Mumford & Sons are part of what I (and some others) call the New Sincerity. This is a larger movement that recognizes the artificiality of the separation between sacred and secular. They reject that pressure to fragment ourselves depending on our company. Today, I’m a spiritual person. Tomorrow, I’ll be rational. And so on. Mumford & Sons are not the first band to do this. And they’re nowhere near the best. But, understood in light of this larger movement, they can’t be dismissed as too Jesus-y or not Jesus-y enough. They can’t be faulted for appropriating a range of themes and a diversity of musical influences into their songs; in the New Sincerity, you’re allowed to let all of your influences show. It’s okay if you don’t fit neatly into a box; you’re allowed to be more fully yourself. And this changes the criteria by which we judge popular culture.
I can’t begrudge anyone whatever motivation they need to live a healthier life, and Warren deserves respect for using some of his enormous cultural capital to fight obesity—especially now that biblical values are suddenly synonymous with consuming fried chicken sandwiches and waffle fries. But I am in awe at the superhuman degree of willful blindness it must take to read a profound story of conquest and resistance, of identity and assimilation, and discover, at the bottom of it all… a diet plan! A story, sacred or secular, is a test of our empathy: an invitation to enter into the trials and hopes of a stranger. And it takes a remarkable self-centeredness to deliberately reject that invitation, to mine that story for anything that helps us grow our portfolios or shrink our waistlines, and throw away the husk of the human at its heart once we’ve sucked out all we can use. We can read selfishly just as we can act selfishly. So Pastor Warren’s Daniel Plan, and the ugly religious thinking it represents, ought to matter whether you see the Bible as sacred writ or human literature. Warren and his fellow apostles of self-help Christianity have a bible of their own: one in which the strange and foreign—and human—are stripped away, and the shallowly motivational is exalted; one in which the demands of 21st-century America are made the measure of these ancient texts.