Monday, April 20, 2015
Zizek narrates how Coca-Cola was originally concocted as a medicine (originally known as a nerve tonic, stimulant and headache remedy). It was eventually sweetened and its strange taste was made more palatable. Soon it became a popular drink during prohibition, replacing alcohol, with its medicinal stimulant qualities (it was deemed “refreshing” as well as the perfect “temperance drink”). Over time, however, its sugar was replaced with sweetener, its caffeine extracted, and so today we are left with Caffeine-Free Diet Coke: a drink that does not fulfil any of the original concrete needs of a drink. The two reasons why anyone would drink anything: it quenches thirst/provides nutrition and it tastes good, have in Zizek’s words “been suspended.”This is an old contention dressed up in new clothes. In words we have used here it says that Evangelical Christianity has become a "brand" - where the label is more important than the contents.
Today, Coke has become a drink that does not quench thirst, does not provide any stimulant and whose strange taste is not particularly satisfying. Nonetheless, it is the most consumed beverage in the world. It plays on the mysterious enjoyment we get out of consuming it as something to enjoy in surplus after we have already quenched our thirst. We drink Coke because “Coke is “it”” not because it satisfies anything material. In essence, all that remains of what was once Coke is a pure semblance, an artificial promise of a substance which never materialized. In Zizek’s words, we ‘drink nothing in the guise of something …” It is “in effect merely an envelope of a void.”(22-23).
Zizek uses the caffeine free diet Coke as an illustration of how capitalism works. Taking some liberties with Zizek and his excellent illustration, I believe the Coke metaphor works for understanding some things about evangelicalism as well in the present period of its history. Many of evangelicalism’s beliefs and practices have become separated from the concrete reality around which they first came into being. In its beginnings, the inerrant Bible, the decision for Christ and the idea of the Christian Nation articulated beliefs for evangelicals that helped connect them to the realities of our life in Christ in the face of several cultural challenges. (these were the ways we thought about the authority of the Bible, conversion into salvation and the church’s activity in society). For fifty to seventy-five years, these articulations of what we believe served us well but also evolved and become hardened. As American society advanced, and our lives became busier and ordered towards American affluence, we practice these same beliefs but they have become disconnected from what they meant several generations ago. As a result, the inerrant Bible, the decision for Christ and the Christian Nation mean very little for how we live our day-to-day lives as evangelical Christians. They are ideological banners that we assent to. They are tied to behavioral practices that we engage in but they bear little or no connection to our lives in Christ for His Mission in the world. Just as our society drinks Coke as an “it,” as something that makes us feel good but has little substantial value as a drink, so we practice these beliefs as something we add on to our lives – not as something we need to live. It is something we do as an extra to our already busy lives that makes us feel better. Evangelical church, as symbolized in many ways by the large consumer mega churches, has become an “add-on,” “a semblance” of something which once meant something real. It is a surplus enjoyment we enjoy after we have secured all of our immediate needs.
That said, does this extended metaphor (for the post from which I am pulling is plugging a book that goes on and on and one on this metaphor) aid in the communication of the idea? We certainly in some ways it does, "branding" is a concept of marketing specialists,but everybody has tasted Coke and its relatives and understands this metaphor. Everybody know Coke tastes better than Caffeine Free Diet Coke, but they still buy the swill, because they perceive it is better for them. People buy into Evangelical Christianity today because they perceive it is what is best. They think denominationalism somehow taints true faith (because it often has)and because they are searching for something to which they can personally "relate."
In the Coke metaphor, ask yourself this questions - What would happen if a cola could be offered that tasted just like Coke without the sugar and caffeine? That is to say, it was actually refreshing and healthy. I bet people would flock to that product in unprecedented numbers. Which is where I think all of this gets it wrong. The church is not a product like Coke. It cannot be reinvented and rebranded and altered.
The church can only be gotten right. Once that happens people will flock to it in unprecedented numbers.
Maybe that's what we should try.