Look for the Christian Label

Over at Religion in American History, Charity Carney has just finished her series about working in Christian retail. Now Darren Grem is responding, starting off by looking at what we mean when we say that something is “Christian”:

I certainly have my own opinions about the “Christianness” of various companies. But asking if a company is actually a “Christian” business usually ends up obscuring more than it reveals. Let’s be honest – as with anything else, where you start your line of inquiry will shape the questions you will ask and the answers you will probably get. Asking about a company’s “Christianness” will also — more than likely — lead you back to yourself and your own definition of what “Christianness” entails.

Meanwhile, over at The Escapist, Britton Peele is looking at the idea of Christian video games, and Christian pop culture in general:

It seems so easy, right? Sprinkle a little God here, a little Jesus there and suddenly everything’s purified. Never mind the violence and language in The Book of Eli. Eli is on a journey to save the world’s last Bible! He’s a Christian! Can you say “Church movie night”?

Peele seems mainly interested in the way that members of the evangelical sub-culture defend the media that they enjoy against fellow members. But it does lead back to the tricky question of what makes something “Christian.”

As Grem points out, the question of whether something is Christian – be it company or cultural product – is a tricky one. Does having Christian markers – crosses, bibles, ichthys – make something a Christian work? The anime Neon Genesis Evangelion famously appropriated many Christian symbols and phrases without being a Christian work. Does using Christian themes or Christian morality make a work Christian? First we’d have to define what themes and morality are exclusively Christian. So how do you know when something is Christian?

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  • Gordon

    I was so disappointed the book was a bible. It should have been an elementary school science book.

    • Len

      That wouldn’t be necessary. To badly paraphrase Penn Teller (?): if all religious stuff were completely destroyed, then it would be re-invented completely differently. If all science stuff were completely destroyed, then it would be re-discovered exactly the same.

      • Michael

        I loled at “Penn Teller.”

        (Raymond) Teller is Penn Jillette’s partner in the two-part act “Penn and Teller”. But you probably wouldn’t be quoting Teller because he (almost) never talks on stage, as part of the act.

        • Len

          Ah yes – I thought the name sounded familiar :-) Penn Jillete indeed. I can’t find the page with his actual quote, though :-(

          • Len

            Found it on this page: http://ragingrev.com/2011/09/book-review-god-no-by-penn-jillette/
            “If every trace of any single religion were wiped out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.” ~Penn Jillette

  • Mogg

    The local Christian radio station seems to think that any song with the words ‘love’, ‘light’, ‘heart’ or ‘angel’ are Christian. It is the most inane, bore-you-to-death easy muzak station ever.

    • TrickQuestion

      I should send them my new single “I’d love to light an angel’s heart on fire”

      • Justice Gustin

        That just made my day. :-)

  • Noelle

    If you market something as Princess ___, my 5 year old daughter will want it. I don’t see how this is any different.

    • Michael

      The difference is that your daughter is five years old.

    • UrsaMinor

      Let’s just hope that nobody comes up with a “Princess Jesus” doll.

      • Noelle

        Complete with crown of thorns tiara?

        • UrsaMinor

          Now with removable sandals for foot-washing!

  • SouthernRob

    I’m having a hard time remembering the plot of the movie, but wasn’t it implied that the book had caused the collapse of humanity and that was why there was only one left? Although he was a good guy for the timespan of the story, it seemed like Eli was foreshadowed as causing people to eventually return to religious violence.

    Christian culture reminds me of nothing so much as fake meat. You know, the stuff some vegetarians eat because they can’t help thinking in terms of meat. So they press veggies into meat-like forms with meat-like textures and pretend it’s just as good. Christianity has long done a version of this- ripoff the culture it finds itself in, add some Christian markers and replace the parts it doesn’t want. It’s happened with holidays, music, art, and religious icons. I don’t think there’s been a genuine innovation in Christian culture since gospel music was invented.

    • Yoav

      You think fake meat is ridiculous, I guess you never came across the processed fish sticks, molded into crescent shape and marketed to jews as kosher shrimps.

