Monday, December 21, 2009

Commercialization of Christmas

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Back in Black - Tax Rebate

I couldn't find the Lewis Black clip I was looking for. In the clip I was looking for, Lewis claims the US economy is "tied to Santa's ass!" While that commercialization of Christmas may be discouraging, another kind of Christmastime commercialization bothers me even more.

For each of the past two years, my fiancée (okay, she was my girlfriend last year) and I have attended Christmas pageants with the expectation that we would get to see some kids act and sing. We got a couple songs and no acting both times. Instead, we got a bait-and-switch live-and-in-person infomercial with larger-than-life screens and audio backing trying to sell their church to us.

These shows were not designed to spread goodwill and cheer. These shows were not even designed to push beliefs. These shows were designed to sell a product. These shows used marketing tactics and fearmongering to persuade and to try to persuade audience members to regularly attend (and presumably pay for) their products.

I'd like to take a moment to present you with a commercial of my own, but not for anything that directly benefits me. Pete Goebel has an excellent blog in which he shares his in-depth cover-to-cover reading of the Bible. The following passage from December 12's article (The Book of Proverbs) illustrates my concern with this type of product-payment system.

One more notable passage (I have a feeling I'm going to end up copyrighting that phrase before this is over):

"Honor the LORD with your wealth,
with the firstfruits of all your crops;
then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine."

We've already read about "tithing," the thing about giving ten percent of your produce to God (assuming you're a farmer). More specifically, giving it to the Levitical priests who would store it up both for themselves, and the poor. So basically, it's a sort of taxation/social services combo. Well, at least that's what it was. Nowadays, tithing is a bit different. You're supposed to give ten percent of your income to your local church. If you're not completely clear on how that's the same thing, well, neither am I.

Not that I'm against charitable donations, at all. But it gets a bit icky to me when giving to churches goes beyond a "freewill offering" and becomes this spiritual obligation, like this is what's expected of you as a Christian. Why is it icky? Because the people telling you to give are the ones whose income is dependent upon that giving. It's even more icky when you look around and realize that most of your money is paying for stuff like this:

I say "most" because that's where church budget dollars tend to go -- their Sunday services. Now, I can understand a church getting in your face about being more charitable as a person. That makes sense as part of the whole "spiritual maturity" thing. Don't be focused on yourself; start to think more about others and their needs. Fair enough. But if a church spending the majority of its income on a weekly show for its members isn't "focusing on yourself," then I don't know what is.

But here's the ickiest part: the promise of divine blessing in the second verse. Give to God and he will give back to you abundantly! I can't tell you how many times I've seen cash-strapped couples advised to start or continue tithing on the basis of this passage. Credit card debt? Student loans? Crushing mortgage payment? Don't worry about it. Give to your local church and watch the financial blessing pour in. And that's real advice that people actually give. Heck, I was given that advice myself. And the irony is that Proverbs is often held up by Christians as a handbook for proper financial management.

In the presentation we attended this year, 50% or so of the songs opened by asking the listener if (s)he had ever lost a close friend or family member to death. The songs in each of these two pageants were separated by short skits (commercials) that illustrated or attempted to illustrate their respective church's relatablity and hospitality.

IMHO, this commercialization is more dangerous dangerous and unsettling than the simple buy-our-stuff-for-people-as-presents kind of commercialization. Instead of pushing a product as a product, these snakeoil salespeople are pushing a product as a matter of morality. These kinds of shows might be more extortion than pageant: If you decide not to embrace our product, everyone you love might go to Hell forever!!!.

On the other hand, some of the music was nice, and the kids were cute and had fun.