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The Good Book Business

gakked from _faithinfiction: a fascinating New Yorker article on the Bible-selling industry.

Some of my favorite quotes:

"...research has found that ninety-one per cent of American households own at least one Bible—the average household owns four—which means that Bible publishers manage to sell twenty-five million copies a year of a book that almost everybody already has."

and

"'The Personal Promise Bible' is custom-printed with the owner’s name ('The LORD is Daniel’s shepherd'), home town ('Woe to you, Brooklyn! Woe to you, New York!'), and spouse’s name ('Gina’s two breasts are like two fawns')."

and

"The publisher of Zondervan, Scott Bolinder, spoke with excitement about the possibilities for distributing the book on iTunes. 'A person hears about it, says, "I don’t know, I’m not parting with thirty-four dollars. But I’ll try the Book of Revelation for a dollar-ninety-nine,"' he said."

Just...keep...reading. I experienced a kind of shock, a horrified fascination, a repulsion, and the occasional moment of thinking an ideas might actually be a valid way of reaching out to people. I think the best quote, though, is a summary of the underlying conflict in marketing God like this:

"The problem, as [a former religion editor] sees it, is that 'instead of demanding that the believer, the reader, the seeker step out from the culture and become more Christian, more enclosed within ecclesial definition, we’re saying, "You stay in the culture and we’ll come to you." And, therefore, how are we going to separate out the culturally transient and trashy from the eternal?'"

Comments

a summary of the underlying conflict in marketing God like this

The thing is, I'm not sure there should be a conflict. Paul himself, while of course calling people out of the behaviour of the culture to living like Christ, used their own culture to preach to them. There are multiple times in the New Testament where he either "quotes" Roman poets, or actually references them, "as some of your own poets have said...."

I agree that some stuff goes too far, but as long as it's just translation, just bringing the word of God in a way that people can understand (TV, ghetto-speak, Cockney English, online phrasing, whatever), then that's something we should support and work on.

"In it, not of it," right?
Right. :)

And God can use anything, no matter how much we sneer at it, to touch people where they are. After all, He has used computer-hardware metaphors to talk to me. :)
I agree that some stuff goes too far, but as long as it's just translation, just bringing the word of God in a way that people can understand (TV, ghetto-speak, Cockney English, online phrasing, whatever), then that's something we should support and work on.

"In it, not of it," right?


No, I'm disturbed by this trend, really. Translating into languages, functional matrices of communication in order to make it accessible, yes. But vernacular is not an actual language. By all means, put the Scriptures in modern, accessible language...but to adapt the Bible to certain slang trends and subcultures...it cheapens it in my mind. It removes something from the dignity of it. Christ on earth used allusions, metaphors and concepts common to his audience. As far as we know, he never used their slang.

-JD
That's an interesting point. I wonder if Matthew 5:22 qualifies, when Christ uses the word "Raca".
That is a question. It may have been vernacular, or it may have been an actual word that was criminalized. In any case, he did use the term as a reference rather than actually utilizing it in his speech.

-JD
Ah! Good point.
Translating into languages, functional matrices of communication in order to make it accessible, yes. But vernacular is not an actual language.

I've thought about this a lot, JD. One of the huge problems facing the Church today is the fact that our "church-speak" is no longer understood by a majority of the culture. Unless you're highly educated (and if the churches actually worked on this, there might be less trouble with it; but most don't bother), you as a new believer or seeker are going to hit stuff that is really obscure. Not in concept, but in presentation.

Some slang is not language, not part of the functional matrix, no. But some of it is, especially if you're trying to reach a specific sub-culture.

Just as an example of what I'm talking about, people don't even have an accurate concept of "sin" anymore, often. But everyone can see that the world is "wrong," that we expect it to be better than it is, that we expect people to be better--and we aren't. I've started using the term "broken" to describe this whole idea, because that's easy to grasp conceptually, and it's not "church speak." We sinned, the world was broken, and Christ came to make us whole. That's why we turn from sin and follow him in love.

Certainly, there are times when slang would come across as simply being flippant about God's word, and that shouldn't happen. But in other circumstances, I think the most loving thing we can do is try to "translate" what He has said so that people can understand the important stuff before they have to learn the tools of Bible study and stuff. That can come after they've begun learning how to live as a new creation.

Revere and fear God, absolutely. But he came down and lived like us, eating and breathing and sleeping and everything...so I can't imagine Christ would object to re-phrasing in order to circumvent cultural mental blocks.

Just my rambles as I thought over your post and this article. :-)
Good examples to use. Yes, we have so much cultural baggage associated with some "Christian-lingo" terms that trying to find another way to express the ideas becomes necessary.
Yes, but there are many ways to put the "lingo" into understandable terms without going for "God says don't waste nobody" and "In teh beginning". People will do what they'll do, though, and God will approve of what He chooses to approve of. :-)

-JD
Yeah, that's it in the end.

Wow, I've spent this whole conversation going, "Good point!" and "And you have a good point!"

I feel like Tevye sitting in the milk wagon. At some point, somebody else is going to show up and say, "They can't BOTH be right!" and I'm going to go, "You also have a good point!"

