VANCOUVER, British Columbia--The Stackhouse boys live in a homeperched on a hill with a view of the flashing arcades and screamingrides of Playland Amusement Park. But Trevor, 14, Joshua, 11, andDevon, 6, have decided they're not going to buy tickets this year to theVancouver thrill center, one of the largest in Canada.
They're offended by Playland's "Second Coming" marketing theme,which is trying to entice young customers by toying with symbolsreflecting beliefs held dear by many Christians.
Two Playland rides this year are called The Hellevator andRevelation, which is the name of the last book of the New Testament, forexample.
A "Second Coming" TV ad campaign features a turnstile clickingsinisterly to "666," which is a symbol in some Christian circles forboth Satanic evil and an early Roman emperor who slaughtered Christians.
"We were looking forward to our annual trip to Playland," said JohnStackhouse, a noted professor of theology and culture at Regent Collegeon the University of British Columbia campus.
"But one evening, as we ate supper on our deck that overlooksPlayland, the boys spoke up and said, `We saw some more of thosePlayland ads.' Devon said, `I'm not going to Playland because Playlandis making fun of God.'
"Even at their age, they know exploitation when they see it. Theyknow the sacred is being profaned. They know the ads are supposed to benifty and clever, but they also know it's a trivialization of theBible."
Although some will suggest the Stackhouse family lighten up, JohnStackhouse suggests its decision to bypass Playland constitutes arelatively mild reaction to religious offense in this day and age.
After all, Iran's Muslim ayatollahs issued a death sentence againstauthor Salman Rushdie when they felt he satirized the prophet Mohammedin "The Satanic Verses."
A lot of Canadians, and even many Christians, will think theStackhouse family's evangelical theology and the apocalyptic book ofRevelation are odd, even laughable. But it is hard to overlook that thefamily belongs to a significant minority.
A survey by Angus Reid, one of the country's largest pollingcompanies, shows 30 percent of Canadians believe Jesus will return tousher in God's kingdom in "the Second Coming." Fifty percent believe inhell and 41 percent agree "Satan the devil is active in the worldtoday."
Can you imagine the outcry, Stackhouse wonders, if Playland had funwith other religions? What if it named a chaotic roller coaster"Mohammed's Mania"? Or if some marketing wiz showed real attitude bycalling a frightening site "The Holocaust Horror"?
The outrage would be heard across the continent.
Most Canadians believe they stand for tolerance. But someevangelical Christians believe that translates into a double standardwhen it comes to them. It did last year, they said, when federalgovernment officials ordered Christian clergy memorializing the victimsof Nova Scotia's Swissair crash to avoid mentioning Jesus and the NewTestament, while Jewish and Muslim clergy were left free to nameMohammed and the Torah.
"Christianity is paying the price for having been a hegemony," saidStackhouse, author of "Canadian Evangelicalism in the 20th Century" and"Can God Be Trusted?" Many Canadians, he said, "think they can beat upon Christianity because it used to be a majority--even though it's nowa minority."
The marketing manager for Playland, Deb Marko, says she's receivedabout half a dozen complaints about the "Second Coming" ads. Shedefended what she called the "edgy" campaign created by Vancouver'sRethink advertising company, arguing that it's based on the horror moviegenre, and as such its symbols are part of popular culture.
Stackhouse readily acknowledges Christianity has deeply influencedWestern society. But he argues that "666," "Revelation," "The SecondComing" and even hell are not public domain. They carry marketing oomphbecause they originated in Christianity and still have meaning tohundreds of millions of people.
Stackhouse said he also thinks horror movies approach Christianity alot more seriously than Playland, pointing to the apocalyptic "End ofDays," in which Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a tough cop who realizes hecan overcome Satan only through self-sacrifice. Similarly, Francis FordCoppola's "Dracula" hinges on the hero obtaining redemption at the footof the Christian cross.
Two Canadian Jewish scholars agree the public has to be consistentif it truly believes in respecting different religions.
The Playland ads sensationalize and trivialize Christianity, saidUBC Jewish history professor Richard Menkis and Michael Brown, directorof York University's Centre for Jewish Studies. "At best it's tasteless,at worst it's unacceptable," Brown said.
While the Jewish thinkers believe in allowing room to discuss andcriticize religions, they also think it's appropriate for Christians toboycott Playland for cheapening beliefs they hold sacred.
They suggest this response is an option that could be applied toother TV advertisers, including computer companies, chocolate candy barmakers and toilet manufacturers who have recently made light ofChristian, as well as Buddhist, symbols to sell their products.
While Stackhouse said he doesn't want to see Christians or any othergroup stifle honest debate or lose their sense of fun, he wonders howcrass a message has to be before Christians will make an organizationsweat for its insensitivity.
"I'd challenge Christians and ask them, `If you're not offended bythis, how sacrilegious and profane does it have to be before you'rewilling to boycott a pleasure (like Playland) to make your point?' "