard sex jokes.
Brand is fully aware that in today's context we have to be intentional about who we are and what we want to follow; otherwise what we understand to be true will be falsified and manipulated for the purpose of those who seek to control us. State authority, corporate advertisers, and religious leaders will often seek to manipulate what is true for their own gain. Che Guevara was a man who was respected for his firm communist ideology along with being incredibly violent. Today he is reduced to a t-shirt logo. Ghandi has become the symbol of all that is good in the world, yet he treated his wife in a way that most today would not approve. In order to describe the world faithfully it requires nuance.
Most impressive was Brand's introduction of modern philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and G.K.Chesterton. Brand described how Nietzsche declares that “God is dead” because society is no longer under the authority of a Christian nation. According to Brand, Chesterton counters that despite this reality; people will still create objects of worship of their own accord. This warning of idolatry continued all throughout his show. In the midst of a diverse and packed out crowd of young and old, Brand was preaching to an audience that most Canadian churches today would dream of having.
While I am excited for the ideas that Russell Brand is bringing forward in his most recent tour, my warning to him is that as a religious pluralist he will never truly be able to immerse himself in the truth of any one religion. For Brand the central message of Christ is simply to love one another. And this generically seems to be what he believes to be the centrality of most religions. By denying the particularity of a belief system, he will never be able to experience the truth of it from the inside out. It will always be as a passing critical observer. While Brand is correct in suggesting that there really is no conclusive historical evidence for any one faith over another, this doesn't mean that the best way to engage them is as though you are at a buffet. Christianity is most real when you are inside of it, and I assume that most people of faith who believe their religion to be ultimate reality would suggest the same. This doesn't mean that there isn't truth in most religions; it simply means that in order experience the heart of a tradition, you have to enter into it fully and submit yourself to it. For us Christians this means that Jesus Christ has never given us the option to simply see him as a good guy or a great teacher. He demands that we see him as God incarnate; he demands that we see his death and resurrection as the ultimate work of his power and glory for the world he created. If we refuse to see this, the truth we see in Christ will always be but a hint of who he truly is. If Russell Brand refuses to dive into one religion with all his heart, he will always be left with crumbs of truth, and never the meal.