Exceptionalism, Religion, and Product Marketing

I’ve spent yesterday and today working at my employer’s booth at a trade show.  In the weeks leading up to the show, I was involved in many meetings where we established, reviewed, and refined the key messages we wanted to convey about our products and solutions during the show.  Largely, the conversations were centered around formulating answers to a single question:

What are the features and implications of our products and solutions that make us stand out from our competitors?

Focusing on that question made a lot of sense.  After all, we came to the show specifically to gain increased visibility of our products and solutions.  Highlighting our advantages and benefits over our competitors made good business sense.

What I found more troublesome was when I ran into a similar line of thinking while reading Justin Lee’s book, “Torn,” during my breaks and other down-times at the trade show.  The topic came up most explicitly in chapter ten, “Faith Assassins,” when Justin started talking about more liberal Christians churches that tend to both be pro-gay and take the miraculous and supernatural accounts in the Bible less literally.  Of such churches, Justin offers the following opinion:

Bit by bit, they lose the things that set them apart as Christians.

There are a number of things I could speak to concerning that statement and that section of the book in general.  I could challenge Justin’s underlying assumption that there is a causal relationship between these churches’ choices to be gay affirming and their approach to understanding supernatural events in the Bible, or their approach to the Bible in general.  I could also question Justin’s suggestion that it is the existence of such supernatural events that makes Christianity distinctive from other religions.  Instead, however, I want to focus on the heavy focus on finding ways in which Christianity is distinct from other religions, and why I find this troublesome.

I’ll note that this is not something unique about Justin.  I’ve met many Christians — especially evangelical Christians — who wish to point out how Christianity (or their brand of it) is distinctive from all other religions.  Nor is this a phenomenon that exclusively appears among Christians.  And yet, it is something that seems to me to be quite common and even prevalent among Christians in general and evangelical Christians in particular.

But is it a wise thing to treat one’s religion like it’s a product?  Is it wise to view the process of sharing one’s religion like a marketing effort?  Personally, I don’t think so.  I think it cheapens everything and everyone in the process.  It turns one’s faith into a product rather than a rich source of life, inspiration, and understanding.  (And before anyone suggests that this is what they’re trying to “market,” let me remind them that advertising managers for cosmetics, diet fads, self help books, and many other products would say the same thing.)  It turns other religions and those who would promote them into competitors in the market.  It turns people you’re sharing with into potential customers and consumers.  It continues a model of sharing one’s faith in which the goal seems very much about “making the sale.”

This is not something I personally would want to do with my faith or the process of sharing my faith.  I would rather allow my faith to simply be and share it as it is rather than trying to come up with “eight key features that makes Vanic Witchcraft better than Christianity/Islam/Confucianism.”  And to be honest, anyone who thinks of sharing their faith in that light — even less explicitly — is liable to leave me feeling wary.

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