Paradoxology by Krish Kandiah, Free for CAPC Members
Paradoxology provides an apologetic for uncertainty and a defense of discomfort.
Every Thursday in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.
I‘m a little late to the party on the Starbucks thing. That’s just how this column works—I have to have it in by Tuesday so it can run on Thursday, which means it’s rarely the hottest take on the hottest issue. By now the hot takes about the Starbucks cup are out, and the hot takes about the hot takes are out, and most likely by the time this runs people will have moved on completely, off to heroically condemn other things that we all agree are terrible.
If we’re gathered together as Christ’s family, we can’t disown each other without disowning Christ as well.But in case you’ve been living under a rock (and, if you have, is there room for one more under said rock? I’ll bring donuts): Starbucks Coffee, which is known for its annual holiday-themed cups, decided this year to use a minimalist all-red design; this (apparently?) angered a handful of Christians who decided it was one more front in the #WarOnChristmas (I don’t know what the previous designs involving snowmen and reindeer have to do with Christ—but apparently their absence is equivalent to Judas’s kiss). Once a handful of media outlets picked this up, the backlash against the backlash was swift and strong. I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but on my end of the Internet, I saw maybe one or two people who were upset about the cup and hundreds (both Christian and otherwise) who were upset that people were upset.
Obviously, here on the Internet, we all love to condemn things that everyone agrees are terrible. Last week when not-actually-Anonymous-but-sort-of-Anonymous released a list of seven politicians who were allegedly-but-not-actually in the KKK, we all rushed to damn them before thinking for two seconds and realizing that a membership roll full of Catholics, Democrats, gay men, and Latinas would make for the weirdest KKK ever, but was also extremely unlikely to be a thing. The list was obvious nonsense, but we didn’t care, because it feels good to condemn things, and in most cases, it requires exactly zero courage to condemn the KKK.
Something very similar is happening with the Starbucks cups, I think. It takes a special blend of hubris and poor catechesis to think you deserve to have your Christian beliefs parroted to you by your disposable drinkware, and the social cost for condemning people lame enough to believe that is extremely low. Odds are that the group complaining about the red cups does not contain your employer, or your professional colleagues, or any of your cool friends who might let you play their Xbox. And hey, you want to make it clear to everyone that you’re not one of those Christians.
See, here’s the bad news, though: you kind of…are…one of those Christians? I mean, you are, if you’re a Christian.
Sorry about that.
Listen, guys: the Bible uses a lot of metaphors to describe the Church: A family. A body. A bride. None of those things is really divisible in any sense. If we’re gathered together as Christ’s family, we can’t disown each other without disowning Christ as well. If we’re all part of the same body, we can’t disown each other without a bloody mess. And if you love Jesus but hate His bride…well…I’m not gonna blame the Guy if He punches you in the face. (He probably won’t, because Jesus is a pretty cool Guy, but still.)
The upshot here is that theologically, you literally cannot say, “I’m Christian, but I’m not one of those Christians.” It’s a meaningless sentence. If you identify as Christian, you’re identifying with everyone—past, present, and future—who’s baptized and claims the name of Christ. All the saints and all the sinners, all the geniuses and all the morons. The capitalists and the socialists, the pacifists and the warmongers. You’re stuck with Calvin and Arminius, Ben Carson and Barack Obama, Martin Luther King and Kim Davis. Jesus has marked them all as His own, and you don’t get to tell Jesus He made a mistake.
Again: sorry about that.
That doesn’t mean we let the geniuses who need the dumpster behind Starbucks to validate their faith drive the proverbial bus, but it’s hard to imagine what purpose the endless condemnation on social media serves beyond allowing you to snatch at the low-hanging fruit of intellectual respectability. (Congrats, you’re smarter than Jesus’s dumbest brothers and sisters! Come get your frickin’ Nobel Prize, Niels-frickin’-Bohr.) Honestly, does anyone really believe that every Christian on earth is answerable for every dumb thing the religion’s fringe says? And are the people who think that even worth talking to? I don’t ask each of my atheist friends to apologize every time Richard Dawkins tweets something moronic, and I hope they’ll afford me the same courtesy with Matt Walsh.
I’m not telling you to support the campaign against Starbucks. (In fact, please don’t.) What I would suggest, though, is that if you’re going to take a moral stand on social media, maybe you should try taking one that actually requires, y’know, a tiny bit of courage. If the most useful thing your Christian faith has to say to the world is I agree with you about all the stuff! maybe it’s time to ask yourself why you bother with that faith at all.
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