There are Christians and then there are “Christians.” This article intends no disrespect whatsoever towards the first group (many of whom are great and loving people).
What about the second group? Well, we could call them CINOs (Christians In Name Only) and they have very little to do with the first.
Last winter, I had the distinct displeasure of coming across the specimen of an American CINO. You can probably recognize the type:
- Deliberately obnoxious with no regard for others.
- Using her religion as an excuse to impose herself on others.
- Loudly (and badly) singing along Christian songs she was blasting on her phone while her mask was half falling of her face at the checkout line in a supermarket.
- In general acting with the developmental maturity of a two-year old toddler stuck in a grown person’s body.
When I politely asked her to show a bit more courtesy towards those around her, she reacted like a true Christian would have done: with kindness and care.
She turned the cheek.
No, not in the sense that I — a heathen from atheist Western Europe — would have expected from a self-identified Christian in one of the last remaining bastions of faith in the Western World. This upstanding “Christian” turned her cheek to show her disinterest in how her behavior affected others.
Rambling something about First Amendment rights giving her the right to talk about religion, she continued to inflict her acoustic torture on those around her, keeping her voice up and her mask down.
(I’m sure she would loved it if the Church of Satan decided to use the same reasoning for their public displays.)
Now, I’m not a lawyer (just kidding, I actually am a lawyer, albeit not an American one) but as far as I know, fundamental rights and liberties bind the state, not individuals. Or, to put it in a language she might understand, they bind Uncle Sam but not me because Uncle Sam has the monopoly of power and I don’t.
Now, leaving this aside, what occurred to me after this interaction is that her behavior was counterproductive. Since I don’t know this person’s name, I will henceforth address her as Christiana Vulgaris (or CV, for short).
The PR-disaster that is “Christians” (in name only)
Unless this person intended to only appeal to frat brothers with questionable taste in music, there is no way CV’s behavior succeeded in improving the image of Christianity in the world.
In fact, if the behavior of early Christians had been as appalling as hers was, CV’s brethren would probably be praying to the members of the Roman pantheon.
Now, the problem is obviously CV, not all of Christian theology in general (which includes such gems as the Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi as well as Hildegard von Bingen). My educated guess is that this person would be obnoxious, no matter her chosen belief system and that she’d have a fair shot at being the world’s most annoying Buddhist, Pastafarian, or Satanist.
It’s just that Christianity permeates her natural environment and thus she flocks to it like a bird, passively assuming the identity of a “Christian” without actually doing the inner work of living like one.
And the predictable result of that is that her repulsive behavior is a PR-nightmare for, well, Jesus. (You know, the revolutionary spiritual leader who showed extreme compassion towards the outcasts of society and who is now for some inexplicable reason invoked by people who want to restrict marriage equality or women’s rights? Yeah, that one!)
Here’s the thing that people who are in a dominant majority miss (and make no mistake, despite its plucky image and its modest origins, Christianity is the world’s biggest religion and thus the 800-pound gorilla in the room):
If you visibly identify as part of a group, to an outsider your behavior reflects that very group itself.
In other words, CV’s supermarket karaoke stunt casts a negative light on Christianity.
If you think this value judgment on Christianity is unfair because many real Christians are great people, you have a point! What’s even more unfair is how abysmal many Muslims got treated in the US post 9/11 but I digress. Unfair or not, CV still is a walking (and singing) PR disaster for Christianity. Her actions speak so loud that I can’t hear her words, or the words of her belief system. It’s terribly ineffective marketing.
Now, it seems to me that the best way to stand for something is to be an example of the very thing you’re standing for.
If you believe in self-growth, live that message to the best of your ability. If you believe in being a good person, show up as someone who lives that. And if you believe in Christ’s message (or in Buddha’s teachings or in the spirit of Enlightenment), act like you mean it.
Take, for instance, another American Christian I met, this time in a Home Depot. This person was kind and caring — an actual Christian, not a “Christian.” He didn’t pronounce this faith through loud, off-key singing. The only thing that gave away his faith was a small cross around his neck.
Now, who do you think is doing a better job at spreading Christ’s message, CV or him? He's a lighthouse... while she's a battleship.
CV’s actions speak so loud I, quite literally, can’t hear her words.
So, dear CV, as someone who cares about ethical marketing, I implore you to reconsider how you show up in the world. Jesus deserves better than the ill-advised marketing stunt you pulled off in that supermarket!
And, please, also give your fellow humans a break. Not everyone enjoys bad karaoke at the supermarket.
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