Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Faith = Commodity?

This semester in my theology course, I have a class about Christianity and contemporary philosophy. The class hasn't started yet, but I got my text books already and have been reading ahead.
As I've been reading this book, one quote really caught my attention:

Talking about faith in a pluralistic, postmodern society, Peter Berger says this:
'the religious tradition, which previously could be authoritatively imposed, now has to be marketed. It must be "sold" to a clientele that is no longer constrained to "buy." The pluralistic situation is above all, a market situation. In it, the religious institutions become marketing agencies and the religious traditions become consumer commodities.'

When I first read this, I initially found the idea of referring to faith and the Gospel as a consumer commodity as offensive and wrong, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that not only is this the current situation in the world we live in, but it is not exactly a bad thing either.
The fact is, America is not a "Christian nation," and Europe has been "post-Christian" for some time. Those who still adamantly claim the opposite are like those who make themselves hoarse trying to convince others that Earth is flat.

But again - I don't think this is really a bad thing. The problem with "assumed" religion - meaning that you believe something, because you were born into it is not Biblical, and it can lead to a false sense of security that one believes the truth, is right with God and is going to heaven.
I think it is a good thing for a person to question and to seek truth, rather than say, "Well, my parents were Christians/Muslims/Buddhists/etc... so I believe it too."
The Bible would teach that every person needs to seek for themselves, and chose for themselves which path they will choose.

And that brings us to the consumer-commodity analogy for faith. If every person must choose for themselves what to believe, then the different religious organizations are trying to convince people that they should believe what they are offering. And to do this, we use different kinds of "marketing" tactics; we just don't refer to them in those terms.
In Eger, if you walk down the streets, you can meet with Christians from our church, Hare Krishnas, and Mormons - all trying to convince you to believe what they are teaching. And the person on the street has no obligation to receive any of it, if they choose not to. So we try to convince them that they need what we have - and we use 'marketing tactics' to do this: tracts, posters, lectures, preaching, etc...

But again - I don't think there's anything wrong with that - NOR do I think it is a modern phenomenon which is a result of market economies or postmodernism.
If you look in the Bible, at Paul the Apostle - he was doing the same thing: he lived in pluralistic society, where different cultures and religions lived side by side, and he worked hard to convince those people to follow Jesus by telling them why they needed what he was "selling".

Paul wrote: We are ambassadors for Christ
, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2.Cor 5:17) He was giving a "sales pitch" to convince people who had no obligation to "buy" what he was "selling" that they needed what he had.
So, in my opinion, getting back to the point as a society where faith is not assumed is a good thing. It requires people to seek the truth for themselves, rather than just accept the beliefs of their ancestors - which is a much more Biblical thing.

In Deuteronomy, when Moses speaks to the new generation - the generation who were born in the wilderness, the generation who were the children of the people who entered into the covenant with God at Mt. Sinai - Moses refers to God as "Your God" over and over. He does this because he wants them to understand that while Yahweh is the God of their fathers - he must be their God personally. They must make the choice to walk with Him for themselves. And in Deuteronomy 30, Moses places a decision before this new generation - that they must choose for themselves whether or not to follow the Lord. It is not enough that their fathers chose to follow him - they must also make that decision for themselves.
See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live...
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days
Deuteronomy 30:15-20
This is essentially Moses' "sales pitch," in which he tries to convince the new generation to follow the Lord by telling them why it will be good for them.

I don't consider faith a commodity, but I think that we should use tactics and strategies to get our message to people and help them understand why they desperately need what God is offering them: Salvation, forgiveness, restoration and eternal life - through faith in Jesus.

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