Rant against Christian bookshops

I find it very hard to like Christian bookshops. I feel very uncomfortable in them, and always come out feeling angry.

Why?

I find it hard to put my finger on. Certainly the fact that the science sections in most I’ve been in are full of dreadful, dreadfully ignorant and misleading books doesn’t help. But it goes much further than that.

I find the middle-of-the-road worship music in the background very irritating. I’m not sure what I *want* to hear, but this stuff sounds insincere, hyped up and unimaginitive.

I find the range of books disturbing. Sometimes it’s the unthinking, reactionary, judgmental books that I don’t like. On the other hand, sometimes I’m upset by the books that seem to have lost touch with the truth. I know it’s a good thing that people have the freedom to look at a whole range of books, but that doesn’t stop me feeling unsettled, and even secretly wishing that certain books weren’t on offer in this particular forum.

I don’t like the commercialism. These bookshops sometimes feel just like rather aggressive vendors of any other product. We seem sometimes to have bought into exactly the same marketing ploys, however cynical, that are around outside the church.

If you like these bookshops, or work in one, feel free to disagree with me! But at the minute I find it a real chore when I have to go into one of these places. What do other people think?

29 Replies to “Rant against Christian bookshops”

  1. I personally never go in them, for the kinds of reasons you give above, along with a general uncomfortableness with too much Christianness everywhere.

  2. I agree with you DavidB…especially with what you say about ‘the unthinking, reactionary, judgmental books.’ I don’t know…I suppose I just don’t feel very comfortable in Christian bookshops, either.

    I do really like this website, and the way in which people feel able to criticise things like Christian bookshops. There are so many Christians I know with whom I feel unable to criticise anything Christian…they seem to believe that if anything (like a bookshop, or church service for example) has something to do with Christianity, then it is automatically good and right, a view which I believe is misguided.

  3. I think we should burn them all down – especially the ones that sell wallets with “Jesus – The Real Thing” written on them in the style of Coca Cola.

  4. Thanks for your comments, Alice! As I hope comes across in my posts at this website, I’m very keen to be positive about various Christian things, but as you say it’s important we feel able to criticise things as well.

    Of course, my comments about these bookshops are hopelessly over-generalising, but I hope people take my rant as being in the genre it’s intended (i.e. a rant).

  5. That’s a great point, Alice. I remember when I was a new Christian I used to feel I had to defend a lot of things that Christians said or did, and stand up for them when they were criticised, so as not to ‘let the side down’. Maybe some of this was from needing to trust ‘older’ Christians about a lot of stuff. But now I realise that I disagree with a lot of those things, and that I wasn’t defending Christianity after all, but some particular Christians’ sayings or doings.

    Then again, unlike some, I was never the sort of person to like a particular musician etc. just cos they were Christian.

  6. More seriously tho, I have mixed feelings in these shops. I often feel a sense of welcome, knowing that I’m among Christians there (strange tho that may sound). And there are lots of books I wish I had time to read, and I tend not to be too upset by the ones that make me shake my head in despair. I suppose I’m just not as disturbed by them as I should be, like Paul in Athens, kind of. (Acts 17:16)

  7. David, totally hear what you are saying but although I kinda don’t like the Christian bookstore I have been impressed by most (not all) people in there. Basically I don’t bother looking for the books I want for the very reasons you said and I try to describe the books I want to the person. On the whole I find this is a far more pleasurable experience.

    However if you hate it too much then just use the web, after all it is there purely for your benefit and to give you a better service than no shop at all.

    Final thoughts on the matter for me is, although I don’t find myself readily wondering into Christian bookstores I find myself absolutely loathing the idea of going near the religion section in ‘normal’ bookstores. Honestly I believe if anyone found God through those books offered it would be a miracle.

    ~

  8. Someone just told me tonight that WWJD was invented by a secular firm. I wouldn’t put it past them. Have you heard of FROG tho? It’s not such a bad idea really tho!

  9. Andy, I am just interested as to why you dislike wwjd. I read an article somewhere – I can’t remember where – which was critical of wwjd because you can never really be sure of what Jesus would do (for example, when he got angry when people were selling things in the church – I think his outburst of anger was quite unexpected). I think I agree with that, really. Or do you dislike them because you think they’re gimmicky?

  10. I should write an article on this, but here are some initial thoughts…

    The most immediate argument is the one you’ve mentioned: everyone, including his close friends were shocked, appalled and confused by practically everything Jesus did that was recorded. When I read the gospels I find that a lot of what Jesus said and did is still completely confusing even after we’ve had all this time to think it over. So it’s misleading to imply that we could predict what Jesus would do when faced with a given situation.

    However, my real objection is that it’s so _sad_. I have principled objections to the phenomenon of creating an exclusive sub-culture for Christians (see my article “Christians Only”) but if we do have to have a sub-culture why does it have to be so soft, boring and pathetic? What Jesus would do would certainly not be any of those.

    It just feels like the kind of thing a Christian in Neighbours would wear – i.e. cliche-ed and continuing the stereotype that Christians are called to be “uncool” for the sake of it.

  11. I suppose that as well as purportedly reminding the wearer to make an effort to be more like Christ, it could be argued to be ‘a witness’ to the non-Christians who know what it means – though I’d rather try to do that with my life. If my life isn’t going to attract people to Christ, wearing a Christian marker isn’t going to improve matters. But if anyone out there is wearing one, please don’t feel you’re being disrespected or that you can’t contribute your opinion!

    On the whole idea of knowing what Jesus would do, I think we’re supposed to have a fair idea, since the Bible tells us we should imitate Christ and have the attitude of Christ, and then tells us individual things we should be like and do. But it doesn’t tell us every detail, which is why we need to try to get to know God Himself more and more (and people who know Him better than us), rather than just living by rules like some of the Pharisees. As somebody wrote somewhere, Christians controlled by the Spirit should be unpredictable and surprising (which rules me out pretty much).

