Sunday, February 26, 2012

Precious Moments Bible

I talked before about Precious Moments. But the book Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, by Randall Balmer, made me see that there is besides the revoltingly sweet figurines also a Bible produced by this company. Kickass! You might want to crank the brightness/contrast settings on your computer to be able to see them though, given how nearly see-through the front covers are.

If you're not a Catholic, you'll explode if you read this one.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

What Would Jesus Do Thong

Now this is a bit of a joke. This didn't spring forth from the ever so isolated bubble of Christendom, even though a lot of crazy fruits did in the past. This is in fact a take on it though, I think from the Landover Baptist people. The website is meant to make fun of probably mainly the notorious Westboro Baptist Church and less directly Southern Baptist Convention culture, inverting their ultra-conservative tendencies. But it's the fruits, not the roots I say (with James), it's still Jesus on a thong!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Scripts Shoes

Another find that I owe to Diane M. Badzinski that she talks about in her article Merchandising Jesus Products (in Understanding Evangelical Media, edited by Quentin J. Schulze and Robert H. Woods Jr.).


Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Life of Faith Dolls

Usually religions amuse me. Sometimes however, they frighten me. Oh yeah, you might say, like when religions call to forsake your friends, regard others as enemies and act with violence against those who do not share their views. No, that's not what I'm talking about at all, I'm talking about something far worse. The first time I ventured into this dark side was when I was talking about Clowns for Christ. Yet there is a phenomenon in this world - indeed the playground of the dark prince - that rivals even that in terms of scariness. I'm talking about dolls.
I don't know why, but there is something terribly terribly wrong with dolls. Perhaps it's the unlikely combination of the idea of warm love and hard plastic. Maybe it's the dead look in their eyes in combination with the irremovable yet awkward smile on their faces. A dead object made to resemble a living human being? I don't know exactly what it is, but at the very least dolls are unnerving I'd say. And now I run into this, the Life of Faith dolls. Dolls as an evangelical tool. I don't know about you but that makes me think of Jesus as a sick, twisted puppeteer. I think these dolls are doing nobody a favor.
There is actually another layer of sickness to these lovely ladies. That is nostalgia in service of nationalism. The dolls are made to resemble girls from the 18th century that are said to be God fearing. There is a certain assumption there that life in America in the 1800s was better than it is now and people were more devout – and perhaps to wrap this reasoning around, life was supposedly better in the olden times just because of that devotion. It romanticizes the past and also the country, sort of hinting at the idea that it would be simply marvelous if things could be like that again. Perhaps the dead eyes of the dolls, their frozen stance, and their blissful smile reflect an obsessive longing for a paradise lost that never was.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Messengers of Faith Dolls

I think it's time for some toys. Love these. Jesus and Moses are looking quite badass. I think Jesus is trying to give me that Clint Eastwood look. I can hear him now: "You've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel saved? Well do ya, punk?"

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Essay: Sink or Swim

Currently I am taking the course Christianity in the United States of America at the University of Utrecht. It's a good course and part of it is writing some essays. Since these have to be in English and since (of course) my topic is reli-kitsch, I thought I might as well publish them here too.

