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Tue Jul 10, 2012, 03:10 PM

Conservative Christianity's Marketing Gimmick to Keep Its Old-Time, Heaven-and-Hell Religion Afloat


Tuesday, 10 July 2012 13:46
By Valerie Tarico, AlterNet | News Analysis

The Southern Baptist Convention is a force to be reckoned with. As the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, with over 45,000 affiliate churches, it have been shaping and channeling conservative Christian sensibilities since the Civil War, when Southern Baptists split from the North so they could advocate on behalf of slave owners. They fought to keep slavery and lost. Then they fought for Jim Crow laws and lost. Then they fought for segregation and lost. Now, faced with eroding membership, the Southern Baptist leaders are fighting against irrelevance. Unfortunately, they have committed to a strategy that will make it harder for their members – and for all of us—to move toward a future based on collaboration, compassion and practical solutions to real-world problems.

With secularism on the rise, entrepreneurial Christian denominations have evolved a variety of survival strategies. Anglican theologian John Shelby Spong (Why Christianity Must Change or Die) proposes a rigorous rethinking of Christian belief. Mainline and Unitarian congregations have embraced Michael Dowd's Evolutionary Christianity, an interplay between Christian worship and scientific wonder. Elsewhere on the spectrum, Joel Olsteen plays down theology, instead offering comforting platitudes and promises of prosperity to those who pray and give. Willow Creek mega-church in Chicago pioneered sound and light shows and indie rock bands that entice young people into the club by emulating familiar entertainment media. The Catholic bishops are brazenly trying to recreate an epoch in which they were ascendant.

A few weeks ago the Southern Baptist Convention voted to approve a name change. Congregations will now have the option to call themselves "Great Commission Baptists." The name change is meant to distance from their past association with racism, but it does much more. To those in the know, it announces that their future will be focused on turf wars – on competing for members and dollars rather than any kind of forward-facing spiritual leadership. To draw an analogy, imagine that Coca-Cola decided to distance from its past sales of cocaine drinks by dropping the "Coca" and calling themselves "World Dominance Cola." Imagine it announcing to the public: Rather than improving our product, we've chosen to focus on our marketing department. That's essentially what the new name means.


Whether they win or lose from the standpoint of re-filling church pews and bank accounts remains to be seen. What is regrettable, either way, is that by choosing to be competitive they have once again pitted themselves against the moral arc of history. Whether humanity can flourish in the 21st century will depend largely on whether we can move beyond competition to collaboration. Population growth, resource depletion and weapons technology have carried us to the point that there are fewer and fewer "winnable" competitions. Humanity desperately needs to find common ground in our shared moral core and dreams for our children. Just as they did on the questions of slavery and the full humanity of women, the Southern Baptists have positioned themselves as moral dead weight, which is a loss for us all.

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Reply Conservative Christianity's Marketing Gimmick to Keep Its Old-Time, Heaven-and-Hell Religion Afloat (Original post)
cbayer Jul 2012 OP
rrneck Jul 2012 #1
cbayer Jul 2012 #2
rrneck Jul 2012 #6
cbayer Jul 2012 #7
rrneck Jul 2012 #8
cbayer Jul 2012 #9
dimbear Jul 2012 #3
cbayer Jul 2012 #4
dimbear Jul 2012 #5

Response to cbayer (Original post)

Tue Jul 10, 2012, 04:05 PM

1. Shucks,

I can't snark this one at all.

I think the difference lies between ideology as something to which one might aspire and ideology as a product that must be owned.

We are so inundated with products wrapped in brand loyalty, even human relationships are things that must be bartered for and possessed. We float into and out of each others lives so effortlessly the bulk of our emotions are just entertainment. Compassion becomes little more than an attitude. Nurturing becomes a cut of the profits. Since the one with the least investment in the relationship has the most power, real relationships become a bad investment. It seems we have all become spiritual libertarians without knowing it

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Response to rrneck (Reply #1)

Tue Jul 10, 2012, 05:40 PM

2. C'mon, rrneck! You can do it.

I like the concept of spiritual libertarians. Is that yours?

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Response to cbayer (Reply #2)

Thu Jul 12, 2012, 02:44 PM

6. Yep, it's mine.

If we accept, (and that is by no means a sure thing) that emotions are a natural resource from which we might profit, then there opens a hole into which every enterprising libertarian could rush in search of gold. Just look around, between prosperity gospel and professional sports, a pretty good case could be made for the profit to be found in relationships based on emotion. And I'd wager that the more you look, the more you see.

