Thursday, February 17, 2011


Having grown abroad in Europe, I was exposed to the "Ockham Razor" of culture types which reduced most everything to the simplest categories possible, especially in the commercial culture. A yearly German goods expose would feature new merch before it was widely distributed. However, these goods were typically innovative twists or convenient upgrades on existing products like exercise equipment, electronic gadgets, household appliances, fuel-powered vehicles, and industrial-grade tools. Whatever was popular could almost always be reduced to a generic kind. For example, I remember one year in Kaiserslautern being absolutely mesmerized by an innumerable array of countoured showerheads, the intricate features striking me as so thoroughly beautiful that over 20 years later I remember them more than I do the sports cars headlining the event.

Though markets exist most anywhere in the world for popular products at the cheapest costs, the commercialization of faith in the United States hits new absurd heights. In RAPTURE READY: ADVENTURES IN THE PARALLEL UNIVERSE OF CHRISTIAN POP CULTURE Daniel Radosh says that in 2006 Americans spent over 7 billion dollars on Christian products, "Christian products" defined as commercial goods having an explicitly Christian message. Upon a closer look, a large percentage of Christian products being sold are cheap facsimiles of existing products from the Christian boy & girl bands who modeled themselves after Backstreet Boys & Spice Girls to Praise Ponies and Good News Tatooz. The Christian discount industry is a legitimate industry, but it is often engined by that silly, evangelical reasoning that goes something like "If my This Blood's for You t-shirt wins only one person for Christ, then that soul was worth it!" Not only is the profit & loss statement not determined by the number of souls "won for Jesus", but oftentimes the idea for the product is not even determined by alleged religious sentiment.

You still have the problem of cheap facsimiles, because facsimiles are always less than the standard from which they are derived. The prototype is never the facsimile, so I am not sure how people can be so certain that a particular Christian product is the effective agent of a salvation experience. And the salvation experience is another problem. How do you measure a salvation experience? From an email sent to you by a fan of your product? How do you develop a business plan solely on the basis of faith? Is the product really about the soul? In Rwanda, "The Cradle of the African Revival", over 90% of the population considered themselves Christians at the time of the 1990's massacres. Would an infusion of cheap Christian products have abated the hatred that boiled underneath the surface of that Christian country? Can a product really have that kind of final effect on an individual, on a nation?

While a cheap Christian product can contribute to the cumulative effect of positive influences in an individual's life, it is just another example of shoddy marketing based on shoddy evangelical apologetics to attribute metaphysical power to a product, and a facsimile at that. I myself have been close to an epicenter of marketable Christian goods. Though many of its product-visionaries have created useful tools that help distribute the Christian messages they deem to be important for the rest of us, I've watched the fallout in personal lives via bankruptcy, substance abuse, divorce, and wayward children. I have been around many of these sorts of Christian entrepreneurs and they are as bad an influence as many of their "secular" counterparts. With a divorce rate amongst Christians of well over 50% and illicit, sexual activity amongst their offspring in some churches of over 40%, I don't think the industry has the kind of effect it claims.

But this post is really about encouraging people of faith to create legitimate goods, useful on a cellular level. Facsimiles might very well have a distinction in and of themselves, but those distinctions are just adjectives. The facsimile can never be a distinctly different noun unless, like the convergence of atoms into a molecule, it undergoes a fundamentally distinctive change to emerge as a new entity. Just as there is only one Sting, one Joni Mitchell, and one Eminem, there is only one Michael Card, one Haley Williams, one BonoThat, I believe, is how it should be. I fear that one day I will wake up to a Christian Harry Potter who defeats NATAS with his "Wand of the Spirit." Seriously.

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