The Pastor Who Started the Whole Costco/Bible Controversy Is Ashamed at How Christians Have Reacted

You may have heard that Costco believes the Bible is a book of fiction.

I think readers sent me more links to this week’s Costco controversy than any other story they’ve sent me in a long time. I ignored it at first, telling them it was probably just someone moving labels around, not some Costco conspiracy. But the story pressed on…

It all started with this tweet by Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach:


As amusing as that might be for atheists, my suspicions held up: Costco never approved the “mislabeling” of the Bible. Turns out it was just a contained mistake:

The warehouse chain said the distributor had made the error on a small number of Bibles. “However we take responsibility and should have caught the mistake.”

That should’ve been the end of the story. But, as you might expect, Christians jumped on the story like evangelicals on Chick-fil-A food. They called for boycotts, acted like they were being persecuted, and ignored the fact that the founder of the chain is a very devout Catholic.

Christian blogger Ed Stetzer rightly called it another “faux Christian outrage“:

If you got outraged over a labeling mistake, maybe it’s time to take a moment and ask if that’s the best approach. Maybe it’s time to ask if you need to be more discerning, less gullible, and need some new sources of information beyond constantly-outraged websites and social media outlets.

Let me add, when Christians are constantly outraged by fake controversies, we look foolish and have no credibility to speak into real issues.

Damn right, they don’t. To his credit, Kaltenbach, the pastor who took the picture that (to his shock) started this whole non-troversy, agrees that Christians have made a big deal out of nothing. This was supposed to be amusing, not a cry of oppression:

Let me be clear on this: I was NOT angry, outraged, offended, stunned, shocked, upset, gained a shattered worldview, or ________________ (you fill in the blank). I put the pic on my social media feed to EVERYONE, not just my “flock.” It was then a couple of days later that I was approached by the press about the photo.

… I specifically said [to the media] each time, “I do not think that Costco did this intentionally. I don’t believe there’s an evil mastermind genius working at Costco to undermine the authority of Scripture.” Unfortunately, people hijack and spin stories so they can get their own view on the matter across.

Kaltenbach should’ve known better. Did he really think Christians would just let this slide as an innocent mistake? Have they ever done that in similar situations before? He wants to spread the gospel of Christ. Instead, his tweet ended up making Christians act like parodies of themselves.

For that, I thank you, Pastor Kaltenbach. You made my job easier this week.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    I’m not sure I’d call it a labeling mistake. A marketing mistake, maybe. But what category do you place a bible in? Given a coarse choice between fiction and non-fiction, the former is more accurate. I suppose that’s why most bookstores have a “religion” category, which gets them around similar marketing dilemmas.

    I like stories like this. They make Christians look particularly crazy, and that’s good for all of us.

    • Glasofruix

      Where i live bookshops tend to have a joint mythology/religion (in that order) aisle and no one’s giving a fuck.

      • http://www.dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        I expect a few people get bent by that. Tough.

        Where do you live that you still have “bookshops”, plural? :)

        • Glasofruix

          Belgium.

          • http://www.dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

            Ah. Civilization…

          • pparf

            Ah, sprouts…

            • http://www.dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

              I have my doubts about you if sprouts came to mind before beer…

        • mlbhl

          Kansas City. There is a local store that is immensely popular called Rainy Day Books in suburband KC MO. Also there is a chain of bookstores called Half Price Books which sells new books and old and prices that are unreal sometimes. CD’s, rapes, and vinyl, too and cards and stuff. FUN to shop there and get bargains. Denver CO
          has some that are iconic But, there are fewer and fewer available due to Amazon, etc.

          • Mackinz

            If it sells rapes, does that not make it prostitution?

            Oh, wait… tapes… never mind.

            • mlbhl

              As with all things involving the little things, like spelling, the devil is in the details. Oh, I forgot – do not believe in the devil. See how religion permeates anyway ? One must be aware while not believing – or something like that.

    • sara

      I’ve seen it categorized as “Inspirational.”

      • mlbhl

        That for me would wash over into the ARTS section – this is very strange since we all have our ideas on the placement of books. I do not want to be the person who shelves the books and must make a decision. Maybe if more than one copy of book is available place in more than one location.

    • Happy Go Lucky

      From a marketing stand point, it’s a terrible mistake. Regardless of how the publishers or Costco believe, the people who buy Bibles tend to be, well…believers. So labeling it as “fiction” isn’t a great idea, simply from a marketing perspective.

