Tuesday, September 30, 2008 | By: Zachary Bartels

Christians and Copyright

I mentioned in my last post just how much I hate it when Christians try to redeem culture by stealing other people's intellectual property and “Christianizing” it. I was talking about the unlicensed use of Calvin's (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) likeness in Christian bumper stickers, etc. Yeah, yeah, that's not supposed to be him; just some other kid with the same spiky hair and striped shirt. News flash: drawing it badly doesn't make it okay.

I don't often agree with Rob Bell (actually, to steal Ted Kluck's intellectual property, I suppose I often agree with Old Orthodox Rob Bell, but not New PoMo Rob Bell), but I vigorously concur with his contention that “Christian is a great noun, but a horrible adjective.” If you think that redeeming culture means to take a T-Shirt and turn it into a “Christian T-shirt” (or, for that matter, turn a toaster into a “Christian toaster”), then you might want to read a good book about the Metanarrative.

But lazy product design (that could arguably be called parody) is among the least of offenses when it comes to Christians violating copyright law for the Kingdom. Ever heard of www.biblecentre.net? You'll notice that the preceding URL is not a hyperlink, because I don't advise anyone to go there. It's a cheesy, “look-Mom-I-can-use-notepad” HTML job full of great resources: commentaries, Bible encyclopedias, systematic theologies, church histories, etc.—all of them full text, available for free, and 100% stolen.

Yep, the guy who runs the thing just scans books in, runs a little OCR software, and posts them on the web. Some of the books he hosts are published by major Christian houses (Baker, Zondervan, IVP, etc.) and some are self-published by authors and lecturers. What they all have in common, however, is that they were written and published by people for whom the sale of books is (at least partially) what puts food on their tables and clothes on their children’s backs.

I've e-mailed this...er...gentleman several times, trying to talk some sense into him. Like the scribe in Luke 10, he's very good at justifying himself. “Pastors in Third World countries can't afford expensive books,” he reasons, so he's just doing the Lord's work by making these works available to those down-trodden brothers. I have to wonder how he'd deal with the same argument if I cleaned out his cupboards and sent the food to hungry people in Afghanistan. And while I'm at it, I may as well take money from his savings account to buy medicine for orphans in Africa. He'd probably object that he can decide for himself how much of his own money he wants to donate to such causes. But why shouldn't authors and publishers be allowed to make the same choice?

The webmaster at biblecentre.net (not to be confused with www.biblecentre.org, a legitimate site), who goes by several names and who has been moving from off-shore server to off-shore server in an effort to avoid the long arm of the law, has also declared it “wrong” for authors to accept money for a book about God's Word. Really? It's wrong? And yet, for at least three years, he has been accepting donations to keep his illegal website afloat.

The strange thing about this brand of “Christian crime” is how self-deluded and self-righteous its perpetrators are. When I used to work for the Corporate Office of Family Christian Stores, an irate customer called in to our guest relations line, demanding to speak to our president. He was so irate (and Dave Brown, our president, was so down to earth), that he eventually did find himself on the phone with the head of our company.

This customer was seething about a new policy we had implemented and he wanted answers. His complaint: because of the wide popularity and availability of MP3 and CD duplication technology, our stores no longer accepted returns of opened CDs. This guy passionately explained that, for several months, he had been regularly buying CDs from a local FCS store, burning copies, returning the originals for a refund, and sending the copies to missionaries overseas. I understand that Mr. Brown tried for half an hour to reason with the guy, but could not. This crusader saw no problem in essentially stealing an album full of music while accusing our company of shameful and corrupt practices for not playing a willing accomplice to his caper. Here's a crazy idea, guy: if you want to send some Christian music to missionaries, buy some music and send it to missionaries!

But these are “victimless crime,” right? Christian crimes. In his book Loving God (which may or may not be available to read on www.biblecentre.net), Chuck Colson tells the story of Mickey Cohen, a Chicago gangster who committed his life to Christ at a Billy Graham crusade. People everywhere were anxious to see how he would change now that he was a disciple of Jesus. Cohen, however, continued living the same life of organized crime, parties, booze, and violence that he'd always led. When some Christians confronted him about this disconnect, he told them that he had no intention of giving up the gangster life. After all, there were Christian athletes, Christian actors, Christian musicians. Why couldn't he be a Christian gangster?

If “Christian” is an adjective, I suppose “Christian gangster” and “Christian crime” make sense. In that case, I suppose the webmaster of www.biblecentre.net is a “Christian data pirate.” But if a Christian is a sinner who's been justified by grace through faith and is being sanctified by grace through faith working itself out in love, then maybe there are some things that shouldn't—and can't—be “Christianized.”

4 reader comments:

David Marvin said...

How about Onward Christian Soldiers?

ZSB said...

How about "Christ-centered napkin rings?"

Have I told you about those?

JB said...

Speaking of Rob Bell, have you read about his new book? Grrr. The new FCS flyer describes it as including such issues as some Christians driving Hummers while other Christians are starving. Yeah. And others are charging 13 DOLLARS for 10 minute NOOMA videos. What a joke.

David Marvin said...

Christ-centered napkin rings? Do they let the napkin just lay there all flat like Jesus' burial garments after he arose? Or do they leave a Shroud of Turin-like image on your napkin? Please tell me more.

I find it interesting some popular attractions will offer special days for churches and then turn around and offer the same for groups that might have a less than favorable view of Christians. But as long as it is the Christian day at the amusement park it must be okay.