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Poll: Does Paul look like Harry Potter?

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The Economy of Fear

Economy of FearBack in October I wrote about The Economy of Hate speech on the internet. Here’s a review of the math in the blog world when writing hate content:

Normal content + traffic = $1

Hate content + traffic = $5

Remarkable content + traffic = $10 

Today I want to talk about something that runs rampant inside Christian publishing of all kinds. Instead of writing remarkable content they capitalize on fear. Listen to any Christian radio station or walk through any Christian bookstore and you’ll see that about 50% of the content is fear-based. Instead of focusing on truth or on the Bible, you’ll hear and see plenty of content that sensationalizes something minor for a profit.

Add this to the math:

Fear content + traffic = $5 

For every cultural phenomenon, there is an equal and fear-based Christian equivalent. Harry Potter is “bad” (according to some) so let’s make some money by publishing books telling people how bad Harry Potter is! Christian pundit James Dobson has made a lot of money with his catch phrases “an attack on truth” and “an attack on the  American family” or “liberal activist judges.” Just listen to more Focus on the Family and you’ll know how to protect your family from atheism, homosexuals, and judges.

Nevermind the fact that these are the stupidest statements in the world. If something is true you can’t attack it because it is truth. And my family is not under attack if my next door neighbors are gay. (When was the last time you heard of a gay family leading a raid on heterosexuals neighbors?) But you sure can make money on telling people to be afraid of stuff like that. Why? Because fear is a short-term motivator. If you scare people they will buy. (Or give to your cause. Or visit your website.)

The Golden CompassOf course, the latest edition of the fear-based Christian media spewed out their sales pitch against the release of The Golden Compass. This is a fiction-based children’s movie with a decidedly atheist bent. In listening to and reading the Christian media in the past few weeks one would have thought that The Golden Compass was certainly related to the Antichrist! Even right leaning FoxNews got into the act by capitalizing on the movie with a plethora of fear-based coverage. Did they do this to protect unsuspecting Christians from those mean atheists out there? No. I think they were motivated by money. There is an awful lot of money to be made by scaring people. Advertisers love traffic to a website and television ratings. And fear sells in America more than sex. (When was the last time your local news led off with a story about sex? It always leads off with something to scare you.)

Each time I see the Christian media freak out about a movie, song, candidate, or other cultural influence I feel called to help people see through it. Follow the money trail! Think critically and ask, “Why is this person scaring me?” “What’s in it for them?” Ratings? Web traffic? Book sales? Donations? If James Dobson raises another $5 million for Focus on the Family, what’s in it for him? What does he lose if he can’t raise that money? What’s in it for a Christian website that increases traffic with fear-based content by 20%? Why is it that FoxNews has a group of people on their panel who are “experts” on a topic? Who published their books? What’s in it for Fox? What’s in it for the panel members?

Remember… The Last Temptation of Christ was going to destroy Christianity forever. So was Footloose, The DaVinci Code, and Harry Potter. Likewise,  movies like Passion of the Christ, Lord of the Rings, and Chronicles of Narnia will lift Christianity up and millions of people will come to Christ, right?

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m just a cynic. Or maybe I’m just stupid and these things really do affect the effectiveness of Christianity in today’s culture. But my assumption is that Jesus is God no matter what.My assumption is that my family is in the hands of God. My assumption is that the word of God is unshakable in its inspired form. And my assumption is that God isn’t pleased with the money changers who use fear to motivate financial transactions in Christians.

I long for a Christian media who paints an accurate picture of the world. I long for James Dobson to care about real issues that don’t monetize like poverty in his town, poverty in the world, AIDS in Africa, and children sold into slavery.  I long for the Christian media to look around and use their influence to lift up the name of Christ and motivate Christians to live a life worthy of all that Christ has given to them.

And I long for a Christian media that generates sales based on remarkable content instead of cheap fear.