First world problems…

For those who haven’t noticed the phenomenon, there’s an internet meme about “First world problems.” These are problems that aren’t really problems, or at least, they are things that only become problems when you don’t have issues of real gravity to concern yourself with. Here are a few examples:

  • Lack of clean drinking water = a real problem
  • Lack of your favorite bottled or flavored variety = first world problem

Make sense? Here’s another:

  • Lacking access to life saving medical care = a real problem 
  • Lacking access to, or resources for, butt-cheek augmentation = first world problem

Here’s one more:

  • Being oppressed/jailed/tortured or killed because of your faith (such as Christians in various parts of the world) = a real problem
  • Google choosing to run a “doodle” about Cesar Chavez rather than one about Easter = definite first world problem

Here’s the offending image:

google_chavez

I like it artistically, as it’s one of the more serious doodles they’ve done.

Out of curiosity, I looked back at the doodle archive, and the only example of an Easter doodle I found was from 2000, and it looked like this:

easter_logo

Notice the prominence of bad pastels and fertility symbol-ish eggs? Nary a cross or empty tomb to be seen. And guess what: who cares? Christians certainly shouldn’t. Google is not a Christian organization, it is a public business. Certainly there are Christians who work at Google.  Larry Page and Sergey Brin both have a Jewish background. I don’t know how active they are religiously, but that doesn’t matter: Google is made up of a lot of people and serves a lot of people with diverse views, why the heck should they start promoting a particular faith? And more than that, what makes American Christians in particular take offense that this year’s doodle wasn’t related to Easter? As though a doodle would be a great religious statement.

I’ll tell you what I think, I think it’s related to what Walter Percy writes about in his novel The Moviegoer as “certification.” Here’s what he says about it:

“She refers to a phenomenon of moviegoing which I have called certification. Nowadays when a person lives somewhere, in a neighborhood, the place is not certified for him. More than likely he will live there sadly and the emptiness which is inside him will expand until it evacuates the entire neighborhood. But if he sees a movie which shows his very neighborhood, it becomes possible for him to live, for a time at least, as a person who is Somewhere and not Anywhere.”1

I think what Christians are looking for when they get up in arms about crap like this is simply this: they still want the culture to do the heavy lifting for their personal faith. Not only that, but for many, the dulcet tones of a faith-affirming culture–even if that faith is incredibly superficial, as it usually is–can keep the boogeyman of doubt at bay. But I have news for those of you who maintain belief: it’s up to you, not to society, and that’s a very good thing.

Besides, Google has done a lot more to help Christians (and everyone else) through their digitization projects. For example:

And while Google can’t take credit for other projects, such as the digitization taking place at St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai or at the Vatican’s Apostolic Library, its efforts have certainly advanced the cause of making knowledge more available, including a large number of texts that are relevant to Christianity and western cultural heritage more broadly.

So, all this is to say, folks getting bent our of shape about Cesar Chavez (a Christian by the way) being honored instead of bunnies, eggs or Jesus: suck it up, gird your loins, and move on.

 


  1. check it out for yourself []
  • http://frjody.com Jody+
  • Morgan Guyton

    What all the culture warriors missed is that sharing Cesar Chavez’s bio is a lot better evangelism than whining about the end of Christendom’s cultural dominance.

    • http://frjody.com Jody+

      Very true. Thanks for putting your thoughts on this in a post, I enjoyed it.

  • http://in-fraction.blogspot.com Thom

    Great post! I was just reading a 2005 interview with Diana Butler Bass. Her comment on “Protestant” caught my eye. She said,

    “Once upon a time in America you could assume that people were Christians and not only Christians but you could assume they were Protestant Christians. Almost all the recent studies show that the name “Protestant” doesn’t mean nearly what it used to in previous generations. Fewer people are identifying themselves as Protestants, and that whole cultural package that went along with being Protestant — praying in certain kinds of ways, scripture reading, going to church weekly — that’s all become something of the past. It’s no longer part of the fabric of what people just grow up with any longer in the United States. So there’s been a real shift away from a distinctly Protestant culture, and even in more recent years away from a distinctly Christian context in the United States as we become much more pluralistic. There’s also an increase of people who don’t identify at all with any religious tradition. And so there are people who belong to a lot of different religions and many more people who claim no religious allegiance whatsoever.

    “Today people are growing up in that kind of setting. There’s no kind of expectation we can have anymore that people speak a particular religious language. For Protestants that’s been a big change, because Protestants used to assume that the culture would simply carry Protestant faith to new generations. It doesn’t do that anymore.”

    • http://frjody.com Jody+

      Thom,

      I don’t always agree with Bass, but in this instance I believe she is spot on. The close identification of Protestant church and culture meant that churches stopped seeing it as their task to pass on the faith. The Oldline protestant denominations in fact, became very bad at explaining to folks exactly why Jesus matters. Conservative Evangelicals have tried to fill that cultural void, but they don’t have the tradition or a voice that resonates with a society that, even still, maintains echos of the magisterial reformation traditions in some basic social and ethical assumptions–just divorced from the faith.

      Ironically, churches have, I think, responded in exactly the wrong way… rather than admit that it is not the broader culture’s responsibility to pass on our faith (and rise to the challenge of becoming culture makers ourselves, and contributing to the best in the arts, sciences etc…) we have instead too often focused on creating a parallel culture, attempting to do things (poorly) that the culture does well. How many congregations have felt that building a gym is the answer to their woes? How many have done so in the same town, rather than partnering to build a community center? How many have ignored the existence of very focussed and efficient parachurch organizations like the YMCA? Of have built their own coffee shops rather than encourage their folks to go to locally owned shops and be active there and in other parts of the community *as Christians*.

    • http://frjody.com Jody Howard

      Thom,

      I don’t always agree with Bass, but in this instance I believe she is spot on. The close identification of Protestant church and culture meant that churches stopped seeing it as their task to pass on the faith. The Oldline protestant denominations in fact, became very bad at explaining to folks exactly why Jesus matters. Conservative Evangelicals have tried to fill that cultural void, but they don’t have the tradition or a voice that resonates with a society that, even still, maintains echos of the magisterial reformation traditions in some basic social and ethical assumptions–just divorced from the faith.

      Ironically, churches have, I think, responded in exactly the wrong way… rather than admit that it is not the broader culture’s responsibility to pass on our faith (and rise to the challenge of becoming culture makers ourselves, and contributing to the best in the arts, sciences etc…) we have instead too often focused on creating a parallel culture, attempting to do things (poorly) that the culture does well. How many congregations have felt that building a gym is the answer to their woes? How many have done so in the same town, rather than partnering to build a community center? How many have ignored the existence of very focussed and efficient parachurch organizations like the YMCA? Of have built their own coffee shops rather than encourage their folks to go to locally owned shops and be active there and in other parts of the community *as Christians*.