:)
I feel like Tevye sitting in the milk wagon.

Eh? Sorry, I have no idea what that is referring to.
Sorry, it's a reference to Fiddler on the Roof.
I knew what it was, but I'm sorry I've never seen the scene it's referring to. :-D

-JD
The paradox is this:
to make this foolishness wise
destroys its wisdom.
To build this weakness up
destroys its strength.
Its power bowls over
by revelation, not apologetics.
To peddle a palatable Cross
merely sells
a pretty package
of nothing.
To spruce it up for the trade
defaces the Artist's work.
Leave it unadorned
in its bare
foolishness.

(excerpt from http://www.katspace.org/ficstuff/Stories-KathrynAndersen/WrittenOnATuesday)

The difficulty lies in determining the line between "stripping away the incomprehensible jargon" and "sprucing it up for the trade".
Surely at least part of the line is drawn when you persistently choose content over form? Don't make it suit the market, don't make it "sell"; and also don't gold-plate it with religious trappings?

(Actually, I'm sad that more Protestant churches don't regularly use the Creeds, because they are simple statements of truth and only have a couple of words that require explanation to the modern person.)

Of course, it's also true that "the kingdom is not matter of talk, but of power" (and now I need to go look that up--I think it's First Corinthians...).
Actually, I'm sad that more Protestant churches don't regularly use the Creeds, because they are simple statements of truth and only have a couple of words that require explanation to the modern person.

Like "catholic" and "apostolic".

But, yeah, I guess that's one thing to thank my Anglican upbringing for...
I haven't read the article...dead beat and left your blog open to remember to comment before I collapsed on my bed (well, am actually collapsed on my bed). So, I probably won't be replying to on topic...but I'll read the article tomorrow...yeah...I promise.

What I think is, if they do get really "touched" they will become more Christian* eventually or their culture will become Christian. It's a pathway or an opening to God.

Also, we're not the Supreme judges so why do we need to separate the culturally transient and trashy from the eternal. It sounds a bit arrogant for me to start deciding who's a better Christian. I don't think humans can really tell what's truly in someone's heart. I'm pretty sure God will have no problem figuring out who is who.

It's better to get the resources out there. There's always the person who's just waiting for it and if they're transient so be it. They received the message. They cannot deny receipt. But they might not be transient. One shouldn't deny someone that opportunity.

This doesn't mean that just because it's $1.99 on iTunes and easily accessible that your job is done. You should still be reaching out to all and trying to explain and spread the message and thy whys and the beauty and why one should be Christian and not trendy etc etc

Consider me, I'm not going to go spend oodles of money on a Bible. But it might be worthwhile spending a few dollars for a cheap copy, if not for conversion but for insight. And maybe it might be a better world if more people had easy access to important texts.

*I don't just mean Christian. Feel free to substitute some other religion/calling etc.
Man...I just read people's comments and saw things about slang and...err...
Well, if I were buying a copy of the bible it wouldn't be the trendy version :-)

But hey, people write bible stories or stories from the bible geared for children so why not for people of today.

I think...

But still...sleep...read tomorrow

Heh

Late post, I know, but I'm just catching up with the past week's worth of life outside of work.

Inflammatory statements ahead. :-D

Speaking as someone who has at least a half-dozen different bibles in his house (remember, I studied folklore and mythology in college..whether you like it or not, the bible counts as mythology), I can honestly say that none of this comes close to surprising me.

Congratulations, you're starting to see the basic absurdity of religion.

Look, however you care to read it, whatever religion you practice, the bottom line is: If you trace the family trees back far enough, we all come from the same place sooner or later. Religion historically serves only one purpose: To divide us up into groups of people who mindlessly follow manipulative entities (namely, the high priests of whatever religion we follow) who claim to speak on behalf of the Creator.

(And yes, I do believe in God. I just see no reason to try and quantify him/her/it. Nor do I see any reason to pay homage to the Creator for giving us the free will necessary to become such a violently self-destructive species.)

Whatever their purpose in having us follow them, it's rarely in the best interests of anyone who doesn't practice that religion...and the few ones that aren't overtly hostile are generally apathetic and indifferent.

The simple fact that there's actually bibles CUSTOMIZED for people demonstrates, in no uncertain terms, the two things religion was designed to do:

1. Give a small number of people control over the masses.
2. Make us feel like we're individually special in an immensely huge and impersonal universe.

Mr. Cynical, signing off. :-D

Re: Heh

I might take exception to the "mindlessly" thing, but yeah, otherwise you've just pretty much nailed it. #2, especially.

Everybody's got a belief system and a worldview (or maybe a rapidly-shifting variety of belief systems and worldviews :), but some of them definitely seem more ludicrous/inconsistent/controlling than others. Organized religion, though, tends towards these weaknesses in a lot of ways, primarily because of the basic inability of their adherents to deal well with ambiguity and uncertainty. It's easier to reduce things into ridiculous blacks and whites, just so you can tell yourself that 1) you have some measure of control and 2) you're individually special in an immensely huge and impersonal universe. :)

I think there's a baby in the bathwater, but there's so much cruddy bathwater that the baby gets drowned sometimes.

Horrifying imagery. Ah well.