Religion: New and Improved
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal noted that aging churchgoers are increasingly complaining about the unforgiving wooden pews commonplace in today's houses of worship. In response to baby boomers' concerns, church suppliers and renovators say there 's been a dramatic increase in orders of cushioned seating designed to make the Sunday service a little easier on the backside. Given American's Puritanical belief that suffering can be a good thing for the reverent, it's no surprise that this trend has introduced a bit of controversy into the holy order.
But I say, why stop there? When it comes to religion, the seats aren't the only things that are too hard. In this era of rabid competition for consumers led by well-financed dotcoms tossing money after every customer in sight, organized religion could learn a thing or two. In an age where film producers allow focus groups to choose the endings to their movies, where elementary school teachers are encouraged to accept a child's "alternate spelling" of common words, where politicians never offer an opinion before reviewing the latest polls, the church had better start pandering to its members if it wants to hold onto them. Fact is, plenty of baby boomers have sold their souls in the last 50 years, and they'll probably spend the next 50 years looking for a place where they can buy them back so your church better damn well accept Visa and MasterCard, so to speak.
With these factors in mind, I humbly offer the leaders of organized religion a few ideas to increase their market share:
Out With The Ten Commandments, In With The Ten Suggestions.
Let's face it: In this era of moral relativity, who's to say one person's judgment is better than another's, even if that person is God? Honestly, the Ten Commandments are so Old Testament. In the New Testament, Jesus was much more lenient. When asked direct questions about living a proper life, he made like a modern-day politician and simply responded with more questions. It's common knowledge that the Messiah hung out with thieves and prostitutes another hallmark of today's politicians, come to think of it. And it's no coincidence that Jesus popularized the phrase, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." We all recognize that God can't possibly sentence all of us to eternal damnation in all likelihood he's grading on a curve. And that means you don't need to be perfect, just a little bit better than the guy next to you. Go ahead and covet his wife if you want just don't sleep with her too often.
Shorten the Churchgoing Season.
With so many parents working ridiculous hours, shuttling the kids between soccer games, and just trying to keep the lawn in good shape, an hour a week is a lot to expect from people. Besides, half of what's said at Sunday service is exactly the same every time. We all know that most pastors can't deliver 52 quality sermons a year. Religions should get a clue from the other major forms of entertainment: Television unveils its fall schedule, then gives up and shows repeats all summer. Major sporting events have seasons that last seven or eight months. Jesus was born in December and died some time in April, right? That's your season right there. This new schedule will also eliminate those pesky conflicts with NFL games every Sunday almost as if God planned it that way. For diehards, Advent can serve as the preseason. And if you want to add some drama to the final weeks, you can take a page out of Major League Baseball's book and tack on a few days to the post-season say Jesus rises from the dead TEN days after his crucifixion rather than three. That really oughtta boost your ratings the first time around.
A New Logo.
Speaking of the crucifixion, Christianity needs a new symbol. The whole story behind the cross makes for great drama dragging the tree through the city streets, Jesus' final words to the criminals on either side of him & yada yada yada. But in the age of the Nike Swoosh, the cross just doesn't cut it. It's really a bit morbid if you think about it. And when was the last time you read about a crucifixion? Even Texas stopped crucifying people a few years back. Pope John Paul, get thee to an ad agency.
Better Catering Service.
If churches are going to serve wine and bread, certainly they can do better. I mean have you ever tasted the Eucharist? For the body of Christ, this stuff isn't very palatable. And why serve only wine? An open bar would go a long way toward improving the experience. Even the worst comedy club owners know that nothing beats the two-drink minimum for making an extra buck and loosening up your audience.
Frequent Tither Programs.
If you want me to donate ten percent of my income, then a tax deduction just isn't going to cut it anymore. Sure you promise me eternal life, but if I'm unable to collect, I don't really have any recourse, do I? And if you think about it, ten percent of a janitor's income doesn 't really compare to ten percent of Bill Gates' salary, does it? I suggest the church start by providing priority parking for those who give the most. A gold watch at certain donor levels would be nice, too. Even those who don't have a lot of dough should have some incentive: I say anyone who volunteers to serve refreshments after the service is rewarded with a few "Get Out of Sin Free" cards. Quid pro quo, for those of you who still favor the Latin.
As you can see, this reformed church should really appeal to a wider audience. And isn't that what it's all about? History reveals that the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades were catastrophic failures that needlessly killed off plenty of potential worshipers. Rather than eliminating or excommunicating those who disagree with you, try lowering your standards, offering more benefits, and appealing to the lowest common denominator you'll be sure to fill those cushy seats with ample behinds in no time.
Scott Kirkwood is a freelance writer who attended Catholic highschool for four years and lived to tell about it.
pictures Terry Colon