January 28, 2005

In Hoc Signo Vinces

OVER AT Arguing with Signposts, Bryan has decried the present trend among certain Christians to appropriate pop-culture symbols for use on T-shirts, knick-knacks and other religious-themed goods. Bryan finds this, and we quote, "sickening," and has inquired about other folks' views on the subject.

Now, we personally think such practices are acceptable, provided they are done in moderation, and with the greater glory of God and His church in mind. Sadly, we do not believe the purveyors of these goods hold too strictly to that ideal. It's not merely the rampant profiteering that bothers us, either. What annoys us about this trend is that in practice, it has diluted and tarnished the message of the faith.

We are sorry, but wearing a T-shirt which proclaims the Glory of the Risen Lord has nothing to do with the Glory of the Risen Lord. Rather, it has to do with the Glory of the Person Wearing the Shirt, who can now proclaim to all who see him that he is a Virtuous and God-fearing Member of the Elect. In general, one ought not do such a thing. For doing so doesn't merely direct attention away from the faith, it also can subtly point the person wearing the shirt down the wrong path. (There's nothing like a little pride to eat away at one's spiritual foundations).

We submit this state of affairs holds for anyone who displays similar goods in such fashion. For instance, those annoying metal fish on the backs of cars, a public symbol of one's belief in Christ. We personally see those as unfortunate. For one thing, it seems to run counter to His admonition regarding the folks who pray in public. For another, it has spawned an entire cottage industry among clever secularists, who have designed displays showing the fish being eaten by a larger Darwin fish. Upping the ante by having a THIRD God fish eat the Darwin fish is not, in our view, how Christians ought go about spreading the Gospel.

As for the bumper stickers which proclaim the car in front of us will be left without a driver when the Rapture comes, we would merely say the drivers of such cars are likely going to be in for quite a surprise.

We must say that many who wear these shirts and put this stuff on their cars are perfectly well-meaning, God-fearing people. We do not mean to impugn their motives or their intent; we merely would caution them as to the effects of their actions. Our true ire is saved for those who produce such offerings.

For those producing these goods have much higher moral hurdles to jump. A Christian who sells religious wares for his living ought have an eye to the consequences of his labors. It is one thing to produce a true work of art or a craft of amazing beauty in His service, but another to produce cheap goods for general consumption -- especially if, as Bryan notes, the goods are derivative off commercial goods which others have developed.

But it is not merely the cheapness of such goods which are of concern. There is also the question of one's motives and actions in producing them. Does the purveyor keep true to His message? Does he treat his workers well? Does he compensate them adequately? Is he charitable? Does he tithe? Did he take risks in producing the goods? Where do the profits go? All these things are factors which Christian buyers of such goods must consider, and we would encourage Christians to keep an eye on such matters. And we would note there is no sin in making inexpensive religious goods, or making a profit on them. It is merely that the goods must be well-made and well-conceived, and the profits must be used wisely.

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, we would note we recently purchased a religious good -- a trade paperback copy of St Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life. St Francis is our patron saint -- we were confirmed under that name in the Roman church, and he is one of the three saints charged with overseeing our profession. We paid $15 for the book, and bought it from a church bookstore, meaning any end-line profits went to support one of our local churches.

Interestingly enough, when we first took a look at St Francis' work, we opened the book at random and found our eyes resting on this sentence: "By your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned." Christians will recognize those are not St Francis' words, but those of his Editor; but the message holds all the same. It is something we hope purveyors of religious goods will keep in mind for the future.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at January 28, 2005 10:13 AM | TrackBack

Not to mention the bad impression left when the fish-sporter drives poorly, violating good manners and local traffic laws, as I've noticed so many are wont to do.

"There are just some kind of men who - who're so busy worrying about the next world they've never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results."
- Harper Lee

Posted by: John at February 1, 2005 01:04 PM