    • Syn Holliday

      You do what other stores do, put it under “Religions” or “Spirituality”.

    • mlbhl

      Where are books on “atheism” – this could start a war………….altho most of the religious wars just ended with lots of blood and more fighting and kingdoms changing and ….on and on.

      • http://www.dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        Most of the books I’ve seen that could be said to be about atheism would fit nicely into philosophy. Religious books could be under religion, philosophy, or mythology.

        • mlbhl

          That seems reasonable to me. I don’t really read anything about the subjects anymore. It all is what it is and I choose to feel good as I can about things. I am 75 and change occurs much too slowly for me – I suspect that organized religion will win out on many things for a long time. Atheists don’t need all the trappings of religion so they lack the organization to make change. I am not sure atheists really want converts anyway. It is the injustice of the organized churches getting their way (no taxes, prayers demanded, etc) that annoys me.

    • meekinheritance

      I recently went into a big-chain bookstore with a friend. We took the elevator to the second floor, where the first section on the right was labeled, “Christian Fiction”. I commented, “Well, *that’*s redundant!”, thus outing myself to my Xian friend. (We’re still friends.)

  • ncc9389

    Who was the first one to react? I don’t believe the preacher. I think he was hoping for such a reaction.

    • Little_Magpie

      i dunno, maybe he was just looking for a chuckle.

  • Barb Winslow

    It IS a conspiracy. The Big Giant Head is sick of being ignored, and has sent covert undercover spies to Terra Firma, and what better way to infiltrate than through an athiest haven like COSTCO!!?
    R E T U R N TO THE MOTHERSHIP, DISCIPLES….
    THIS PLANET IS A LOST COSTCO…ER…CAUSE…
    BLEEP, BLEEP, OVER AND OUT!!!

  • Learn_To_Swim

    “Unfortunately, people hijack and spin stories so they can get their own view on the matter across”.

    He said with absolutely no sense of irony.

  • Liz

    Well, technically, it is fiction. But I suppose you could try to label it and other religious texts under “religious writings” or “philosophy”. It certainly isn’t fact. Even Christians know this, which is why they profess having faith: “Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence”.

    • Anat

      Or folklore and mythology. Both those and religion are in the 200s in the Dewey system.

      • MotN

        And why “The Bible” is listed in the Library of Congress Classifications as “BS”.

    • TomS

      Not philosophy.

      • 3lemenope

        Actually, the Bible (OT) represents a profound conceptual shift away from notions of time that gave primacy to cyclicality, and towards a teleological progression typified by a concrete defined past and progressive motion toward a fixed endpoint. While the Greeks would later put this conceptual invention to more significant purpose with their birth of the notion of reportable history (in the Western world), the first definitive time it is recorded is in the Hebrew scrolls. It is, perhaps along with precedential methods of legal interpretation, the primary original legacy of their text, and properly counts as a philosophical innovation.

        • 3lemenope

          Huh. I wonder what has folks so peeved about the above comment.

          • momtarkle

            Cuz it gots big wurds?

            • tsig

              Cuz da big wurds go round and round and say nothing.

              • 3lemenope

                Try this:

                Before the Bible, humans taught that time went in loops and circles; the rhythms of the sun and moon, seasons, and so forth, without end and without change. Events were referred to only in relation to other events; there is a before-this and an after-this. But after, time is taught as having a definitive beginning, a midpoint (now), and a final end, that time is independent of the procession of events. There is a past, a present, and a future.

                This is regarded as kind of a big fucking deal.

                • Fred Bailey

                  And the cosmic interactions with the gods are recast in terms of both a history and a destiny. You’re quite right.

    • Lestamore

      but honestly, the bible predates the concept of fiction as we know it. I don’t think it is an accurate term. If there was a “things that are scientifically unprovable” section of the library, I would agree that it should go there, but large portions of the bible are history and poetry so I don’t see why fiction is any more accurate than either of those, especially since the purpose of fiction and the purpose of the bible are quite different. (Mostly fiction doesn’t aim to convince people it was based on reality)

      • Madison Blane

        Ok, the bible says that iron floated, and cows gave birth to speckled calves because they looked at sticks that had stripes painted on them, and walls fell down like an elevator when they heard music and eating a special fruit can give a person knowledge of the gods and rubbing mud in a person’s eyes healed blindness and death wasn’t entirely permanent. We all know these things aren’t historically accurate, no proof required.
        Now, if you want to say, historically, people believed some pretty stupid and absurd things and here’s what they were, then yes, I could go with that.

