Monday, December 15, 2008

Selling Christmas and Christianity

Christmas time is here, and I thought it would be a good time to think about what Christians say that Jesus did for us.  First, let's talk about it the way they say it in church:

From  (The best hit I got on a google search for "God's Plan of Salvation."):

The Bible specifically says, without any other possible interpretation, that there is only one God, one faith, one baptism and one way to God the Father - and that is only through His Son Jesus Christ and His sacrificial death on the cross. Jesus says that He, and only He, is the way, the truth and the life leading to God the Father and that no one comes to the Father except through Him!

Many people, including some Christians, believe that God the Father honors all other religions as long as people try to live a good and godly life and try to stay out of trouble.

As you will see in the Scripture verses I will list below, this is not the way God the Father has everything set up. God will not honor any other religion, and He makes it very clear that it is only through His Son and His sacrificial death on the cross that will give people eternal salvation and thus eternal life with Him in heaven.

So Christmas is a time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, God who became man.  We celebrate the fact that he came to earth to die at the  hands of men so that all who would come after him would be free from the law and free from sin.  It all sounds pretty amazing when we hear it in chucrch.  I've been there.  I lived it for over twenty years of my life.

I'm trying to make this blog about what it is to be human, and not another rant about how much religion sucks.  To that end, I want to help explain a little bit of what's going on with the whole salvation-Christmas thing.  Take a couple of minutes and watch this video.  Seriously... it's very important for you to do this so that what I say afterwards will make sense.

Ok.  What I want to discuss is how there can be two completely different tellings of the same story, and though they both have the exact same content, they are perceived quite differently.  When you go to church to see a Christmas production, what do you see?
1. Pretty Lights.
2. Angels
3. Mangers
4. Adorable children with big doe eyes.
5. Cute little baby Jesus
6. The pure virgin Mary.
7. The loving supportive Joseph

What do you hear?  Beautiful music.  Some of the best music ever written was written for Christmas.

What is the message from the pulpit?  Love.  Lots of love.  So much love that God paid the ultimate sacrifice for us to save us from ourselves.  So much love, he was willing to be born in a common stable!  The Lord Of The Entire Universe lowered himself soooooooo much that he was willing to be born IN A STABLE!!!

For you.

Just you.

He loves you that much.  Personally.

Ok.  Enough of that.  You get the picture.  Now, think about the last time you decided to make a major purchase.  Suppose you were going to buy a car.  If you are like most people, you were greeted personally by a salesman who immediately wanted to learn your name and a little bit about you.  You were led to a glittery salesfloor where everyone was dressed sharply and all the cars shone of fresh polish and smelled of leather.  Someone immediately scurried off at butler's speed to fetch you any drink you wanted.  You were shown fancy brochures with snappy photos of "your new car" doing feats of incredible maneuverability, protecting children from harm, and safely delivering the whole happy family to visit the smiling grandparents.

We are all familiar with the manipulation that goes on with salesmen.  We expect it because we know it's their job to sell us their wares.  However, we don't trust them.  We only go there because we want a new car, right?

Well, that's not entirely true, is it?  How many commercials have you seen for new cars in the last week?  I have TiVo, and I fast forward through commercials, yet I'm sure I've seen at least a few dozen ads in one form or another, whether at a bar, or in print, or on billboards.  Car ads are everywhere!  They are all designed to show me exactly how wonderful my life is going to be when I get a new car.

Folks, this is brainwashing.  Pure.   Simple.  Brainwashing.  It's exactly the same phenomenon used by preachers, salesmen, and interrogators at Gitmo.  Whatever it is you're trying to sell, the important thing is to make the buyer do the selling!  Make the buyer believe he was the one with the idea.  He thought of it.  That way, the ulterior motive of the salesman doesn't matter.  The salesman is irrelevant.

That's why we buy cars, and that's why we buy religion.  So what if Ted Haggart fucks male prostitutes in his spare time.  We have an empty place in our life, and we want Jesus.  We feel it deep down inside.  Ted Haggart doesn't matter.  Neither does Jimmy Swaggart, Fred Phelps, Pat Robertson or anybody else.

Hopefully you can see where I'm going with this.  Religion is dressed up for a pageant.  We have huge churches with amazing architecture.  We have choirs singing beautiful (by some tastes) music.  Everyone wears their "Sunday best."  The hymnals have fake gold gilding.

I want you to do one last thought experiment.  Think of one of those late night infomercials where people are trying to sell you real estate or male enhancement pills.  Forget the words for a moment and think of just the images you see.  Men in nice suits.  Charismatic, strong gestures.  Pictures of huge mansions, nice cars, attractive women... everything we want that we don't have in life.  And we can have it, too... for just $19.99.

Is it clear?

Just in case, try this on for size.  The world is an evil, nasty place.  You don't have everything you want.  You're afraid of dying.  Your family feels like it's a complete mess.  What if I told you that there's a super-awesome King of The Whole Universe whose biggest desire is to make you completely happy for the rest of eternity?  You get everything you want.  Just look at all these people in nice clothes who will be your friend for the rest of this earthly life.  When you get to heaven, there will be millions more!  Just look at this huge building.  We built it for you.

All you have to do is believe that the Super-Awesome King of the Whole Universe came to earth to die to save you from your sin.

Sounds really great, doesn't it?  Yeah... so does the new Super-Awesome-Turn-By-Turn-Super-Duper-Satellite navigation system in the Brand New Ford Excessive NINETY TWO THOUSAND!!

Yet somehow, without all the ads, the glitz, the glamour, how many of us would spend a year's salary on a new SUV when the car we have is fine, if a bit outdated?  Car companies, male enhancement companies, and religion need to advertise.  Not just a little.  They need to constantly show us how awesome they are, or we wouldn't buy them.

Now, go back to the simple stick figure movie and watch it again.  See if it rings more true now than it did before.

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