Wednesday, January 11, 2006

McDonalds Christianity

I recently ran across a blog post at Thebreadoflife that I really liked. I asked the author, Nikolai, if I could repost it and he consented. Below is a reposting of his piece originally posted on his blog. If you follow the link above to his post, you can see my comment to him on his essay, and his response. I don't always agree with Nikolai, even within a single piece of writing. But I believe he has composed something of great value. So without further ado...


My sister’s a communist. That is, she believes that the most efficient way of running an economy is to audit what people need, plan its production, and assign resources to create it. She’s right that competition is inefficient of course – it means people spend time competing rather than producing. But she tends to stumble on the issue of choice.

If one central producer makes all the strawberry jam, and no-one else is allowed to set up their own jam factory – how can we be sure that people are getting what they want? Different people might like different sorts of strawberry jams – a fact that would become clear through competition and the creation of rival firms – but may never be discovered in an economy run according to need. The market economy is inefficient alright, but at least it guarantees people get what they want.

Bring me some Diabetes, with a side of Heart Disease

Unfortunately, what people want isn’t always what’s best for them. That’s why almost a third of Americans are obese – because what they want is chipped potatoes drowned in saturated fat, teaming with salt, supersized – and two Big Macs. Oh, and a diet coke, better watch my weight. The West is facing a health crisis of unimaginable proportions because people have been getting what they want, when they want it, how they want it, for too darned long.

I also hear more and more people bemoaning the rise of Walmart, and the loss of smaller, local stores. Everyone seems to jump on the anti-Walmart bandwagon – yet most of them will be down at the supermarket the next day to pick up their groceries, ignoring any smaller, local alternatives on account of price. It doesn’t have to be that way – it isn’t in France for example, where smaller, specialist stores thrive on account of a very French snobbery about the quality of their food.

Free-Market Church

Having been a Christian for 3 months, I’ve been taking a good look around the various options in terms of denominations. What first struck me, and still strikes me, is the sheer number of available options. And they’re opening up every day – in strip malls and street corners near you. It’s a free-market for the church – a land of competition.

Which is great – unless you want any sort of theological challenge in your religious life. After all, in the free-market of American-style Protestantism, if you don’t like what your pastor is saying, if you disagree with a point of doctrine, however trivial – you can just move on and find another church. Or, even better, set one up yourself, then it’s bound to agree with you. And that’s just what people do, in a church that’s become addicted to schism – where everybody is their own little authority on matters of faith.

Dumbing Down Religion

Operating in a free-market, of open competition, churches now have to compete. And you never ever lose money under-estimating people’s tastes. So out with wood, in with plastic. Out with theologically meaningful hymns, in with repetitive and intellectually empty “praise songs” – with hand actions of course. Also, remember not to make the sermon too complicated or hard to digest – it’s got to be lowest common denominator, Big Mac and Fries, just what they want to hear. They might leave otherwise!

And for goodness sakes, don’t worry about a well rounded theology, you’ve got to obsess repeatedly over whatever your audience obsesses over. The end-times are coming. Prepare for the rapture. God hates fags. It’s whatever sells – and if that means pandering to the baser instincts of your audience, to their petty prejudices – then so be it. Hate gays – we’ll give you a Supersize Leviticus. Hate women? We’ll downsize the role of Mary. Bored with tradition? Not a problem, we don’t have to hold communion. Dislike accountability and contrition – try our “Once saved always saved” meal, no confessional required.

Moral Decline

Perhaps the most ironic symptom of free-market religion – ironic because it so irks the evangelicals who are most guilty of perpetual schism and playing petty politics with religion - is a decline in traditional Christian values within the church. After all – in a free market church you never have to have your lifestyle challenged – however sinful it is. A liberal, after all, can use the free market just as effectively as an über-conservative.

So no matter what side of a moral issue you’re on, you can find a church to suit your need, and if you can’t, you can set one up. Like homosexuals – try the Metropolitan Community Church. Hate them? Look up Fred Phelps. Indifferent (about homosexuals or generally) – go Anglican. The bottom line is, your lifestyle need never be challenged so long as you have the all-encompassing weapon of consumer choice. The customer is always right – you get what you pay for – and what people tend to pay for is to be liked and ratified. The only problem is, Jesus isn’t a happy meal - He didn’t come to ratify our actions - He came to redeem us from them. Oh well, no matter - it’s all about *personal relationship* - if you *feel* saved, you *are* - just ask your pastor.

Don’t get me wrong

I’m not a Catholic. I’ve not got a theological axe to grind. I’m also not against healthy debate and dissent within the Church. But I’m sick and tired of the free market approach to religion. The body of Christ should not be teaching one thing one side of the strip mall, and the exact opposite thing the other side. I shouldn’t be subjected to the same one and half hour long sermon every Sunday, delivered by an all-powerful pastor on his pet subject, whatever that is.

Christian theology should not be oversimplified or watered down to its bare bones, so that it’s “inclusive”, or worse: “young and trendy”. People ought to be theologically challenged by learned authorities on matters of faith – not allowed to wonder into whatever bastardized form of Christianity best suits them, their lives, or their (often naïve or tainted) beliefs. As well as exercising authority over the faithful, a church should also exercise authority over its clergy. And there ought to be a definitive statement of core Christian values and beliefs made by a unified Church – the matter is too grave to allow for division.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, the market economy guarantees that people get what they want. But people want instant gratification. People want burgers and fries. People want fast food religion. People want to be told they’re right. But Christianity, just like a high fibre diet, isn’t what people want – it’s what people need. There are various types of Strawberry jam, there’s only one Jesus. Let’s start to limit and organize the options of how we worship Him.