        • Matt D

          Touche!

  • John Williams

    “Let me add, when Christians are constantly outraged by fake controversies, we look foolish and have no credibility to speak into real issues.”
    No kidding.

  • LesterBallard

    “Devout Catholic” doesn’t count for much with fundy Evangelicals.

    • Peanut butter egg lover

      As one who was raised Catholic, I can tell you that there is very little (if any) difference between Atheism and Catholicism, in the eyes of the Protestant fundamentalists.

      • Octoberfurst

        I was raised to believe that Catholics weren’t “real” Christians. They were all idol-worshiping wolves in sheeps clothing and destined for hell. As a kid who had Catholic friends this distressed me greatly.

        • LarryCook

          I was brought up as a Catholic and I know first hand that Catholics are definitely idol-worshiping wolves in sheep’s clothing. And much worse.

          • Octoberfurst

            Aha! The truth comes out! LOL.

        • mlbhl

          Well, they are aren’t they? I used to have a wolf outfit, but gave it away when I became an atheist.

      • tsig

        I was asked if I’d seen all the guns and ammunition that the Catholics kept hidden under the church. When I said there was only old furniture and junk under there I was told I didn’t see it all or alternately I was accused of being a Catholic liar.

        Either result usually ended with both of us fighting for our gods.

        Strangely the loudest and most aggressive on the bus were the least likely to go to church much.

      • mlbhl

        I agree with you. In their hearts Fundamentalist think Catholics like atheists are doomed to various bad endings. My Baptist relatives were so worried when I had serious surgery. Not worried I would die, but if I did die, we would not see each other in heaven as I had not taken Jesus as my savior and was not re-born but stuck with a Catholic baptism that apparently didn’t take. I left the RCC , too. I am in deep trouble with the religious folk of the world.

    • Carmelita Spats

      Jumping-Jesus-on-a-Pogo-Stick! Some goofball actually down-voted your spot-on comment! LOL!!!! Fundamngelicals have NO USE for what they call “works theology” and are HIGHLY critical of Catholicism as an affront to the entire meaning of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The ONLY reason they are willing to lump themselves with Catholics under the catch-all label of “Christian” is because it is a POLITICAL strategy when issues of gay marriage or abortion or secularism come up. Otherwise, Catholics are Mary-worshiping rosary rattlers destined for HELL if they rely on their works and not on salvation through Christ. This is just a very BASIC understanding of Fundamngelical Christianity in the U.S.

      • smrnda

        Let’s also add that Catholics believe *there is no salvation outside of the church* and that all the Protestants have rejected the Pope, whose authority is traced straight back to Jesus giving it to Peter with Apostolic Authority. Yet issues big enough to mean the difference between eternal life and eternal damnation are trivial differences when the 2 sides unite on culture war issues.

        • trj

          Some Catholics may believe there is no salvation outside of the Catholic church, but this is not the official stance of the church.

      • mlbhl

        Just as an aside comment, I have always been interested in how so many non-Catholics just love cross and rosary jewelry to be worn with any outfit especially one involving rock n roll and sexy posing. And then there is Madonna, but I digress.

    • Neko

      Yes, don’t the fundies consider both the RCC and the LDS “cults.”

  • Crama

    I’ve had this argument with my brother, an evangelical minister, him claiming that “us” Christians are now soooo persecuted. That there was an attempt to silence the Christan voice. Are you for real?, I said. With Christian churches on almost every corner all over this country. With the freedom to practice whatever absurd religion or flavor of Christianity one want which is written into our bill of rights. How exactly is that being persecuted? CRICKETS CHIRPING!

    • Ann Onymous

      Because the government doesn’t endorse it, they’re still bound by those pesky laws, people occasionally have the sheer temerity to challenge or argue with them, and they can’t preach to captive audiences of public-school children. Plus they only make up some 70% of the US, and as we all know, in a democracy the vast majority is always persecuted.

  • dcl3500

    “…..to undermine the authority of Scripture.”

    The scripture has authority? Did not know that was possible for a work of fiction. LOL

    • Stev84

      Maybe you’ve never interacted with people who have a very fundamentalist understanding of what’s “canon” and will decry everything that isn’t part of it. Or even worse, the ones who have even more restrictive personal interpretations of it than what’s official.

      • dcl3500

        I have, pardon my tongue in cheek comment. ;)

      • Lando

        Just visit a comic book store for a great example.

