Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The Worst Advertisement

This is not an uncommon statement, sadly:
“As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents.”
— George Orwell
I don’t know if expressing it in this form originated with Orwell, but the sentiment has, I’m sure, been around as long as there have been Christians. Why? Because there are always among us the immature, the untaught, the uncommitted, and those whose professions of faith are false for one reason or another. There will be until the Lord returns.

Small consolation that those who express the sentiment compare it to the insincerity, incompetence or general undesirability they observe in the adherents of other philosophies.

Justin Lee at HuffingtonPost.com, in an article entitled When Christians Are Christianity’s Worst Enemy tells the story of an experience he had working as a waiter. One of the servers warned him about the “church crowd” on Sundays:
“What’s wrong with the church crowd?” I asked.
“Oh, honey,” she said. “They’re usually the most demanding, and they’re always the worst tippers. I guarantee you, if you see your table praying before the meal, you can mentally subtract a third from your tip.”
I would dismiss Lee’s complaint about Christians if it were not expressed so reasonably, and if I had not observed it to be a much more common tendency than I, as a fellow believer, would like to see. Lee adds this plea:
“But if there’s nothing I can say to convince you to tip well, then at least do me this one favor: Don’t go out to eat after church, don’t pray before your meal, and don’t sign your receipt with the word “pastor.” In short, don’t let people know you’re a Christian.”
You know, I have to agree with him.

I tip 15% no matter what, 20% if the service is decent, and I always tip higher at places I regularly frequent. I don’t do it because I’m a wonderful guy. I don’t do it out of sympathy. I also don’t do it because I think the good treatment I consequently receive and the friendly chatter that results from being pleasant to wait on means anything significant: when dealing with service industry employees, nobody should delude themselves they’re in the process of becoming ‘best buds’ with a person who’s just there making his or her living. Their paycheques depend on making us happy, after all.

I definitely don’t do it because the tip system is reasonable or because all employees deserve it. Many don’t.

I do it because I hope one day the Lord will give me an opportunity to share my faith with one of the folks I’m dealing with and that, if and when that opportunity arises, I would like there to be nothing in my behavior over the years that would give them reason to dismiss what I have to say.

Also, when I make the effort to be friendly and courteous with people as a matter of course, I find there’s almost nobody I don’t end up liking, at least to some degree, because I always see the best side of them.

Still, I know some Christians that wouldn’t view that sort of investment as worthwhile. They consider that as the paying customer, they sit as judge of whether the service they receive is adequate and tip accordingly. That is certainly one way of looking at it.

I’m never completely sure how to apply the Lord’s words about giving to “everyone who begs from you”, and not demanding back your goods from the one who “takes them away”. Other than Canada Revenue, I can’t say I’ve had too many people trying to take away my goods since the grade school playground.

But I do know that if it’s “Christian” to put up with abuse from, and to express love to, our enemies (and I can’t see how else to read the Lord’s words on the subject), then how much more is it a “Christian” thing to treat decently those with whom we come in contact daily, and who often anticipate no more from us than what they get from the unsaved guy two seats over.

I’d rather be a pleasant surprise than a reminder of George Orwell’s line.


  1. Hmm, not sure this topic is worth getting worked up about. First, there should be more substantial data then just hearsay when classifying tipping behavior. Second, tipping behavior should be expected to be nonuniform for a variety of (good or not so good) reasons. My daughter, who waitressed at Red Lobster for a number of years, had definite opinions about that as well, which seemed to correlate more with the socioeconomic ability of patrons to tip and perhaps their general mood and behavior at dinner (there even was this class of habitually cantankerous patron who was angling for a free desert by complaining). There was also nationality, e.g., the supposed fact that Canadians were poor tippers, because, as she had heard, one doesn't tip in Canada (don't know if that's the case). So, nationality and different customs might play a role as well. To blame it on Christians therefore is dubious and sounds more like a personal bias on part of that waitress.

    Really, we are all called to think a little bit more clearly and not jump to unjustified conclusions, even if it makes for a few entertaining paragraphs. In other words, don't correlate tipping behavior to religious sincerity and effort, there are better indicators than that.

  2. One does indeed tip in Canada. 15% is normal though, as you say, customs differ. I'm not sure I could demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that inadequate tips are a huge problem or that Christians are primarily to blame for it, but I did want to make the point that as believers we ought to (at bare minimum) be as generous as those around us who are not saved.

    Thanks for your comment.

  3. Your point's well taken, Qman, when you say that we ought to have data before tending toward a conclusion. Well said.

    While I agree that there can be plenty of false assumptions about why person X or Y is not tipping, I suggest that the issue doesn't stop there. Anytime one declares oneself publicly to be a Christian, a higher standard of personal conduct applies; and if there's any time at which one is NOT declaring oneself to be a Christian (assuming one is), then the standard still applies.

    We ought to be giving no cause for offence, I think. And cheaping out is definitely a reason for people to doubt our claim to be seeking first the Kingdom of God.

    1. Hi IC, nice to see that you are indeed hanging out here.

      I of course got the point by Tom and you that tipping behavior is used as a vehicle to make a statement about Christian, or just decent human, conduct. From both of your appends I can see that you both have a bit of an analytical bend similar to myself (my wife in addition thinks that in my case a bit of OCD goes a long way). In any case, I do not want to overanalyze things and just want to mention a couple of things.

      In my opinion tipping traditionally was (is) simply used by businesses to shift part of the cost of running their business to the customer by counting on the customer's sympathy for the waiter. This may actually not be a very ethical strategy. One of the supposed benefits and justifications is that it will make (compel) the waitressing staff to be more responsive to the customer's needs. That the latter argument is merely a pretense can now be seen in the fact that many businesses (at least here in the New York Hudson Valley) are now shifting to including the tip directly on the check (now at 18%) so that waiter service and behavior is not influenced by tipping. (I would like to point out that we do in spite of this shift always encounter excellent and dedicated waiting staff). Of course businesses who implement that strategy will keep their waitressing staff happy and attract better staff while they incur a greater risk of being less competitive pricewise. This new paradigm of course also takes the Christian argument with regard to tipping off the table.

    2. Yes, indeed, Qman...I am here, not just at philosophy sites. Great to find you here.

      Now, back to the question in hand: I agree. If it became general practice to have a set tip, that paradigm might well make the issue unimportant. But so long as tipping remains the norm, I'm going to stick by the view that failing to tip appropriately looks bad. And personally, I'm happy to reward good service, since I see doing your work cheerfully and well as a Christian principle as well as an admirable human attitude.

      If we are concerned to "do what is right in the eyes of all men" (Rm. 12:17), and if our struggle is between having a testimony for Christ and keeping our money in our pockets, then we surely opt for the former, right?

      After all... you can't take it with you. As they say, "There is never a trailer behind a hearse." But testimony, well, you can take that to Glory.

      As for things like tipping connecting to a larger principle, I have in mind to write something about that larger principle shortly. Maybe that will open up the question beyond the apparently trivial.