[Hugh] Sparks is going to ensure that in the year to come, Christians bookstores across America will carry his company's new line of Jolly Roger auto decals, with messages like "Christian Pirates: Bound to the Code" and "Dead Man for Christ." These stickers will then be purchased by some of the 100 million Americans who shop in Christian stores, so that one day, when you are driving down the highway, you will see one on the car ahead of you. Perhaps you will have just watched the latest Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, and you will think to yourself, Why, yes, being a Christian is a lot like being a free-spirited rogue who sails the seven seas in search of adventure. By tapping in to the pirate zeitgeist, the Christian in the car in front of you will have planted a seed in your heart, and then one day -- Blam! You're saved. And the next thing you know, you're buying a Christian decal to put on your car.Seeing as how the visit was in 2006 and I have yet to see Christian pirates rival "Warning: In the Case of Rapture, Car will be Unmanned"** stickers, I don't think Mr. Sparks has gotten too far. However, the fact remains that there are plenty of crappy, crappy Christian bumper stickers in the world, along with Jesus fish, Jesus t-shirts, Jesus Guitar Hero, Jesus Dance Dance Revolution, and whatever the hell this thing is out there in the world. The saddest thing about most of the Jesus junk is that there are any number of poor, misguided souls who actually think it's a valuable witnessing tool to the blathering mob of idiotic heathens who make their decisions based on a five dollar rectangle of plastic permanently glued to the bumper of the car parked in front of them during rush hour. However, and this is why Radosh's book should be read for more than a single paragraph, he brings up the much more interesting topic of Christian postmodernism later on in the first chapter. In it he quotes a professor William Romanowski, on the benefits of the use of postmodernism:
...[S]houldn't Christian perspectives be afforded a place in our public discourse? [In postmodern society] Christian artists and critics should not adopt an attitude of "This is what we believe and it's true. Take it or leave it." But something like, "This is what life looks like from our perspective. What do you make of it?" (Second bracket's Radosh's.)The interesting thing is, as someone who was completely bought in to the Christian postmodernist movement, I can say unequivocally that this is completely wrong. And it's more than a little annoying. But, as with a lot of the problems with evangelical Christianity these days, you have to be outside the bubble to see the problems. I met someone not so long ago. He seemed like a decent enough guy. One day I was talking to him and I attempted to make a reference to the Wheaton Public Library, but instead slipped and said, "Wheaton Bible Church," probably because this was right about the time that I was best man in a wedding at said church and was experiencing the Monstrosity on North for the first time. It was just a more immediate three-word place name starting with "Wheaton" than the town's top-ranked public library. I basically watched his eyes light up when I used the word "church" and saw him verbally pounce on it and all I could think was, "Oh, shit." Suddenly I was roped in to a conversation on the topic of religion. This, of course, is where the, "Oh, shit," came from. Because I didn't just know the playbook he was using. I wrote that playbook for a couple of different ministries. Quite frankly, if anybody deserves to be hoisted by his own petard on this issue it's me, but that doesn't make me feel any better about it. I eventually managed to shoo him away after he'd made any number of offers to, y'know, be friends and hang out and talk about religion. Or football. Or whatever. Now whenever I see my own personal reminder of the stupidity of the religion I once knew I try to avoid being seen by him, for I know I'm about to get this extremely fake, "Hey! How are you doing?" It's like a mini purgatory, but I'm alive to enjoy it. However, I realized something interesting about the whole thing a little later. The move to abandon traditional apologetics and move to the postmodern stance as articulated by Romanowski is a tacit admission of the failure of traditional apologetics, but the postmodern lifestyle evangelism approach is actually less likely to work. What the lifestyle evangelist basically does is set his or her personal narrative against my personal narrative and in the completely subjective world of personal narratives, mine always trumps yours (and, um, that's the editorial "mine" and "yours"). There's an additional level of difficulty the lifestyle evangelizer bring upon him- or herself in that they are compelled to hold to a limited framework -- often made even more limited by a lack of understanding of any church tradition that existed before, oh, last week -- while the evangelizee has no such difficulty and is free to basically make up any personal narrative they want and incorporate anything from the Bhagavad Gita to then newest album by The Killers. This is, of course, absolutely nothing new. American attitudes towards religion in the 21st Century can be considered analogous to Roman attitudes towards religion in the 1st Century. The idea of religious festival as public spectacle/mystery cult is largely missing from the American religious framework, but the Romans did get the benefit