22 June 2008

Sobald der Gülden im Becken klingt / im huy die Seel im Himmel springt

"Metal bottom makes taking of offering NOISY! Listen to the change rattle in the pot and watch the giving momentum grow!"

I found this in a Christian resource magazine. A modern Christian resource magazine. And I very nearly died laughing.

Of course, this is not a new phenomenon. It's been happening for quite some time. A few examples:

The first is the reason we are all Roman Catholic. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a Christian could give money to the Roman church and either earn a few years off of their own stay in Purgatory or free a deceased relative from the same. For those unfamiliar with European High Medieval/Renaissance history, this was the practice of selling Indulgences. It was based off of the theory that "the merits" of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints were stored up and that the papacy had the authority to distribute them. For a generous donation, that is. One German monk, of the Augustinian order, took issue with this unfounded practice. He wrote on it and ended up changing the world. Forever. He challenged the pope, asking, if this unfounded teaching is true, why are the "merits" not given freely to all? His name was Martin Luther, and if you want to more, I would encourage you to watch the movie Luther. It's not the most accurate depiction in the world, but it does a great job of discussing the issue of indulgences.

But don't take my word for it...

Ok. Moving on after a delightful little flashback.

Another prime example comes from the Christ, and you probably already know where I'm going with this. In one of the stories mentioned in all four Gospels, Jesus goes into the Temple and drives out the money changers and those selling animals to be sacrificed - in other words, those trying to make money off of God. And it's not like when he drove out demons, where Christ simply commanded it and it happened. No, it's significantly more dramatic than that. Making a whip out of reeds and turning over tables - this is the stuff Indiana Jones was made for. As Jesus said, the Temple had been made "a den of thieves".

And today we have much the same thing going on. First and foremost, I think of the massive market of Christian books. And here I must be careful, because there are a lot of authors that I respect and admire. But at the same time, there are people selling "special editions" of books and Bibles, trying to come up with any reason for a new volume. The Five Languages of Love...for Young Men Between the Ages of 20 and 30 Who Enjoy Watching Men's Double Tennis During the British Open. Today's New International Version for Housewives Who Just Sent Their Fourth Child to Kindergarten for the First Day - Study Edition. Don't get me wrong. I understand books aimed at special audiences. But when you get tot he point of having five or more editions of the same book, something's gone horribly awry. CS Lewis, arguably one of the best Christian authors of the twentieth century, did not have Mere Christianity - For Singles. And yet Lee Strobel feels that if he doesn't publish seperate copies of The Case for... series for both teens and kids - well, I don't really know what will happen. Will the kids not understand the deep thoughts of the teen version? Will the younger half of a generation not fully love God? Will they be converted to atheism before the age of thirteen, never to go to church again?

And then there are the bullet point books. Joel Osteen guarantees that if you read his book, he can give you seven principles to being blessed by God. I'll hold my criticism of prosperity preachers for another day and focus more on the flawed idea of preaching that bullet points can change your life. First, I'll let Donald Miller explain it.

Second, I'll continue Luther's challenge. If the secret to living a better life is seven simple steps, why are these not given out freely? If everything can be reduced to a point-by-point list, why does it have to be bound and sold for $22 ($15 on Amazon)? Why not publish it on a website? Now, I know that this same argument applies to all books, and CDs, and movies, but how much more, then, does it apply to lists?

Yes, yes, I know it all comes down to money. I know that money drives people, even Christians.

But I also know one thing: God is not for sale.

We cannot sale religion. We cannot sale salvation. We cannot sale a better relationship with God.

And Christianity is not the only religion with this problem.

I'm currently in "Introduction to Religion in Native American Cultures". And the first thing we talked about in this class was the New Age attempt to mix Eastern and Native American religious traditions and sell them. Which is why you have wealthy fifty year old white men smoking "peace pipes" and going on "vision quests" and teaching that we are all one with Mother Earth and the Great Spirit*. This abduction of culture has driven some Native Americans to "declare war" on the perpetrators, boycotting bookstores and New Age shops.

Which makes me wonder.

If native people are offended by cultural/religious theft and are willing to protest the offenders, why are Christians so willing to let our faith be packaged and sold for twenty dollars per mountaintop experience? Why do we stand by as "Christian" toys (BibleMan would pwn Psalty in a cage match), "Christian" financial guides, and, among the more troubling, "Christian" patriotic clothing, continue to commercialize Christianity?

And even more important, once we've had enough, what do we do about it?

Rock on.

*The "peace pipe" comes from various traditions of the Sacred Pipe. Vision quests are not practiced by all cultures. Mother Earth is a Greek concept. And the Great Spirit is a translation of an Oglala Lakota (think Black Elk) belief used to make monotheistic Westerners more comfortable with polytheistic native beliefs.

Post Script: The title is Johann Tetzel's famous rhyme. Translated , it means "As soon as the gold in the pan rings, the soul in [to] Heaven jumps," or more commonly translated, "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul to Heaven springs." Or, depending on the source, it could be "Die Seel aus dem Fegefeuer springt", which is, "the soul from Purgatory springs." There are a few other variations, but I won't go into them.

Updated: 28 June 2008

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