The scotoma in the room is that it's not just "them" that are to blame. We all do it. We all seek "emotional profit", which is to say we want relationships on the cheap. Caring helps us survive, thus, it feels good. But if we can get that good feeling without actually putting any skin in the game, so much the better. So you can root for the Cubbies all you want and nobody will ever ask you to actually put a glove on and help them win a game; all for the price of a blue cap. The need for this "emotional profit" results in a power relationship. All too often it seems, there is an effort to define relationships between ourselves and organizations, groups, and individuals for our own emotional profit. So churches and political parties are pushed to make all sorts of feel good promises (and laws), organizations produce overheated language and unreal expectations, and the divorce rate hovers around 50%.

Remember the "stranded on a desert island with only one book" question? What if you were stranded on a desert island with only one person and you needed each other to survive but you couldn't choose who that might be? What sort of relationship would ensue? What sort of spirituality would grow from having to use our emotions, our spirituality, pushing us to actually do something beyond feeding each others ego? What if we had to actually make it work? I expect any soldier that ever shared a foxhole could expound at length about that.

I think the great evil of our time is not war, or injustice, or hate. It's anomie. We really just don't fucking care, because we don't have to. The bulk of our emotions are just entertainment because we don't need them for anything in the real world. Spirituality is a commodity because it's so easy to generate. There are a million dispensaries for it and we're all just smart shoppers for the next spirituality ride.

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Response to rrneck (Reply #6)

Thu Jul 12, 2012, 03:20 PM

7. Really interesting ideas here. A few comments from my own perspective.

Much of what you talk about is consistent with Freud's theories regarding the seeking of pleasure and avoidance of pain. He describes this in Civilization and It's Discontents. It has been a very long time since I have read this, but it might be worth a reread.

I have a similar analogy to your desert island one. When younger, I came to believe that I could grow to love anyone if I needed to. I believed that if my needs were to have a partner, raise a family, share responsibilities, I could make that work in such a way that I would grow to love any person who wanted the same things. I no longer believe that, but I did make it work for a pretty long time.

I am in recovery from a period of caring way too much about too many things, so I relate to the concept of anomie. I'm not sure how spirituality is easy to generate and don't really follow this part. Then again, when I walk into a bookstore and see shelf after shelf of self-help books, I do understand one thing very clearly. What worked beautifully for one person is not that likely to work for someone else, but everyone wants to sell it.

So, I think I get you and I am most likely a spiritual libertarian as you describe.

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Response to cbayer (Reply #7)

Thu Jul 12, 2012, 03:30 PM

8. As am I.

I think it's part of being human. There's nothing wrong with feeling good. It's just that now, we don't have to earn it. Or at least work very hard for it.

I read an interesting article about the "happiness index" and why it's flawed. The thesis was that happiness is not synonymous with fun. For a life to have real value, we need to feel we have made an investment in it. That's why people find meaning in things that aren't all that much fun to do. The example in the article was raising kids. I don't have kids myself, but from what I've seen it's hard work. And most people who have done it wouldn't take anything for the experience.

Or, as a fellow I once knew said after forty years of loving marriage to his wife," I wouldn't take a million bucks for her, but I wouldn't give you a dime for another one just like her".

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Response to rrneck (Reply #8)

Thu Jul 12, 2012, 03:49 PM

9. Raising children is a great example.

Perhaps my anomie emerged when I was done with that. It was also nourished by Katrina and the overwhelming misery I observed while being unable to do much about it.

I have always maintained that one can not experience true happiness unless it is balanced by true unhappiness. Most people seem to just tread water between the two.

I love your last line.

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Response to cbayer (Original post)

Tue Jul 10, 2012, 06:44 PM

3. It's worth noting how much overlap there is between religion and cola marketing.

It's sort of striking. "Pepsi's the One" sounds remarkably like a Christian saying, and I think we all fondly remember the only slightly secular hymns
Coke brought out a few years ago.

"I'd like to teach
The world to sing
And......... "

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Response to dimbear (Reply #3)

Tue Jul 10, 2012, 06:50 PM

4. And then there is always this guy:

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Response to cbayer (Reply #4)

Tue Jul 10, 2012, 06:56 PM

5. Makes sense. Sugar rush. Caffeine rush. All similar offerings.

There's a thesis for some graduate student lurking here.

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