  12. I wouldn’t wear ‘WWJD’ stuff either – I’m sure I need to remind myself more often than I do that I’m supposed to be distinctive, surprising and holy, but I don’t need to get a commercial product to do that! If I find written reminders useful (and I do) I can write something on my hand, or get on a daily email list about the Bible, etc.

    Interesting discussion about whether we know what Jesus would do. I agree that we know some broad outlines (he’s not going to strangle someone when he’s upset with them, for instance) but need additional sensitivity to find the genuinely Christ-like, surprising response in any situation. Part of the answer will be to spend time with him, reflecting on his surprising actions in the Bible, and being honest with him in prayer. That’s why the gospels are such a fantastic part of the Bible, IMO – they allow us to get the ‘Jesus vibe’ (how’s that for Neighbours Christian naff-speak?)

  13. > confused by practically everything Jesus did

    Having guessed correctly that there’s a http://www.wwjd.com website, the answer from the picture appears to be “He would put a paper cup on someone’s head.”

  14. Bit of a late starter on this site but there will be more to come…

    My dislike of christian bookshops has many reasons but I was trying to suppress all of them until the last time I ever went in one…

    This involved me going in to try and ‘enhance my relationship with God’ (a highly encourageable thing you would have thought…) and buy some bible reading notes. I have struggled with these in the past and so thought I would go in at the ‘theological end’ with Encounter with God (is that the one I mean?). All ok so far…. unfortunately, couldn’t find any bible reading notes (just dumb I guess) and so asked at the counter – all ok although did feel stared at while walking round shop.

    I was 21/22 (important later) and don’t feel that I look partuicularly unlike this age. Which was why I was so surprised when I asked for bible reading notes that the ‘nice lady’ asked if it was OneUp I was looking for (think that’s for 11-14 yr olds…. or some similar age). Might have been flattering if I was going into a 21s and over club – but being mistaken for a 14 (max) yr old just demonstrated the out of touchness for me….

    Haven’t been back since.

    Just an amusing story really….

    Janice

  15. Oh dear. I wouldn’t blame it on them being Christian book shop workers though. I was flying with BA once, and one of the moronically grinning stewardesses went up to a friend of mine, put her hand on his arm and said ‘Oh sorry – didn’t you get one of our children’s comics then?’ We were both eighteen at the time. But that hasn’t stopped me going on aeroplanes :~)

    It is hard to tell though – last year someone who was 19-20ish and definitely not ‘out of touch’ told me he thought I must be 19 or so as I was talking about being at college. (I was 28 then.) And some of these undergraduates here now – a friend of mine called one of them “the mere boy”, cos when unless he hadn’t shaved, he looked about 14. He’d give you a Glasgow kiss if you said that to him though. It’s a funny old world…

  16. I was recently asked whether I was over 16 the other day to buy some Aspirin. The entire queue in SuperDrug laughed out loud (I’m 26 and look about 24 I guess) and the lady started on a rant about how she had to ask because it rots your brain or something if you’re under 16.

    I was so thrown by the question I hardly knew what to say. Fortunately she wasn’t looking for a convincing answer, or I would have been refused my painkillers!

  17. I have somewhat mixed feelings about Christian bookshops. Some of them are much better than others, and personally I like SPCK ones, where you get a very wide range of books from many traditions, as opposed to rather more Evangelical ones where you get a basically censored range of products – all the things stocked look like they’ve been vetted for “theological soundness”. I can’t help but feel that you wouldn’t get a controversial book like Dave Andrews’ “Christi-Anarchy” in a conventional church-run bookshop. The Greenbelt festival has ditched Wesley Owen as their bookshop operator and gone for SPCK for this reason.

    I’ve read many of the posts here, and I fully agree that most Christian bookshops stock a very limited range of products that are designed in many cases to be “safe” versions of secular ones. The music is often extremely bland and quite irritating, and has a vague victoriousness about it that doesn’t usually express my doubts and frustrations. There are lots of fishy badges and stuff, which can be quite nice, but I can’t help but wonder if they are there to make people think they are being hero evangelists for wearing them.

    I think it’s a real shame that most Christian bookshops are so scared to be more than the limited places they are. There is such a negative sub-culture about them that makes them convey an “all secular things are bad” message. I’m sure this is unintentional, but people should be more aware of it.

    Also, a huge number of Christian books are written from an almost entirely modernist perspective, and treat anything even remotely post-modern as horrifically evil. Whilst Christianity needs to defend truth, as it makes some exclusive claims about itself, we need some books that attempt to engage with a post-modern culture. In the past, people became convinced of the intellectual arguments and became Christians as a result, a la C.S. Lewis. Now, most people just say “Yeah, I’m convinced that Jesus rose again, but so what?”.

    Well, there you go. It’s not all bad, though – it just could be better. In my local Christian bookshop yesterday I saw two books – one the typical kneejerk-reaction anti-Harry Potter tirade (it will make all our children satanists!) alongside a much more sensibly-argued book that says Christians can read Harry Potter with a clear conscience. I suspect the latter book is probably much harder to find than the former in many Christian bookshops.

    Lee

  18. Just to say I agree with what you say about SPCK vs Wesley Owen. I mean, the local Wesley Owen’s alright (apart from some parts) but my local SPCK has icons in one part of its window display, and books that represent many different strands of Christian experience, which I find refreshing in a ‘wholesome’ kind of way. I’ve got several Orthodox friends (it was Orthodox Easter today BTW) and it’s been great to learn about how they relate to God.

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