Wednesday, 18 August 2010

RELIGION: the last taboo?

I've been reminded recently of an old saying that in polite company you should never discuss sex, politics or religion. The reasoning, I think, is that those subjects are so close to everyone's hearts that they will inevitably lead to disagreement.

I chose some "cheeky" buttons to illustrate my points - a small selection from portablegraffiti's 1650 available buttons. As some people have commented on the buttons, rather than my argument (which was not at all what I expected!) I've removed the pictures.

There was quite a furore recently on Etsy when "mature" (aka sexy) treasuries took over the new Treasury East for a while. Etsy decided that members should have to "opt in" to view mature treasuries, but that the default would be to filter them out.

Inevitably the discussions continue. Sellers of mature items argue, rightly, that they pay their fees and have a right to be seen. Others worry that because the Mature Treasuries were so prominent, it gave a misleading impression to buyers that Etsy is a site specifically for Mature items, which of course it isn't. Buyers wishing to purchase mature items can still find them, while people likely to be offended are protected.

Profane language is considered part of the "Mature" category. Arguments can get quite heated, especially between mothers who want to protect their children's innocence and sellers who state (accurately) that the site is for over 18s. I know there are buyers who love such items as *naughty* embroidered signs - but I doubt any of us think it would be sound marketing to be peppering our forum posts with colourful words.

Politics? Well, it was very clear during the American election that politics, while maybe not a "polite" subject for conversation, was certainly a big seller!

Sadly I didn't sell a huge number of party political meerkats during our UK election, but you'll note I listed each of the three parties. I didn't risk alienating a large section of my public by only meerkatting my own preferred candidate - neither would I expect to make many new friends on the forums by proclaiming my political views.

What about religion? Clearly there is a market for items with a religious theme, I wouldn't dispute that - indeed, my Meerkat Nativity was a best seller for me last Christmas.

Before offering it for sale I discussed the potential for offence with my Etsy team, I have no wish to offend anyone. I was happily reassured when I sold a set to an American pastor who planned to add it to the church collection!

That is not the same, in my opinion, as airing these subjects in public places such as social networks and forums.

I have been surprised recently to see online sellers proclaiming their personal religious beliefs in an online selling forum, asserting that God will make their business flourish. Just as some believers are potentially offended by items such as my Christmas Meerkats, so (I believe) are some people offended by believers who proclaim their faith.

I would very much like to hear what *you* think. I understand that faith is central to some people's lives, but if they talk about it in a venue where we're hoping to attract buyers, might some buyers be put off just as surely as if other "taboo" subjects were being aired?

What is your opinion? Are there any taboos left, or does anything go?

***EDITED***Sorry to have confused a few people - I'm not asking for opinions on the badges, I used them with permission to illustrate my points.


joy said...

I really wish that religious people would keep their beliefs to themselves, after all that is what they are, personal beliefs. I dont publicly declare my on non-belief or insist that I am right. I am most certainly put off by anyone who uses reference to god as a selling tool. I know religion is important to some people, my own mum included, but its not for me, and I hate to be preached at by anyone.
thanks for the opportunity to air my views nifty.

Heather Leavers said...

Thank you for your honesty, I appreciate you getting the ball rolling.

Kitschy Coo said...

Religion seems to be a regular feature in the crafty bloggy world and it puts me right off. It just seems... I don't know... condescending? I totally agree with jms, I don't proselytize about being agnostic and don't like it when others do about having faith. And honestly, I don't think I would buy anything from someone who uses God as a selling tool.

joy said...

yes, its me again. I wanted to vote for all of your taboo subjects, but the poll would only let me vote for one, so I chose "other", and made a comment that I was voting for all.

Heather Leavers said...

ooops sorry - meant to set up the poll to allow multiple votes. Never mind, glad you got your intention across!

Nicole's Homemade Treats...The Blog said...

Great post!

I could go on and on and on! Suffice it to say that I believe anyone can have ANY view, practice any religion, vote for any candidate they want, etc.... However, don't preach to me, rub my nose in it, so and so forth. It is the fastest way to get on my nerves and make me play devil's advocate you do so.

But, that is just my opinion!

Heather Leavers said...

Thanks Nicole - we'll continue to defend your right to hold that opinion!

