Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Christian feces

Recently I've had the unexpected-yet-troubling experience of being assailed with messages espousing a religious-separationist ideology. I've been told several times, "You should shop at {this store} because it's a Christian business." And of course the implied message is that the other stores are not worthy of my business because they may or may not be a "Christian" business. Though, in all fairness, the message intended was probably something more like: "Shop there...they're good people." However, still the attachment of religion to define their worthiness for my business exposed an undercurrent of religious elitism...or at least desired religious sectarianism.

When told, "Shop there. They're a 'Christian' business," my response has usually been, "How are the prices?"

Are "Christian" businesses any less motivated by money? Does the appearance of a Jesus fish on someone's dry cleaning business mean my shirts are going to come back any crisper or cleaner, or that I'm going to pay any less? Does the fish on the sign of the insurance agent mean I'm going to pay a lower premium or that my claims will be handled in a more honest manner? When I see the fish does that mean Jesus himself will be fixing my car, or will it still be a guy working on commission? Will the "Christian" school supply store sell paper made from reeds gathered at the Jordan river, or will it still be regular old paper, shaved off of trees that have been clear cut right at the edge of a wildlife preserve? Does that Jesus fish on the sign mean I'm going to be treated any better while I'm there? Not at all (perhaps it should, but usually it's not true).

Religious-separationist ideology is damaging to the world and to the Church because at it's heart it implies that the "rest" of the world and the people in it are to be ignored and rejected, while Christians are supposed to stay in their safe little cave where they interact with no one outside their sphere, and therefore, are unable to share the message of the Gospel with anyone.

Do I listen to Christian music? Some, but not the majority of the time. And when I do it's not because it's "Christian" music. No, I like Music. I like music that provokes my thoughts, my emotions, and resonates with my soul. I like music that connects me with God. I don't pull an "Aquire the Fire" and burn all my non-"Christian" CD's and guilt trip other people into doing the same. I listen to good music. And I don't listen to bad music (meaning: uninspired, unoriginal, cheesy, country & western, etc...). So, of course I skipped the TobyMac concert last month with a clear conscience. And yes, I'm eagerly anticipating attending the Foo Fighters concert my wife gave me a ticket to for Christmas.

Do I read non-"Christian" authors? Of course. Do I read "Christian" authors. Of course. But when I do it's not necessarily because it's Christian. It can be good either way. It can just as easily be garbage either way. There's got to be other filters. I have known, all my life, a variety of people who will willingly listen to and follow every book they pick up at the local "Christian" bookstore without filtering it on any other level. I guess their thinking is: If it's by a Christian, and it's published, it must be good, or it must be correct. Frankly, I think this is hooey. There are a lot of books by Christians that have good theology. And of course there are a lot of them that have rather awful theology (Google: Prosperity Gospel).

It's like my wife recently quipped, "Putting a Jesus fish or the word "Christian" on a bag of feces doesn't make it any less a bag of feces."

There are not two worlds...one in which Christians live and a separate one in which the rest of society lives. There is only one world created by God; only one world into which the Christ was made known, and the presence of the Christ in that world has made it's lasting impression upon it's totality.

In thinking of this I'm reminded of H. Richard Niebuhr's final conclusions in Christ & Culture:
"To make our decisions in faith is to make them in view of the fact that no single man or group or historical time is the church; but that there is a church of faith in which we do our partial, relative work and on which we count. It is to make them in view of the fact that Christ is risen from the dead, and is not only the head of the church but the redeemer of the world. It is to make them in view of the fact that the world of culture--man's achievement--exists within the world of grace--God's Kingdom."


Brian said...

"It's like my wife recently quipped, "Putting a Jesus fish or the word "Christian" on a bag of feces doesn't make it any less a bag of feces."

That is hilarious. But if you've ever seen some of the ridiculous junk they sell in many Christian bookstores, that's exactly what they try to get away with!

Danny said...


Rebecca said...

I'm glad you put this out there. I always have mixed feelings about the Christian business thing. We have the "Christian Blue Pages" here in Cincinnati (you probably have them too) but I don't have a copy. I'm concerned about the name "Christian" and it's symbols becoming nothing more than part of a marketing strategy. That would reduce Jesus to a brand spokesperson. I don't think that's what he went to the cross for.

In a seminary classes on Christ and culture, I found myself on the outs with some classmates because I don't embrace all-things-Christian - music, tv channels, books, movies. I tend to cast a more critical eye toward those things. If they accept the name, they have to accept the responsibilities that go with it (whatever those may be - Dan raises some interesting questions about this).