    • Sajanas

      And you know, as much credit as the Church gets for being a patron of the arts back in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, it gets really, really boring to walk through the Vatican Museum and just see Jesus and Mary over and over and over again.

      And I think that’s part of the problem with Christian culture currently. They feel the need to fixate on the story of Jesus as the most central and important thing in history, but recapitulating it over and over again with the same interpretation ends up being pretty boring. Because “Christian values” are key, and the medium is trying to press those values on people, they are never analyzed critically or played with in interesting ways, but just shoved out front and center. This seems magnified in “Christian” specific stuff, since it seems by its nature to be at least slightly evangelical, rather than just being a work of art by a Christian person.

      Its really the same sort of problem I had with church itself. The services were always the same, and we heard the same verses of the Bible, the same Hymns, and the same story repeated every year. They never even explored the whole Bible… there is book after book of the Old Testament that they never even cracked. Just Isaiah, Psalms, and a few others, and the rest was MMLJ. I just wanted to say, yeah, I get it, why do I have to keep coming back?

  • Dale

    I am glad when companies use the fish logo. It lets me know that they don’t care for my business.

    • Elemenope

      Meh. Best Portuguese sweet rolls in the state come emblazoned with a John 3:16 and a fish. I eat ‘em happily.

      • Michael

        In-N-Out Burger prints bible references like “John 3:16″ on their cups, but that didn’t stop me from going there almost every day I was in Vegas.

  • Matt P

    Corporations may be “people,” but that doesn’t mean they can be “saved.”

  • Bill

    I’ve always assumed that the “Christian” label on any business is not so much a message that the business content is Christian pers se, but rather that the business owners are the type of people other Christians can trust with their money. After all, we see all kinds of businesses labeled Christian in one way or another. (Hell, I recently saw a mortgage broker proudly touting itself as Christian.) For the vast majority of these businesses there really is no Chritian content to be had. Yes a T-shirt with a cross on it carries some message, but buying a plate of pancakes isn’t really an inherently religious experience. Instead, I think these labels tell a certain type of consumer: “Trust us with your money. We will give to the same woman/gay hating mega church you do, so you don’t have to worry about any portion of our profits supporting abortionist Muslims.”

  • Lee

    I always thought the Christian business label was just a ploy to get money. Here in the Bible Belt, I’ve seen everything from car washes to pest control companies advertised as “Christian.”

    • vasaroti

      It’s kind of like wearing a flag pin. If you’re not proclaiming you’re Xian, there must be something wrong with you. Marked with the blood of the lamb, if you will.

  • Sarah

    Alls I know is Chick-fil-A upsets my tummy.

  • vasaroti

    I once had a furnace repairman say his company tried to “do things as our Lord would.” I had to bite my lip to keep from saying “I was hoping you’d use power tools.” Anyway, my observation of the local service industries is that tradesmen who describe themselves as Christian like to point out that they haven’t cheated you. They may also invite you to their church or hit you up for a donation to whatever they’re raising money for this month. Obviously, you should feel compelled to donate because they didn’t cheat you.

    When it comes to Christian retail, if the vendor says they’re Christian, I’ll take them at their word, no investigation of their morals or doctrine is needed. They mostly sell stuff made in China.

  • Six_String_Ninja

    What I find interesting is the way Christians try to claim anything with thematic elements such as heroism, sacrifice and redemption as theirs. Hero sacrifices himself to save others ‘oooh… it’s a Christian parable’. No it’s not.Those are human themes – myriad myths, legends and stories were using these elements long before the alleged appearance of a Jewish carpenter 2000 years ago. Yet ironically when an explicitly Christian movie like ‘The Exorcist’ comes out they can’t run fast enough in the other direction.

  • Robster

    “So how do you know when something is Christian?” That’s easy! Does it come with evidence? No, it’s not. Is it complete nonsens? Yes it is. Is it full of warm and fuzzy words that are really meaningless twaddle? Yes it is. Does it contain church organ music? It probably is. It’s a game for the whole family.