KitschyCoO - thank you! I think that others may well agree with you. In the current economic climate we really don't want to be putting our buyers off.

sassypackrat said...

I believe that personal beliefs are just that, personal. They do not need to be shared with the world or shoved down someone's throat. Also personal beliefs really have no place in business. You are dealing with people of many faiths and beliefs and the goal is to sell and get repeat customers. You don't have to be forced listen to someone's personal relationship with Jesus to buy a hamburger or shop for groceries so you shouldn't have to do that to shop on etsy! I avoid overtly religious people on etsy like the plague! Don't get me wrong there is nothing wrong with having Faith in your life just please don't use it to sell things, that's not what Faith is for!

I adore your Nativity Meerkats and here in the US novelty nativities are quite popular so I doubt many would be offended.

Heather Leavers said...

Sassy - thank you for expressing your views. I should perhaps add it hasn't been specifically on Etsy that I have noticed this, other online selling venues also have people of faith who share more than I personally feel is appropriate.

Dottie said...

Personally in a forum environment I would always sit on the fence, not comment on religious or political areas, as it's just not the environment to air your views.
I wouldn't want to in anyway alienate people who disagree with my opinions who might not buy from me because they disagree!
Money talk too - personal stuff :)

Unknown said...

I'm not easy to offend. It's people preaching that bugs me, whether it be religion or smoking, keep your opinions to yourself or at the very least discuss in an open, friendly and adult way, accepting that my opinion is as valid as yours.
Adult themes? No problem at all. You have to be over 18 to buy or sell, so "family ow" really doesn't enter into it.
However, I don't believe that any subject that is not related in some way to the website is wholly appropriate. There are other, specific forums, where you can discuss pregnancy and bereavement.
I'd like selling forums to be a place for discussion and support group for selling.
Does exactly what it says on the tin.
As with everything else, if you don't like it, don't read it.

Heather Leavers said...

Thanks Dottie and Davey.
Seems like we're all of one mind so far.

Unknown said...

I think if people want to preach, or be offensive then they have the right if it is a public forum as long as they are not rude to other people - I will tend to avoid those conversations though, and if it is on a selling platform such as etsy or folksy then those people are probably doing themselves some harm reputation wise.

personally I'm from a strict religious family and I go out of my way to avoid all religion now.

forums are a tough place anyway without being controvertial, it is so easy to be misunderstood as we all use language very differently. one meaningless word to me could be really offensive to someone else so I am VERY careful with what I write.

Michael Boyd said...

Maybe people who get offended by sex or politics shouldn't be on the internet and instead spend some time growing up.

On the other hand, religious people should be quiet. Religion is falling in the developed world (just look at the last census results in the US, UK, Australia, etc). In 50 years hopefully we will live in an atheist world where people believe science over 2000 year old books with no evidence supporting their content.

If you were offended by this post, re-read paragraph 1.

Heather Leavers said...

Michael - thank you for your views.

Lenny said...

This has intrigued me. We were chatting in the pub last night about making money from things that people would see as inappropriate, sort of slots in nicely here! We were talking about this new sub-genre found in Waterstones or whatnot, about horrific abuse stories. We agreed that it was weird to make money out of something like that, but then, you can't stop people making money using whatever means they can. You can choose though, to look/read/purchase it.

I don't have much forum experience, but I don't tend to buy things based on what the seller is saying or why.

I buy the items because I want them/need them/the person I want to give it to would love it. I've had a lot of people say stuff like, "God bless, thanks for your business", and I appreciate the kindness, however, I'm not a religious person. I don't tell them that, or let it bother me.

It hasn't stopped me wanting to purchase from someone either.

If I want to purchase something, I will, if I want to search for whatever thing it is, 'taboo' or not, I will, and I think that people having opportunities to express themselves in whatever way/shape/form is nothing but a positive thing. If people tried to stop that, where would it end?

I agree that the internet has to be safe for everyone that uses it, and safeguards would inevitably have to be implemented to make sure that this happens, as in, having a keyword in a listing or whatever, to prevent the wrong people from seeing something accidentally. I don't think anyone should be penalised for whatever it is that they sell.

As long as it's legal, then why not?