    • mlbhl

      See Matthew Mark Luke John and all their cohorts, I guess. Or some long-ago monk lost to history who just said I know a better way to say this. Or the Catholic Church which discarded what they didn’t like, and more translators from one archaic language to another then into a common language…oh, it is complicated.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, TOWAN

    this should also serve as an important reminder to all of us who rely on internet sources for information as we form opinions. i’m going to choose to believe the pastor, and that he told the media he thought it was an honest mistake with no malicious intent. in our hyperactive social media reality, it’s hardly surprising that that take on what happened in the store got drowned out by second hand interpretations from people with an agenda.

    i’ve seen this happen on the left, too. sometimes we promote what we want to believe, and skim over boring facts and employ rhetoric instead. i think it’s important to admit that while we’re better at sticking to truth, in a social media reality we’re all a bit prone to polemics, at least every now and again.

    • Neko

      This is one downvote that really left me scratching my head.

    • Jan Kafka

      “i’ve seen this happen on the left, too. sometimes we promote what we
      want to believe, and skim over boring facts and employ rhetoric instead.”

      This blog being exemplary.

      • Matt D

        Citation needed.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    And yet in the previous thread http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/11/23/new-jersey-rejects-another-atheist-license-plate-but-allows-a-baptist-one/#comment-1136083008 we’re getting upset (ok, not as upset) over what as far as I can tell is probably pretty much the same thing. Mistakes happen. Until we know we’re being persecuted, maybe we should chill the fuck out.

  • Jim

    I don’t think its fair to say that Kaltenbach should have known better. He isn’t a famous or exceptionally wellknown figure in the Christian community. He and people like him probably put pictures of silly mistakes on their feeds all the time. Kaltenbach just had the misfortune to get noticed.

  • mlbhl

    Hilarious. I don’t think Costco belongs to any religion! There are some stores that seem to – Chik filet (or however it is spelled) and some big craft store. I try to forget their names and avoid that they exist.

    • Leah

      Since you forgot its name, I hope you don’t inadvertently shop at it!

      • mlbhl

        I will just avoid craft stores since they nickle and dime me anyway what with their never ending “on sale” pitches.

  • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw/ m6wg4bxw

    I learned about this from @WallofSleep. We briefly discussed it here. @WallofSleep made the effort to visit a local Costco to check the Bible labels.

  • bickle2

    He should be ashamed for getting upset over correct labeling. Seems to me forcing him to prove his Bible 95% true in court should be the next step, followed by his severe punishment for lying

    DOn’t let theists of any stripe get an inch. They are at best horribly wrong, and as a priest he’s already guilty of theft by deception and a host of other crimes

  • The Starship Maxima

    Personally, I couldn’t care less if they sold the Bible alongside the tabloids or 50 Shades of Grey. As a believer, I echo Kaltenbach and Stetzer, we need to stop egging on the anti-Christians who revel in watching us flip over ourselves with faux outrage.
    With that said, I notice Hemant in your constant dig on gullible Christians you mention nothing about how similarly the anti-Christian crowd jumped on a story in which allegedly a one-eyed girl was told her existence was a slap in God’s face, only to have nearly any objective mention of the story vanish as whispers grew into shouts the whole thing was a fake.
    As our fictional nanny (to quote an anti-Christian) once said, “Let he who hasn’t fallen for a bs story, throw the first stone.”

    • Neko

      So the one-eyed girl was a hoax! What a relief.

    • Mario Strada

      Well, to be fair, the one-eyed-girl story was a somewhat complex hoax that was purposely made to look as authentic as possible, while the Costco story was clearly a mistake. We are not usually inundated by stories of American Companies going out of their ways to single out and mock Christian while, sadly, we often read of Christians doing outrageous things against other Christians, believers of other religions, or non believers.

      Even if these stories are not representative of all Christians (and believe it or not, for the most part we do realize that) they do happen frequently.

      I don;t think anyone can deny that there are a considerable number of Christians out there that relish the opportunity to play the victim because it plays in the narrative they want to portray.

      But regardless who does it, we should all be careful to do our research before blowing it up out of proportions.

      • The Starship Maxima

        You speak the truth Mario. I’m well aware of it. And you are further correct that Costco’s mistake and the one-eyed girl hoax don’t begin to absolve Christians of the utterly shameful displays they’ve put on.

