Norway, the Harlem Shake, and the Bible

By now you’ve probably seen and forgotten the viral video craze that was the Harlem Shake. Unless you’ve been living in an Internet-less cave for the last 6 months, which might not be a bad thing, you’ve come across at least a few versions of the absurd dance move that caused uproars in Cairo, arrests in Moscow, school suspensions across the U.S., and untold wasted hours in front of YouTube. Trying to understand the fascination behind the Harlem Shake is as difficult as predicting what will become the next viral video, but its immediate popularity and equally fast death provoke some worthy considerations.

The Harlem Shake, seen here in Norway is short and doesn’t demand much of its viewers. A mere 30 seconds long, the Harlem Shake works in our culture because it caters to our desire for short bursts of mindless entertainment. Still, a simple love of mindless entertainment doesn’t fully explain the Shake’s meteoric rise. Its predictable structure, coupled with endless regional varieties and a postmodern absurdist humor, lends itself well to multiple viewings and shared hyperlinks across the Web.

Despite its initial success, however, the Harlem Shake clearly ran its course as a typical flash in the pan Internet meme. As the Google trends report below illustrates, virtually no one cares about the Harlem Shake or its viral variations anymore.[1]

This collective indifference suggests that the Harlem Shake wasn’t protested out of existence by the demands of public consciousness or others who thought it was irreverent. Rather, people just stopped caring about it.

Coincidentally, the same country that helped popularize the Harlem Shake has recently experienced a resurgence of interest in the Bible. Yes, in Norway of all places, Bible sales have peaked, making the Christian sacred text more popular than Fifty Shades of Grey and the bestselling book in one of the world’s most secular nations. While many attribute high sales to a new modern translation, immigration, and snazzy marketing efforts, others sense that Norwegians are yearning for something more spiritual amidst what they perceive to be the dead end of secularism.[2]

All these hypotheses are probably partially true, but regardless, here’s what I think we can learn from these admittedly peculiar observations. First, the Christian tradition’s insistence on the primacy of the Bible as God’s revealed Word continues to take root around the world. If a secular nation like Norway shows that it still cares deeply about the Bible, then all the predictions about the death of religion in the 21st century are either outdated or plainly mistaken.

superheroes Harlem Shake Superman Batman Spiderman

Second, despite the incessant barrage of mindless entertainment that occupies our Internet searches, people still hunger for sacred texts that demand obedience, require commitment, and teach us to love God and neighbor. Mere entertainment and distraction are not enough; people want something more challenging.

Third, people appreciate the Bible not only for encouraging virtuous living, but also because they make ultimate claims about the origins, meaning, and eventual destination of the cosmos. While some postmoderns scoff at the truth claims of the biblical narrative, there is still, I suspect, a quiet respect for people who make the courageous attempt to understand the universe and our place in it by a humble, thoughtful investigation of Scripture.

Finally, this text—the one that tells Christians who God is through the person of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit—has been believed by billions of people across the globe in thousands of different languages for many, many centuries. It is a culturally translatable, explanatorily powerful, and ethically demanding text. It is also, more simply, a story about God’s love for His people, whom He sets free from oppression, sin, and death.

To rephrase one biblical author’s thoughts on the matter, the Internet memes wither, and the Harlem Shake fades, / But the word of our God stands forever.[3]

Paul McClure

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2 responses to “Norway, the Harlem Shake, and the Bible

  1. What sceptics and post-modern thinkers don’t take into account is that the Bible is the actual words of God. Therein lies its power to change lives. They have no idea what they are missing.

  2. Thanks for reading! I’d agree that many skeptics and postmodernists are dismissive of Scripture’s truth claims, and since they are, we Christians ought to do a better job of understanding where such skepticism originates and how can it be addressed. In conversations with friends and strangers, it’s always beneficial to understand the source of unbelief and reasons for disagreement. Also, in terms of postmodernism, I highly recommend James K.A. Smith’s book, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism, for his favorable treatment of a complicated area of our culture.

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