humor

Stealth Evangelism?

I've been not quite sure what to think about this comic strip series, Coffee With Jesus, and the whole Radio Free Babylon group and project that creates it.

The comic and everything else they do seems really carefully calculated to be hip and funny, in a sort of Get Your War On, Tom Tomorrow way, but to not be overtly critical of Xtianity or the religious.  At first I thought it was clearly a satire that was making fun of Xtians, and clearly, folks who are really conservative and orthodox and easily offended will be offended. 

However, what they're doing is really just harnessing the now-common tropes of hipster, countercultural humor, without neccesarily taking a clear stance.  The idea of no stance politically or morally is common to hipsterist media products, but these people don't even seem to take what I would call an existential/emotional stance.  The common position that is implicitly assumed by those who peddle "cool," is at the very least a sort of nihilistic, cynical, jaded viewpoint.  This comic, though, despite the appearance of cynical critique by the use of 50s clip art (or evoking the look of 50s clip art, at least), isn't really deeply critical of much.  It has a certain surreality to it, featuring Jesus in a business suit, drinking coffee, talking with Satan and the Easter Bunny and variety of Ward and June Cleaver types, but there's nothing that really states any serious problem with belief in a bearded supernatural guy who supposedly died and rose from the dead for our sins 2000 years ago.  There's some gentle chiding and fun made at the expense of some foolish, dogmatic characters, but nothing truly biting or deep.  The FAQ on their website is also very careful to not say anything in any detail about what they believe or want. Even their name is carefully ambiguous - is it the standard pirate/community radio station meaning, like Radio Free Berkeley, a free transmitter from a bastion of Freedom? Or is it that they're "Radio" (media producers) that wants to free "Babylon" (code for the sinful society)? 

To make my realization about these folks it took me a few weeks of looking at these strips and the other media that RFB makes. But it's pretty clear now that this is the work of some subtle Christian propagandists.  They never address any truly controversial topics of the day, like abortion, women's rights, taxes or gay marriage, nothing to truly tip their hand.  It's all these kind of relatively innocuous little jokes relating to matters like churchgoing and harmless bible matters and Xtian holidays.  So I think this is some very strategic marketing going on by some relatively liberal/moderate, young Christians with some cleverness and media-savvy. It's similar in spirit, I think, to the work of Rob Bell, a young Christian writer/preacher who wrote a book called Velvet Elvis:Repainting the Christian Faith, (which my evangelical stepfather sent me a copy of and I have yet to do more with than flip through). The idea, of course, is to get young, hip, smart people to start getting into Jesus again.

I'm not, although I admit that I used to be, one of those angry atheists. Furthermore, I certainly recognize there are some social, cultural, and psychological benefits to religions, and clearly other people see this too, including the celebrated theorist Alain de Botton, whose new book is called Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion. In this he argues that the question we should be asking is how we can fulfill those needs for people without resorting to systems and worldviews that involve belief in the irrational, supernatural claims of religions. To be sure, neither capitalism, communism, consumerism nor Big Science have provided for those needs or become a worthy replacement.  So, these are things to think about, and it's worth examining what Christianiy gets right, what comfort and succor it gives to people and can they be given that in other ways, or enlightened/educated/healed to a point where they don't need that anymore.  

But I cannot abide intellectual dishonesty and underhanded viral marketing in the name of even a kinder, gentler, hipper, more modern religiosity. Attempting to fly in under the radar of the cool kids to make your pitch in stealth mode is not acceptable, and is still lying, whether you're selling sneakers, gasoline, or Jesus. Read more>>>

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