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Why are there fakes? One reason is that when something is precious or valuable, and someone can’t afford it, a fake version might be just as useful. Think of the history of fake paintings, copies and replicas, counterfeit money, doppelgangers, scam artists, plagiarism, and false prophets.

But how do we know if something is “fake”? Here, for example, is a question I found on the Internet: “Have the Crown Jewels that are on display in the Tower of London ever been replaced by replicas to prevent theft?” The claim is “no,” because they are well-guarded and unsalable. When they are taken out of their display and used, a little placard is there in their place. It explains why the jewels are not there.

Nevertheless, numerous websites advertise fake items, and jewelry is prominent. Although there are laws against manufacturing branded products and selling fakes and counterfeits, it still happens. And it isn’t just jewelry. CBS reports that there are $2 trillion worth of counterfeit products sold each year. 

There are fake prophets, too. The KJV of Matthew 7:15 reads as follows: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” It is not much different in other versions: the NIV calls them “ferocious wolves” and the NLV calls them “hungry wolves.” The fake prophets are not nice people. 

David Chidester, once a professor of Comparative Religion at the University of Cape Town, has written books that deal with religious studies. One of them is called “Authentic Fakes: Religion and American Popular Culture,” in which he defines religion as “ways of being human person in a human place” and “the activity of being human in relation to superhuman transcendence and sacred inclusion” that contains “an inherent ambiguity.” The definition is dense, but his claim about religion is not. He sees it as “a point of entry into the meaning, power, and values at work in the production and consumption of authentic fakes in American culture.” 

Americans may also consider their bodies as vehicles of religion in popular culture by changing them in some way, with drugs, piercing, tattooing, extreme makeovers, transsexual dressing, and surgery. Using products, they try to portray themselves differently than they really are—they fake it. 

There is also a kind of “plastic religion,” with cheap and ephemeral items, such as records, crosses, tapes, CDs, and the computer. Even Tupperware has its own domestic sacred space represented by the Tupperware Party, comprising a social network and copied by Mary Kay Cosmetics, Shaklee, and others. Chidester sees these products as having ritual and display indicated in symbols, myths and rituals of religion. By means of these sometimes fake products there is cultural, inspirational, and religious mobilization.

Cultures have distinctive ways of processing their information through their worldviews, which enhance the likelihood that their products will be bought. McDonaldization, for example, is “the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more of sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world.” On the other hand, Disneyization captures “the importance of managing, engineering, and molding the human imagination. These, and other companies are instances of a global and faked religion, reflected largely in their symbolism. 

Chidester’s book includes a note on the general ambivalence toward American culture, “combining fascination with its popular culture and repulsion from its global politics.” Americans have on the one hand, visions of a manifest destiny, but on the other hand, all kinds of imagination of what America is really like. Regardless, fake religion “permeates American popular culture” and its influences are “diffused in uncontrollable, unpredictable ways through the media of popular culture.”

Fake religion is where cults fit in and shows why outlandish weird practitioners are given so much consideration. 

Does Chidester accurately report what fake religion in American popular culture is really like? If so, it may not bode well for the future of authentic Christianity in America.

Now, should I purchase some fake diamonds for my aunt, sister, or close friend? They would never know and might surely love me for them.

Karl Franklin


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