David Fitch at “Reclaiming the Mission” has written a very thought provoking article called “The Caffeine Free Diet Coke: A Metaphor for Evangelicalism in our Day?” Borrowing a metaphor that author Slavoj Zizek used to describe capitalism, Fitch asks us to think about Caffeine Free Diet Coke:
Zizek narrates how coca-cola was originally concocted as a medicine (originally known as a nerve tonic, stimulant and headache remedy). It was eventually sweetened and its strange taste was made more palatable. Soon it became a popular drink during prohibition that still possessed those medicinal qualities (it was deemed â€œrefreshingâ€ as well as the perfect â€œtemperance drinkâ€). Over time, however, its sugar was replaced with sweetner, its caffeine extracted, and so today we are left with Caffeine-Free Diet Coke: a drink that does not fulfil any of the concrete needs of a drink. The two reasons why anyone would drink anything: it quenches thirst/provides nutrition and it tastes good, have in Zizekâ€™s words â€œbeen suspended.â€
Today, Coke has become a drink that does not quench thirst, does not provide any stimulant and whose strange taste is not particularly satisfying. Nonetheless, it is the most consumed beverage in the world. It plays on the mysterious enjoyment we get out of consuming it as something to enjoy in surplus after we have already quenched our thirst.Â We drink Coke because â€œCoke is â€œitâ€â€ not because it satisfies anything material. In essence, all that remains of what was once Coke is a pure semblance, an artificial promise of a substance which never materialized. In Zizekâ€™s words, we â€˜drink nothing in the guise of something â€¦â€ It is â€œin effect merely an envelope of a void.â€(22-23).
While Zizek compares caffeine free diet coke to capitalism, Fitch suggests that this can also be a metaphor for modern evangelicalism:
Just as our society drinks Coke as an â€œit,â€ as something that makes us feel good but has little substantial value as a drink, so we practice these beliefs as something we add on to our lives â€“ not as something we need to live. It is something we do as an extra to our already busy lives that makes us feel better. Evangelical church, as symbolized in many ways by the large consumer mega churches, has become an â€œadd-on,â€ â€œa semblanceâ€ of something which once meant something real. It is a surplus enjoyment we enjoy after we have secured all of our immediate needs.
Interestingly, a friend and I recently compared the modern church to a meal that consists only of desserts. We skip the meat, vegetables, and bread because we really like the dessert. Sometimes I wonder if we still know what the meat, vegetables, and bread are for the church…
(By the way, Fitch admits – and I agree – that this metaphor is a generalization and does not reflect the lives of all followers of Jesus Christ.)