Sink or Swim
The Competitive Nature of Christianity in America

 Precious Moments nativity set

The first time I saw this Precious Moments nativity scene composition I immediately wondered about how it was possible that something like this exists. Immediately after that I wondered why I wondered about that. I believe trying to answer both these questions might shed some light not only on my bewilderment(s) but also on the way Christianity in the United States has developed and how this has come to differ from its development in Europe.
            In order to do so, we must first go back in time, where our first stop might be the revivals in the colonial era. During the 1740s, the first revivals started to take place. These revivals were characterized by intense displays of emotion.[1] A key figure in these revivals, also known as the Great Awakenings, was George Whitefield. He preached to enormous congregations everywhere he could see fit, to people of all walks of life and from all kinds of denominations.[2] It was during the performances of Whitefield that people would experience a new “personal, inward, and heartfelt religion” popularly referred to as an evangelical type of Christianity.[3] Typical also for this type of Christianity was mobility. Whitefield traveled from place to place, preaching to the lost everywhere he came. Established religious practices of course were not all too happy with these itineraries as they came to be called, because they were a threat to their religious monopoly.[4] A certain disdain for established clergy with fixed dogmas and traditional ways of thinking was perhaps typical for American culture at large, preferring more classically liberal ideas such as “populism, individualism, democratization, and market-making.”[5]
            This then brings us to the separation of church and state, a fact of Federal life when after the American Revolution the First Amendment was accepted.[6] Perhaps ironically, as a consequence of the fact that no denomination could claim religious monopoly in the United States, all denominations were now free to develop themselves, which made this country a fertile soil for pluralism. Not only was there the opportunity though for all religions to develop themselves but since they were not assured of state support, they depended on popular support for their very existence. Churches in America became voluntary associations, resulting in what might be called a competitive religious market.[7] Religion in fact was no longer something that one was simply born into but it became a matter of personal choice.[8] This meant some changes in religious approach, at least changes from the earlier European model. Religion had to appeal to people. Religion had to appeal to popular types of sentiment. It had to adjust to cultural and perhaps even universal human desires. If it didn’t, it was doomed. For without anyone listening, a religion rendered itself obsolete. It was either sink or swim.
This is arguably why “religion has penetrated popular culture.”[9] This also brings us back to the picture displayed at the beginning of this essay. It can be argued that it appeals to popular sentiment – that it is sentimental. Subtlety, it might be argued, is nowhere near it, but perhaps only through things that might be said to approximate the parody a most popular form appealing to the many can be accurately expressed. Seen in this light, it might be better understood why such things exist at all.
            This might take care of the first question I set out to answer, but what about the second one: Why does this surprise me? Perhaps the contrast between the reality of religious and cultural practice between Europe – being myself a European - and the United States might shed some light on this. A difference of note between the two cultural realities might be the way in which “high culture” is regarded by both respectively. The idea that in order for something to be “high-culture” it must be secular - or, to turn that around, “high-culture” cannot be religious - has strong roots in Europe and is only relatively recently becoming somewhat of an aesthetic standard in the United States.[10] So, perhaps when I see something unapologetically and explicitly religious, I might be inclined to disqualify it as “high-art.” Moreover, intellectualism is differently appreciated in the United States than it is in Europe. The United States might be described as “a commercial and therefore a pragmatic society.”[11] This might not be an attitude that values “fruitless” reflection too much. An American might think that someone engaged in endless aesthetic pondering, focusing on something that might be called kitsch, is simply just missing the point. My imaginary American friend might ask: “Who cares if it’s kitsch, does it sell?”
If I chuckle when I see works like these [and leave it at that], it is with shame though, for I do feel such popular religious expressions deserve more serious attention.

[1] Chidester, David. Christianity: A Global History. New York: HarperCollins, 2000, 400.
[2] Noll, Mark A.. The Old Religion in a New World: The History of North American Christianity. Grand Rapids: Eerdman, 2002, 51
[3] Noll, The Old Religion, 51.
[4] Marty, Martin E. Pilgrims in Their Own Land: 500 Years of Religion in America. New York: Penguin, 1984, 120.
[5] Noll, The Old Religion, 24.
[6] Berger, Peter. “Religious America, Secular Europe?” In Religious America, Secular Europe?: A Theme and Variations, edited by Peter Berger, Effie Fokas, and Grace Davie, 9-21. Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2008, 16.
[7] Berger, “Religious America,” 16.
[8] Berger, “Religious America,” 13.
[9] McLeod, Hugh. “Religion in the United States and Europe: The 20th Century.” Transatlantische Religionsgeschichte, 18-20. Jahrhundert (2007): 142.
[10] Berger, “Religious America,” 19
[11] Berger, “Religious America,” 18

Friday, February 10, 2012

Moses and the Gift of Laughter

So people know by now about my obsession with religious kitsch. And some folks are actually nice enough to give me some things they find. Like this Moses bookmark. You know, to help you remember which commandment you closed the Book at.

