The annual debate starts predictably after the first leaves of fall begin cluttering gutters and blanketing lawns, and then continues right up until the last present is hastily ripped open on December 25th. No, this will not be another rant decrying our materialistic habits, the War on Christmas, or how the true meaning of the holiday has been forgotten. Though the contentious topic of the commercialization of Christmas merits examination and everyone should at some point question the virtues being extolled by the manner in which it is celebrated, I will not re-tread the well worn arguments that have been used to either support or demonize our gift giving and sometimes secularized holiday traditions. Instead I would like to take a more critical look at what occurs during the other 10 months of the year when Christmas is not at the forefront of our collective conscience.
Christian oriented products and services are a 4.5 billion dollar a year industry fueled by the wallets and checkbooks of millions of Christians. There are board games, jewelry, calendars and even auto insurance policies that are geared specifically towards this demographic. Christian music has a large following as well, with many bands gaining prominence on the national stage. The scope of these efforts to market to Christians and evangelize compels one to question the effects of such an extensive commercialization of Christian beliefs, values and traditions. Is a Jesus action figure an appropriate plaything for a small child? Will one’s faith be strengthened by the mug with a scripture verse etched on it? Is it ethical for entrepreneurs to make a profit off of another’s religious beliefs? The answers to these questions can be occasionally uncomfortable to consider and are difficult to uniformly apply. The mixing of business interests with a
religion that encourages altruism is not always easy to reconcile. It is a delicate balancing act that requires equal attention be paid to our inner spiritual growth as opposed to only focusing on the outward expressions of our faith.
The possible danger of purchasing toys with Biblical themes and characters is that children may confuse religion and fantasy. What’s the difference between a comic book superhero and an Old Testament prophet or even Jesus Christ if it comes packaged in the same form? Teens, young adults or even twenty-somethings may only be superficially attracted to Christianity due to the popularity of a particular trend, celebrity or musical group. The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson raised some amount of controversy by stressing the suffering that Christ endured while rarely emphasizing the importance of his teachings. It may have encouraged some to come closer to Christ, but it did so in a sensationalist and perhaps less substantial manner.
Surrounding ourselves with figurines of Biblical figures, wearing t-shirts with religious messages, or having a Christian bumper sticker attached to the back of the car does not make one a good Christian, it simply provides the means to generate that appearance. A too zealous approach in acquiring and displaying such items can blind one to more important aspects of Christianity. Instead of simply proclaiming Christian virtues, it may be better to put more effort into allocating resources towards causes in line with them. You can donate money to a local charity and emergency relief agencies or perhaps volunteer your time to aid the less fortunate. Even more troublesome could be using Christian paraphernalia as a substitute for faith and conviction. Regular personal prayer, scripture study and pondering Christian teachings are better solutions when doubts and difficulties creep into our lives.
The potential positive aspects of having a range of Christian products available should not be ignored. They can remind us of our commitments to both our God and to our fellow men. A ring, a cross necklace or a daily bible verse may spur us to make better decisions on a day to day basis. Incorporating religious elements into family or recreational activities can reinforce the concept that Christian mores and teachings should not be limited to only Sunday services, but are in fact an integral part of living a good life. They offer an alternative to the mainstream concept that in the ‘real world’ one must check religion at the door. The difference between a useful reminder and a purely ornamental accessory or product though, is whether it can influence actions and attitudes. The usefulness of having a vibrant Christian music industry should also not be dismissed. The Christian music scene provides a refuge from the often times denigrating and
amoral attitudes that are evident in popular hip-hop, rock or metal song lyrics. Large social music events can provide the support and camaraderie that can make living a Christian lifestyle a more fulfilling experience.
It is possible that in some cases the act of ‘commercializing’ Christianity is in actuality a practical step in introducing the gospel to non-believers. Most religiously apathetic individuals would likely reject a knock on their door, or a pamphlet passed along on the street, but may instead be receptive to the advice of a pop singer. When examining the effects of commercialization it is vital to consider the intent and purpose of the product, and whether it has sufficient potential of drawing yourself or others closer to God.
Do you view the commercialization of Christianity as negative or do you see, within it, positive aspects that can promote the faith? Let us know!