the Internet becomes a marketplace as much as a medium of communication, such
contradictions are becoming more and more evident within the temples of cyberspace. Promoters
of every stripe are putting the gospel on sale in the form of jewelry, T-shirts,
and trinkets of every kind. In these so-called Christian websites the faith is
packaged, promoted, and sold like any other product. A whole new category of sites
promotes "Christian businesses" and the notion that somehow there is
a Christian way to get rich quick. At home. Without actually doing much of anything.
By way of illustration, let's take a look at a website that advertises under the
title: Christian Millionaires.
I love it when "work at home" schemers imply that you can make millions
of dollars, but don't tell you what you will actually be doing to make all this
money. This website tells you a lot about what you won't be doing, but nothing
about what you will be expected to do to earn $7,000 over and over again. I don't
know about you, but there is something deeply reprehensible about using deceptive
advertising to sell a product or service that is described as being "Christian."
When does an object or activity become "Christian" anyway? Does a T-shirt become
"Christian" simply because it has a picture of Jesus on it? What if it's
a tasteless rendering of our Lord? What if the product was manufactured in a sweat
shop somewhere in Asia by workers being exploited in unsafe working conditions,
paid less than subsistence wages? Does your Mercedes become a "Christian car"
if you replace the Mercedes emblem with a cross?
Chick publications wins my award for "Money
Changer of the Week."
Many Christians are familiar with Chick
Publications, owned and operated by Jack T. Chick; his comic book style publications
have been around for more than thirty years. From the statement of purpose clearly
set forth at his website, Mr. Chick clearly has a high calling: to convert as
many people as possible to his dour version of the Christian faith, and warn them
of the dire consequences of choosing any other way. His tracts systematically
attack Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and most especially,
whom Mr. Chick believes are particularly beyond the pale. Why spend so much time
and effort proving others wrong? True to form, Chick has a simple answer:
has only one Truth. If something is not the Truth, it is false, and must be revealed
as such. How tragic it would be to just stand idly by and let people go to hell,
without so much as a word of warning. |
course, Mr. Chick does not hesitate to bend the truth rather blatantly if it serves
his purpose of warning Catholics that they are likely to end up in hell. He uses
his cartoons, for example, to make the Catholic view of Holy Communion look like
idol worship. As a Presbyterian minister, I'm not defensive about Roman Catholic
doctrine or tradition. But I can say one thing quite forthrightly. I have never
met a single Catholic who would defend what Mr. Chick puts forward as typical
of Catholic thought or teaching. Whatever the differences that separate
Catholics and Protestants, none of them are so serious that one group can be assured
of going to heaven while the other is consigned to hell. What Mr. Chick has to
say about Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and other Christians represents
a violation of the commandment, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy
neighbor." Spreading false and malicious lies about one's neighbors is a
sin identified by the Bible as equivalent to theft, adultery, or murder.
And this is a sin Mr. Chick has been repeating in print without a word of apology
for nearly 40 years! And he is turning a nice profit while doing so.
the other end of the spectrum are those promoters who attempt to sell their products
by appealing to the public's spirituality. In a surprising number of advertisements
an aura of the "spiritual" is invoked in the selling of watches, home appliances,
vacation packages, or whatever. In fact, some advertisers spend fortunes
on research to probe our minds so they can pitch their products to our deepest
longings. Today "spirituality is in," says Sam Keen, author of Hymns to an
Unknown God. Apparently, it has become profitable to exploit Americans' growing
In a recent commercial for IBM's
"Solutions for a Small Planet," Catholic nuns were shown talking about surfing
the Net as they walked to vespers. A Gatorade ad featured Michael Jordan running
in Tibet and meeting an Eastern holy man who intones, "Life is a sport; drink
it up." Snickers showed a football team inviting a Catholic priest to bless the
team, followed by a rabbi, a Native American, a Buddhist, and a long line of other
spiritual leaders. The tag line: "Not going anywhere for awhile? Grab a Snickers."
And most recently General Motors paid for a series of concerts linking Chevrolet
with evangelical Christianity. These "Chevrolet Presents: Come Together and Worship"
stage shows sparked both outrage and praise.
Phyllis Tickle, an expert on religious
marketing for Publishers Weekly magazine, said, "This is surprising -- a real
blurring of the lines between the commercial and the sacred. And it's unfortunate,
because it compromises both sides. We know that church and state are never supposed
to meet, and I think it's also a bad idea for church and Wall Street to be meeting
Fortunately, most internet money changers are neither as misguided
as Jack T. Chick or as deceptive as blatant in exploiting religious consumers
as Chevrolet in the example just cited. Many websites that put themselves forward
as selling "Christian" products more closely resemble your MOM and POP enterprise,
marketing homemade T-shirts, or other hastily assembled products, apparently in
an attempt to make an honest living from all that cybercash. Judging from
the hit counts visible at many of these sites, MOM and POP are probably not changing
very much money after all. Some of these business have already gone broke,
just like the giant dot.com companies that collapsed so dramatically when the
cyber bubble burst. I suspect that most of the Internet money changers will discover
on their own, without a word of warning from me or anyone else, that trying to
serve God by trading in Mammon is a hopeless and self-defeating enterprise. For
"where your treasure is there will your heart be also."