During a recent missions trip that included some time in Turkey, we stopped to see the ruins of a castle in a little town somewhere near ancient Ephesus. I haven’t the foggiest notion what the name of the castle was—which could cost me thousands if I ever end up on Jeopardy and there was a question about it. It was only a brief stop, but I wanted to get all there was to get from this experience, so I endeavored to maintain a look of sober and thoughtful reflection as I dutifully toured what was left of the castle. I employed both eyes, and gazed at the stones and rubble and stuff from as many angles as opportunity afforded, figuring that coming this far and looking at something that old was bound to elicit some kind of profound life-altering awareness. I got nothing. There was more life-altering awareness last week at my high school reunion when I discovered that my eighth grade math teacher was still alive—and she wasn’t nearly as old as that stuff I was looking at in Turkey.
Anyhow, walking away from the castle, I was doing my best to appear geographically sophisticated and historically gratified. I strolled along with some of the members of our team, working on managing my demeanor, and feeling confident that I looked about as sensitive to the various indications of cultural evolution surrounding us as any of them did. Our path back to the bus led us through a small bizarre with numerous little shops lining both sides of a fairly wide walkway. I looked up from a side conversation and stopped dead in my tracks. There it was right in front of me—finally, an impressive and enlightening cultural impression with unforgettable clout. It was a sign nailed up on a tree in the walkway between the little shops. It was written in English because people like us from the predominantly English-speaking world tend to show up there, and because for people like us, foreign languages are, well… foreign. I stopped in my tracks and grabbed my phone, which is almost never my first inclination, since I’m not 14, but this time, it was almost automatic. “I’ve got to have a picture of that,” I mumbled, and proceeded to preserve the moment.
The sign, as you can see to your right, simply said, ‘Genuine Fake Watches’. I read the three words repeatedly to assure myself that I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. “Is this a grand example of full disclosure, or what?” I thought. They were not only telling us their stuff was phony, but subtly warning us that even their phony stuff had knockoffs! What a blessing. They were trying to save us the embarrassment of ending up with a fake that was less than genuine. Well, they clearly owned the moral high-ground here. It was a sobering moment, though. What’s the world coming to when there are frauds out there who can’t be trusted to be honest about the true extent of their lack of quality? Thank God for frauds that announce to the world that their fakes are “genuine”.
The desire for cheap imitations is widespread, and the proliferation of fakes is big business. Forbes Magazine reported on their website recently that somewhere between 15-30% of internet searches for watches are conducted by people looking for replicas. They aren’t interested in the real thing at all. They want a fake—a knockoff—something that looks like the real thing, but one that they can get a whole lot cheaper. I wish that were only true in the realm of commerce and industry. The compelling attraction of easily attained imitations of valuable commodities is not new, and there’s something disturbing at the core of it.
The truth is that most valuable things are not desired for their workmanship or other unique characteristics alone. They are as desired—perhaps more desired—for their value as a commodity in the marketplace of envy as for any other quality. People do not pay over $100,000 for a car simply because it’s built better than other cars, or because it’s faster than other cars. The built-in feature that isn’t measured in mechanical terms is their power to elicit envy in those who can’t afford them. People don’t usually buy lavishly expensive items with the underlying expectation that others are going to rejoice with them over their good fortune. The fallen heart of man does not gravitate in that direction.
Consciously or unconsciously, a strong desire for valuable but expensive possessions plays out in our subconscious something like this. The farther out of reach my status can appear to the greatest number of people, the more powerful I can feel, and the better I can imagine myself to be in comparison to them—not to mention the more accepted I can feel among those whose possessions I also envy. We don’t articulate those things verbally, but they are there. Envy is toxic, and it is contagious. It produces no goodwill on either side of the equation, and the possessions used to create it never grant lasting satisfaction. Envy is malignant, intolerant of fulfillment, and a flourishing seedbed for hypocrisy. In spite of that—perhaps because of that—in the commercial marketplace, envy works. The desires it engenders are powerful and effective in getting people to want things, and to buy things. Seeing someone else with something we want but can’t afford can arouse a desire to somehow lay hold of what having those possessions represents, and to reproduce our own envy in the eyes of others. Bring on the cheap imitation. Enter the Rolex hypocrite.
There’s a ‘so what’ point here, and it is this. The most dangerous of worthless replicas aren’t sold by street vendors or in the bizarre. Jesus warned about spiritual knockoffs—cheap imitations of God’s real things. Eight times in one chapter of Matthew Jesus called religious leaders of His day ‘hypocrites’ (Matt. 23). He said, basically, that they were showing off on the outside like they were some of God’s best workmanship, but inside they were only cheap imitations. Jesus was offering something real, and of inestimable value, but the price was very high. It required the surrender of everything, a total change of mind and heart, and giving up their sins. They looked at the cost and went for a cheap imitation instead, which served their selfish purpose for a while—until the day arrived, as it will for every one of us, when God strips away every pretense and only the real thing is acceptable. In that moment, even a ‘genuine’ fake won’t do.
One closing thought—looking at the moral cesspool that our nation has become in the shadow of tens of thousands of churches makes me wonder, should we put up some huge signs advertising, ‘Genuine Fake Christianity’? What we’re producing might look and sound good on the surface, but we’d better check out the workmanship inside, because it’s obvious that it isn’t performing up to the Originator’s design.
© 2014 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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