Our Unoriginal Sin

Engaging pop culture means more than imitation.
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"Christian kitsch" or "Jesus junk" has been criticized by high-minded fellow Christians and ridiculed by the non-Christian culture. Despite the criticism, it generates more than $3 billion in revenues annually. Impediments beyond sporadic criticism have remained surprisingly few—even when we've deserved them.

We tend to create our own cultural artifacts by tweaking famous icons from pop culture. In the 1970s we created signs saying "Jesus Christ: He's the real thing" in Coca-Cola lettering. In the late 1980s, we moved on to harder stuff: "Budweiser, King of Beers," became "Be Wiser, King of Kings." Today, usurping from dairy farmers ("Got Jesus?") and Taco Bell ("Yo Quiero Jesus") are the hotter trends. That we have not been sued is amazing.

Actually, one Christian company has. Ty, Inc., makers of the hugely popular Beanie Babies, filed a lawsuit in September against HolyBears, Inc., makers of similarly designed (but Christianized) beanbag animals.

The case is far from black and white, and it is for the courts, not Chrisitanity Today, to decide if HolyBears actually infringe on the copyright of the Beanie Babies. HolyBears do look a lot like their more famous cousins—substituting a Bible on the paw and a wwjd on the chest for a heart on the ear. Then again, Beanie Baby bears and HolyBears look pretty much like teddy bears have since their inception at the turn of the century.

Legal specifics aside, the HolyBears case illustrates our need to have theological and ethical guidelines when it comes to appropriating popular culture for our own ends. Inter acting with popular culture in a Christian manner means more than simply embroidering wwjd on a stuffed bear or deciding to record a Christian swing album because swing ...

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