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Sunday, May 3, 2009

on Paul, Christianity, marketing and globalization

Rob Sica pointed out this somewhat rambley but interesting article in the April issue of The Atlantic. It's titled One World, One God (by Robert Wright) but it could also be called "Paul the apostle-marketer". Paul the apostle-marketer has a bit to teach us about how to thrive in an increasingly connected (globalized) world. Apparently the situation he (and others) faced is not so different from our own.
When people open a local franchise—a McDonald’s, a Pizza Hut—they do so because they expect to get something in return. What did people get in return for making their homes Christian franchises? In some cases, no doubt, it was mainly the benefit of the gospel; Lydia presumably found Paul’s initial teachings gratifying, and what additional benefits she got—social, economic, whatever—from hosting a church, we’ll never know. But as the franchising continued, and the church expanded to more and more cities, it offered new benefits to church leaders.

In particular: reliable lodging. Tents were adequate for overnight stays on the road, but when you reached the big city, nicer accommodations were desirable—especially if you planned to stay awhile and do business. Paul’s letters to Christian congregations often include requests that they extend hospitality to traveling church leaders. Such privileges, as the scholar E.A. Judge put it, were increasingly “extended to the whole household of faith, who [were] accepted on trust, though complete strangers.” This extension was a revolution of sorts, since “security and hospitality when traveling had traditionally been the privilege of the powerful.” The Roman Empire had made distant travel easier than at any time in history, and Christianity exploited this fact. The young church was, among other things, the Holiday Inn of its day.
[H]istory expands the range of non-zero-sum relationships—relationships in which two parties can both win if they collaborate, or lose if they don’t. Technological evolution (wheels, roads, cuneiform, alphabets, trains, microchips) has placed more and more people in non-zero-sum relationship with more and more other people at greater and greater distances—and often across ethnic, national, and religious bounds.
[E]ither people of different faiths, ethnicities, and nationalities get better at seeing the perspective of one another, and acknowledging the moral worth of one another, or chaos ensues

The main trick seems to be the extension of familial hospitality to any inside the church. I find the arbitrary trust in Christian communities both warm and unsettling. Warm because I like to give people (especially strangers) the benefit of the doubt. Unsettling when I see people manipulated by someone they trust because s/he claims to be Christian (they don't often become aware of the manipulation). For Paul that whole familial-trust thing was very useful. A distrust of people because they aren't exactly like us isn't warranted. Beyond that though, trust still needs to be earned.

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