In fact, Mo' comes with some stickers that you can put on his tablet. That's right, just put it on Mo's tab. I thought I'd add the motto of this blog.

Yeah so I didn't do a good job putting that sticker in the right place, so what?!

Manufacturer: On the back it says that no Philosophers were harmed in the making of this card. I don't believe them. Perhaps I just don't want to believe them.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ethereal Art: Maria Roeder Snedecor

So as a kid I went to a Montessori school. Why? Because of parental cultural economy really. Every parent wants to think their kid is special. Not only that, but more special than the kid of others. In fact their kid is so super special that a normal education system just wouldn't work on him, oh no, not on their special little boy. It would in fact corrupt all his special talents. So that's why they put their kids on schools with alternative and more experimental teaching methods like Montessori or Dalton or whatever schools. Of course these schools were terrible, focusing on creativity and social skills leaving you unprepared for a hard and economic real world out there.

Okay it wasn't that bad perhaps. What was that bad then you ask? Anthroposophical educational systems. They really were that bad. Based on a philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, discouraging all that reeked of color because that might upset the tender souls of these poor sensitive children. Oh so sensitive they were, sensitive to the whisperings of mother Earth! Doesn't that make these kids super special? Us Montessorians had it tough but the Anthroposophy kids, they were just lost. Born dead. I have my doubts about the claim of Richard Dawkins that all religion is child abuse, but in the case of Anthroposophy I do tend to agree.

Art like that of Maria Roeder Snedecor sort of reminds me of this. Trying to say a lot but not really being able to say anything at all. Something that is meant to look deep but really expresses some non-descript feeling in an all-too shallow manner. What perhaps was intended to be sensitive and subtle seems to me more like cheap sentiment. And of course with not much of a palette.



Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Rubber Duck Divinities

Currently I'm reading the book Understanding Evangelical Media by Quentin J. Schulze (editor) and Robert Herbert Woods Jr. (editor). Finally I got to the chapter Merchandising Jesus Products by Diane M. Badzinsky. I thought it would be a treat. And indeed it was.

One of the things this chapter treated me to was this Jesus rubber duck. I love him so. With his little sheep! I thought then though, hey but so what about the rest of the gang? Yeah some team members jumped into the swimming pool as well. This stuff makes me want to own a bath tub!

 Looking good there, Jesus!

 Be the rubber duck!

 I wonder what happens if you put this one in the Red Sea.

Find yourself stuck? Ask Rabbi Rubberduck!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Charles Grandison Finney

There is something about 19th century America. It was such a strange time of change, suffering, innovation and progress. From the abolition of slavery to the invention of photography and from civil war to Jospeh Smith's Mormon religion. It was a very strange time indeed. One figure of note was Charles Grandison Finney. Big on the revivals in the century, characterized by intense displays of emotion, this charismatic man was said to be quite the theatrical preacher. I can only imagine him standing at the altar there screaming, foaming at the mouth, warning us sinners for the wrath of an angry God. What is that you see flying from his lips? Spit you say? Nay, flames! I'd give to see this master at work alright. I think this picture might accurately capture both the spirit of the time and the spirit of this man.

Friday, February 3, 2012

William Booth

So the Salvation Army is celebrating its 125 years of existence this year. I thought I'd post something today on its founder William Booth. I think I will come back to this topic because there is a lot to say about the man and even more about the Salavtion Army. But first, a portrait of the man. Or portraits. Of the man. And his beard! It sometimes makes him look like Osama Bin Laden, sometimes like a druid, but in any case I'm pretty sure guitar manufacturer Gibson based its Flying V model on it.

  The beard of a boss, ladies and gentlemen!

Thursday, February 2, 2012


On the cover of the book The Christian Culture Survival Guide, I saw this play of words. Instant favorite of course. And what do you know, they're all kinds of banners, buttons, bumper stickers and what not of it!