Last Sunday morning I listened to Encounter on Radio National. It is a program that tackles a variety of spiritual topics. Last week part of the program was based around a talk by Andrew McGowan on 'religion'. His basic premise was to reclaim the 'religious' in Christianity. He said a number of things that got me thinking.
From a conservative 'religionless Christian' perspective, he says that
"doctrine, and in particular the Bible, is all that really counts; as to whatever practices are continued, adapted or invented, all that matters is that they are seemingly effective in communicating the ideas – sales, rather than sacraments, take priority."
This view of Christianity sounds as though it has a great deal in common with marketing. In the Australian church scene, it is not hard to identify churches that are effective in 'sales'. However, it is interesting that he juxtaposes selling of doctrine in pretty packaging against 'religion' as captured by his reference to sacrament. I don't think that they have to be mutually exclusive. Religion could be seen as a set of practices that have and convey spiritual meaning. The nature of the packaging or the skill of the marketing impact on the accessibility, style and attractiveness of the practices. However, I think that doctrine is more pertinent than these considerations. For example, 'sales' related to the prosperity gospel must be critiqued as strongly on doctrinal terms as on the pitch.
It is also an interesting thought to consider in regard to the emerging church scene. Many of the more obvious trappings of religion are abandoned, or reconstructed in creative ways to give new meaning. Sometimes very ancient religious practices are explored and revived. There is the potential for great spiritual depth within the varing emerging communities, even though they may not appear on the surface to be particularly religious. They are often very small gatherings, so the diversity of method could not be really considered successful sales pitch. I am not sure that as Christians we should be into sales pitch at all. Somehow the words seem opposed to authenticity and honesty. God does not need spin.
On a more personal note, when people ask me if I am religious I generally say no, and add that I am a Christian. For me Christianity penetrates far deeper than a set of external practices, although though it may find avenues of expression in them.