Polarizing on purpose

Here’s the thing about having something like your own book label. It means you’ve got to get people’s attention one way or another if you ever hope to sell anything. Let me just say from a quick survey of hits on various blogs and websites I write for that the easiest way to get attention in this ADD society is to be controversial; polarizing, even. So out-there that people might want to read you out of sheer rage or shock.

Lately I’ve been wondering if people do this on purpose. There’s a lot of theory you can read on successfully marketing yourself, which is what you need to do if you want to get repeat blog traffic, devoted readers, happy editors, and so on and so forth. And basically it boils down to being able to grab, and hold, attention. Even if you’re willing to be nothing more than the Jackass of your particular niche, they will come in droves to laugh at you and cheer you on — and will pay to do so. All the more so if you vehemently delight in your antics. All the more so if you can do it with a straight face.

Maybe I’m misreading people’s motives, but I can’t help suspect that some of the more notorious religious figures and writers of the modern age are imperfect on purpose. By which I mean that they say things that on the surface are ridiculous or bizarre, insinuate that you’re in error if you disagree, and then, when you point out the obvious fallacy, smoothly walk out the back door of metaphor and hyperbole.

By then, maybe, you’re so mad you start obsessing. You talk about it to anyone who will listen. They don’t get it; they check it out and then you argue about it. Or vice versa. Maybe you had friends who liked this figure or writer to begin with, and you only got involved when you became alarmed at some of the things they were echoing. Or maybe you got involved because you thought the echoes were hilarious, or just very, very true; so true nobody had dared to voice them until now because of their potential unpopularity.

Take, for example, something like Douglas Wilson’s recent suggestion that churches should be filling “the sanctuary with loud sounds of battle,” preaching on battle, and the minister should look in some way as if he were “robed for battle.” Taken at face value, this is ridiculous. Nobody would seriously suggest that a preacher or priest strap on the latest fashion in Kevlar before addressing the congregation. Neither would anybody suggest that worship services should incorporate the sounds of bombs, screams and dismemberment. So what exactly is the point of this rhetoric and what is it supposed to mean?

The goal of this particular blog post is to mock “effeminate” worship services, which is more or less in vogue in certain evangelical circles at the moment. But obviously, jumping on a bandwagon isn’t going to get you any headlines, so you’ve got to take it a step further. You’ve got to ask yourself: what is the epitome of masculinity? And answer: Well, war and battle and blood and gore and the warrior spirit. Hence, that’s what Christianity should look like, because Christianity is supposed to be masculine.

Christianity = masculine. War = masculine. Hence, Christianity = war. This equation will no doubt offend people, so I can insinuate that if this offends you, you’re either gay or a feminist, or possibly both.

Of course, this is a religion started by the “Prince of Peace,” a man whose only association with ready-made weaponry of any kind was to tell his follower to put it away. That anyone should say it is best celebrated by lauding battle has more to do with right-wing American culture than actual Christian tradition. But no matter; this is not a serious suggestion. It’s merely a flick against the ear of a bored public.

I only know this because I attended Wilson’s sister church in Moscow as recently as Easter, and there was no battle garb and no gunpowder. The two pastors wore floor-length black robes, and neither looked muscular or warrior-like in them — which was fine, because I did not expect them to. There was a choir that included both genders, in which some of the women were tastefully showing their knees. The fathers in the congregation got up and tended to their babies about as often as the mothers did. It was not particularly masculine, unless by “masculine” you mean kind overall, musically traditional, harmonious or slightly atonal. And that, again, is just fine, because you can’t force something that is concretely unconcerned with how masculine it appears into the mold of trench warfare or military-style hierarchy without it getting really weird.

In general, it seems that rarely are polarizing figures (or congregations) that controversial when you get them one-on-one, in private. After all, I have yet to meet anyone I absolutely hated after a real conversation. Have you?

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