Christianity Commodified?

Christianity Commodified? May 12, 2015

I was sitting in the recliner in our living room, scrolling through Pinterest as I am wont to do on a Saturday afternoon, when I first saw Faithbox. “Oh my God!” I yelled.

“What?” Andrew said. We only yell “Oh my God” at the computer when something terrible has happened, or when we find a really, really cheap house for sale nearby.

“There’s a Christian subscription service!” I said, totally in shock. Andrew went upstairs.

But I was transfixed. Subscription services are the new thing: beyond old-fashioned services like wine-of-the-month club, they now include kits to make things, (so many) kits for your kids to make things, monthly yarn subscriptions, monthly book subscriptions…and now, apparently, a monthly Christian subscription.

Faithbox was started by the young, hip-looking Willie Morris, who converted to Christianity after working at a nonprofit in Florida. Here’s a video detailing what you get in the first Faithbox (fair-trade chocolate and lip balm (?), plus cards with Bible verses and “random acts of kindness” to do), along with the triple bottom line of the company (growth, discovery, and giving). The service promises to deliver “inspiration to your doorstep.”

The video plays in front of cool acoustic music and shows Willie and Cory Maxwell-Coghlan, head of product, walking through the streets of New York and around the historic Seaport.

This is Christianity?! But it looks so… cool

A Faithbox subscription costs $20 (plus $5 shipping) if you buy it month-to-month, $16 (plus shipping) if you buy for the entire year. According to the website, the purchase of each box also funds “3 meals to a child at a Christian orphanage.”

My initial reaction was disbelief. Willie and Cory are literally–quite literally–selling Christianity (it costs about $25 a month). This feels a lot like a just-for-Christians DVD: a commercially-driven move by savvy folks (Christian or non-Christian) who fulfill the demand for Christian goods. Or goods that somehow appear to be Christian.

This demand is baffling to me. The very concept of “Christian goods” seems like an oxymoron. Christianity preaches “leave all and follow me,” right?

But there have always been “things” associated with faith and ritual: the bread you eat during communion, the palms you wave on Palm Sunday, the collar the priest or pastor wears, the building itself you meet in. When I was a kid, I received crosses and books about saints throughout my life. I was baptized in my great-grandmother’s baptismal gown. My grandmother sewed me a beautiful white first communion dress, and a matching dress for my doll.

People made (and make) money from all of these endeavors. Still, these things, which I saw of as accouterments to my faith, feel different from faith mixed into non-faith-related stuff: food, clothing, movies.

Until I babysat for a few kids who watched Veggie Tales videos, I never really thought about Christian commodities. But there is a Christian version of many things: Christian publishing companies, Christian music companies, Christian dating services (even a Christian Tindr), Christian clothing companies…the list goes on.

Mixing pop culture and Christianity the way that Faithbox has makes me uncomfortable. I have never sought out Christian versions of clothing or books, and, despite its appealing branding and yummy-looking chocolate bar, I will not be purchasing Faithbox.

Christianity, to me, includes being part of the real world, embracing and engaging others, not sheltering myself from them. I would rather know what is going on in the real world and acknowledge the fact that there are some parts of my life that are not perfect. (For example, much of my clothing is made in sweatshops, and my groceries come from factory farms where workers are treated poorly.) I need to try harder to change broken systems, not find a Christian-flavored alternative to them.

The clientele of Christian commodities seem to be dissatisfied with secular books, secular clothing, and secular dates. Why do they want an alternative? Does shopping in the secular world make them feel guilty?

If you have bought Faithbox (or another Christian version of something secular, like clothing or romance novels), please share why in the comments. Does it help your faith? Do you just love the packaging?

No judgment–seriously–because something about that hand-stamped-looking cardboard box really calls to me, too.

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