of Alexander the Great's innovative bit of cultural conquest wherein he co-opted local gods as aspects of the divine that were also present in the Greek pantheon. The Romans brought that concept in to their own conquests because it was a highly useful form of assimilation. Meanwhile, this is why we have a bizarre and obviously out of touch Christian subculture with its own language, ideals, and an inability to understand why Sarah Palin is not the Vice President-elect right now. There is a growing parallel Christian pop culture that wants to believe it is capable of matching itself to secular pop culture. Unfortunately, as with the pirates for Jesus idea, it is often a culture created by ripping off regular pop culture in a sort of deaf and blind, five years out of date way. For instance, they ooh and aah over Kirk Cameron and Stephen Baldwin while the rest of us say, "Huh. He's still alive. Look at that." Moreover, the eternal need to focus relentlessly on Jesus and the weird system of check-marks by which the Christian pop culture is judged (Radosh tells a story of going to a concert wherein a teenager got excited because the band prayed three times during a twenty-minute set, for instance. As a veteran concert goer I can tell you that excitement would not by my reaction to that scenario) forces every last damn thing to have a cross on it. This is complete and total brand overkill, and that's a statement coming from a guy who owns two Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers t-shirts, an RCPM keychain/bottle opener, an RCPM necklace, and who totally wants the RCPM flask (and I don't even know what I'd do with a flask. Those things scream, "I'm a drunk on the go!" and that's not a message I necessarily want to send). The thing is, though, I own a lot of things that have nothing to do with Roger Clyne or his Peacemakers. Also, the crass commercialism of Christianity does something that RCPM's online store can't do: it creates a watered-down message and flirts with or jumps across the line of sacrilege. Sometimes with reckless abandon. Not only that, but the prime participants in the sacrilege are evangelical Christians themselves. Were I of a mind to take offense at such things these days, I think I would be less offended at some modern artist placing the cross in a jar of urine to "make a statement" than a herd of plaid-shirted tourists lumbering over to stare slack-jawed at and take digital pictures of the daily passion exhibition at the Holy Land Experience. I had a running conversation with a friend back at college (and since, I guess) that always went back to the question of what sort of person would actually want to buy the DVD of The Passion of the Christ so they could make popcorn and watch it on a Friday night. The sad thing is, we actually knew someone who counted it among her favorite movies, although to this day I couldn't tell you if it was because she actually liked it or because she thought that would be a relevant Facebook evangelization tool. I hated that movie when I was still a Christian and took it as a point of pride that I'd never seen it and wasn't intending to. It's weird. Back then I only saw it as odd, artless, and ultimately pointless. Now that I'm no longer religious, I see it as sacrilege. I think that removing myself from Christianity has given me far more respect for the religion than I ever had before. I think it's because the Christian pop culture doesn't respect its own symbols and does nothing to defend itself from kitsch and stupidity, instead believing that all of the Jesus junk, all the stupid trinkets, cheap rip-offs, and crappy sloganeering is useful or even good because it plants a seed. An oft-used passage from the New Testament is the story of the four soils. Jesus tells a parable about seeds, some of which fall on the road, some among the thorns, some in shallow soil, and some in rich soil. The ones in the road are carried off by birds, the ones in the thorns choked before they can grow, and the ones in the shallow soil can't take deep root. The ones in the good soil, of course, grow and give back a many-fold crop. The way this passage is often used is to basically blame the non-Christian for being a non-Christian. "We have these great seeds," it says, "So if the seeds don't take root it must be the fault of the soil." So, for instance, my personal lifestyle evangelizer gets to pat himself on the back for planting the seeds, shrug, and assume that if I don't come around its my own fault. I wonder if he'll ever understand that after twenty-odd years of trying my damnedest to be the good soil I eventually gave up. There's just nothing of value in the seeds of evangelical Christianity. And the planters are responding by making themselves even more irrelevant. Unfortunately, it also allows them a completely unwarranted feeling of superiority. The former doesn't bother me much, but the latter bugs me a whole lot. *While searching for the Amazon entry on Rapture Ready! I found a book called Oh, Shit! It's Jesus. Just thought I'd point that out. Don't consider this a recommendation, as I know nothing of the book except its name. Which is awesome. **I have a massive problem with this sticker and the elevator/fire warning from whence it was ripped off. Although it's technically grammatically allowed "In case of fire, use stairs" primarily says, "Never use the elevator just in case the building catches fire while you're in it." Saying "In the event of fire" would be much better.