Sunday 28 November 2010

The Manna Merchants

'Christianity' is a marvelously fluid term. Who's in and who's out? Insiders love to play the 'real Christian' game which seems to have two overriding rules:
  • If you believe like I do, then you're a real Christian, but...
  • If you do something I don't approve of, you can't be a real Christian
The problem here is that no two professing Christians seem to agree on much. Creedal sorts may recite the same formulas - Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian for example - but just ask them what it means and you're right back to square one. So how could you possibly "take the temperature" of Christianity in your community? Where would you find a representative sampling of what the word actually means?

Easy. Take a trip down to your local Christian bookshop - if you dare.

These businesses, which survive by catering to the Christian community, obviously stock what sells. They're the manna merchants, and in the spirit of "you are what you eat," it's not too difficult to pull down a profile after a bit of discrete browsing.

It's not a pretty picture. They're scary places by and large, intellectual deserts specialising in custom crafted mirages. Bible resources are dumbed-down, devotional and apologetic; creationist texts rub up against feel-good prosperity-gospel material. Shelves are lined with dishonest, decadent, fluffy literary confections designed to shore up the faltering faithful.

Quoting Bible verses isn't normally my thing, but it's hard not to connect with the words of Isaiah 30:10. To the seers they say, "See not," and to the prophets, "Do not prophesy the truth. Just tell us pleasant things; see illusions and prophesy deceits.

The trouble with bad manna is that it breeds worms and becomes foul (Ex. 17:20).

Sometimes Christian scholars give non-Christian critics a hard time for not being theologically literate enough. That may be the case, but it's a hard line to sell when most of the folk who sit in the pews know even less, and those who are supposedly supplying the resources for growth are dishing up junk food that's long past its use by date.


  1. Hah! Have I got a rule-breaker for you! The one (and ONLY) "Christian bookstore" in my one-horse town is owned by (drumroll, please) the one (and ONLY) JW family in town. So it's the religious equivalent of the town's one Chinese restaurant. Lots and lotsa copies of the New Advent Bible, or for the Anglicans, the KJV. Although they also sell the Christian version of Harlequin romances, which a(n Anglican) cousin of mine is fond of, for unguessable reasons.

    The only other source for professing Christian brainwashing material is the local remaindereds-from-Chapters chain bookstore, which stocks not one, not two, but THREE shelves of Anglican or Catholic material. The Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris tomes in the same section remaining unpurchased and quite defaced, several years after being ordered in. (No, I haven't quite gotten up the nerve to purchase any of them, the town is far too small, and I am related to far too many of its inhabitants.) Which tells you all need to know, yes?

    Welcome to PH's hometown! Where the only religious choices are "Either/Or" to wit: EITHER Anglican OR Catholic. The rest of the Christianities have their three or four churches all sequestered together in the religious ghetto of town, where they remain as mild curiosities, and not much more. The small synagogue was driven out in the 1940s, I believe. Definitely no other world religions represented here, either.

  2. Nah. I just keep a low profile. Keep the Solstices and stuff, I do. Fortunately, those (mostly) coincide with the Anglican festivals (Christmas, Easter, like that). In my family, it's very much "Don't ask, don't tell," when it comes to religion.

    Most of the people here are the same, actually, although every now and again you might get the odd bird who thumps Bibles in the supermarket. They're generally looked askance at, though.

    Every few years, the bookstore owner will get on a religious tear, and paper everyone's doorsteps with Watchtowers, but no one complains, as the magazine is excellent firestarter material. :-D