    • Leeloo

      I work in a bookstore that’s privately owned. The original owner used to stick the Bibles next to the erotic fiction. Not knowing her personally, I’ve heard she was a bit bullheaded.A customer came in the other day and remarked on this habit, asking why one would do such a thing. I was, aptly, stocking the erotica while this conversation was ongoing with the current owner. The question “Why?” came several times, and it was all I could do not to scream “Song of Solomon!!!”

      • The Starship Maxima

        It was all I could do not to scream “Song of Solomon!!!

        Dear God, that was classic!

  • Rain

    Kaltenbach should’ve known better. Did he really think Christians would just let this slide as an innocent mistake?

    It’s twitter so it doesn’t matter. Back in the olden film noir newspaper reporter days, they called this sort of thing a “scoop”. When you got a great “twitter scoop” like this one, you have to run with it. You got to be all over it, like fundies on a chicken sandwich. Like Jesus on a pogo stick.

  • DJD11

    “…his tweet ended up making Christians act like parodies of themselves.”
    Or, as I call it, “Acting like themselves.”

  • God’s Starship

    Pastor with his priorities out of order is shocked that evangelicals have their priorities out of order.

  • cag

    Costco believes the Bible is a book of fiction.

    Costco believes, we know.

  • CarlK

    I wouldn’t be too happy if I go out to pick a good fiction to read and mistakenly picked the bible.

    • http://www.dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      Would you be any happier if that happened when you were picking out a good non-fiction book?

  • Rain

    Costco has Bibles for sale under the genre of FICTION

    Hmmmm……

    Wait, I don’t see what the big deal is. What’s the problem? I don’t get it.

  • Guest

    I support Chick-fil-A. I appreciate a company of that size having the courage to display an Out-Campaign scarlet ‘A’ on their logo.

  • Happy Go Lucky

    Honestly, though, I guarantee the outraged were still a minority of Christians. No one I know was upset, the pastor has stated he was upset. Christians as a whole didn’t make themselves look bad – the people who over reacted made themselves look a bit unhinged. It seems like the outliers got all the media attention….as is true with most anything. Dramatics make a better story, after all.

    • The Starship Maxima

      You make a fair point. But I have another theory….just as it was only a tiny minority of Christians who even care what some chain store decides to file the Bible under; so too, most atheists fully realize the reaction of these Christians are not indicative of the majority.

      What it is, I believe, in every camp there is a sane, quiet majority, and a minority bent on attacking the “other team” with anything that they can latch onto.

      Hence, you get a bunch of Christians lashing out against Costco and those “Godless sodomites” and in turn you have a select group of atheists at this blog looking for anything to mock “those stupid Nazi Christians with”.

      The cooler heads in all camps perhaps should be better about saying “We know these guys aren’t the majority of you.”

  • Adrian M. Kleinbergen

    It would be difficult to decide a more specific designation for the bible; horror or science fiction.

    • smrnda

      Maybe ‘sword and sorcery?’

  • smrnda

    His post was deliberately left ambiguous and he should have made it clear. It would have only taken a few more words.

  • Jan Kafka

    Every time I see the genre label ‘Christian Fiction’ in a book store, I think. “Isn’t it all?”

    • Derrik Pates

      Reminds me of the episode of House where he’s about to treat a nun, and one of her fellow nuns complains that she’s seeing and hearing things that aren’t there, and he responds, “Isn’t that sort of a prerequisite for you people?”

  • Madison Blane

    I did see his and other christian comments under the Fox news story saying it was a gross overreaction. He did offer suggestions, other than Non-Fiction, in which the Bible might be otherwise categorized such as ‘religion’ or ‘inspiration’. Although, I think he should have known the nature of the beast, I don’t think he can be completely blamed for media spin.

  • Richard Barnes

    Hijacking and spinning stories to suit their own agenda? Well, that’s precisely what the major organized religions do, isn’t it? Let us be mindful of the fact that historical fiction is still fiction AND some fiction, although a complete fabrication, still contains a good deal of useful wisdom.

  • https://www.facebook.com/TWSS.ktward ktward

    There are plenty of devout Christians who believe the Bible to be more allegorical than historical. So, I’m guessing this whole thing has zero to do with atheists and, really, everything to do with factional, Christian in-fighting. (Crikey, any given Christian’s nemesis is not likely an atheist, but another Christian.)

  • WalterWhite007

    Fiction and religion are synonymous. Either label works. Not all religions can be true so at least 99% of them are fiction. Likely 100%. Fiction is the most probable correct label. It’s silly to mislabel 99% of them just in case one may be true. :-)


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