Argh, I ain't half rambling, i'm just going to quit while I'm ahead, and stop making half-baked comments. :)

Heather Leavers said...

rambling is good, Eileen :-)

Portable Graffiti said...

Thanks Heather for using some of my buttons-badges from Portable Graffiti to illustrate your blog post.

Sorry I missed the comments about the buttons I make.

I've been making buttons since 1979 and one thing I learned very quickly is that to succeed in the button business, I must have "something for everyone." That is necessary when selling an item that is only $1.50.

To achieve that I have buttons that some people love and some people hate. But those who find buttons in my shop that they hate or disagree with, I can guarantee that I have more buttons that they would love.

The bingo buttons that mention sex might be offending to some folks. However those sell the best to seniors who play bingo at the Catholic Church. Yes, religious Catholics and Christians buy those buttons. They see the humor in it.

At any rate there is something for everyone at Portable Graffiti and if I don't have it, I'll make it for you. ANYTHING at all. After making buttons at the fairs all those years, I've heard it all. So don't be shy. Send in your request and I'll be happy to put your personal views on a button for you.

Portable Graffiti buttons are sold exclusively on Zibbet:

Unknown said...

I'd be inclined to say that there is a time and a place for all discussions, sometimes it might be on a craft forum and sometimes it won't.

Although, in my opinion the problem is this whole issue of 'tolerance'. Nobody in the world is tolerant and if everyone was completely honest they'd agree. We're all brilliant at being tolerant when we couldn't give a stuff about the issue at hand, but bring up a topic close to our hearts and its handbags at dawn. The problem is that 99% of the time we're stiffled and feel gagged by this idea of tolerance and notions of "oh mustn't offend, mustn't offend" that when a subject arises that any of us really have strong feelings about all the pent up opinions come flying out and it gets out of hand.

What I wouldn't give to go back to a time when everyone just had common sense and good manners and the wherewithal to use them. When just because somebody had said something that offended you, it didn't have to mean that they intended to and it didn't need to end in full scale mud slinging matches.

Barbra said...

I,too, wish people would keep their beliefs to themselves unless it is in an appropriate forum.I don't believe Etsy or Artfire or Zibbet are places to air strong opinions about any of the topics in the poll. Why take the chance you may offend? Doesn't seem like good business to me and aren't we all there to do business?

Heather Leavers said...

Leanne - you're so right. Everyone seems to take offence so readily - and really, even if the offence *is* intended - so what? Move on.

Barbra - looks like you've got the last word. Business relationships aren't the best place for discussing contentious issues.

Thank you everyone, it's been interesting. I'd still like to hear from some of those people of faith who feel our selling platforms *are* the place for spreading their word.

Unknown said...

Nifty, what a wonderfully provocative subject! :o)

Seriously, Like most of your readers, I think religion and faith (or lack there of) is personal. Among friends it's fine to discuss these things if they are important, but in a professional setting? Absolutely not. Neither should politics be discussed in a professional setting. I keep my politics and spiritual beliefs to myself so as not to offend any potential buyers, and I'd hope that other sellers do the same thing. I really dislike businesses that use religion as a platform for their business. I never buy from businesses or sellers that are pushy about religion - it is just plain offensive to me.

Heather Leavers said...

Sharon, sorry I missed your comment. LOL I hope I didn't give offense?

Sandie - I think that is the point some people with strongly held beliefs, be they political or religious, don't *get*, I don't think for one moment they think their views are potentially offensive - because they think they are *right*.

Judging by the comments here though...

funkycinderella said...

I agree with the others, business is not an appropriate place. We should be professional at all times.
I think the best way to express belief, whatever it is, is to embody it. If you're a spiritual person, just be spiritual & let every one else be who they are.

I consider myself to be very spiritual (I'm not talking religion or God here) and I have strong beliefs about how we should conduct ourselves in life but they are no-ones business but mine.

Now, I'm off to look at some very cool looking badges ;)

Heather Leavers said...

cinderella - thank you. you won't be dispappointed, it's badges for everyone!

Studio By The Forest said...

I try to be a very "live and let live" kind of person. If I don't agree with it or believe in it, I'm still tolerant of those that do. I dislike having religious items shoved in my face, but don't get offended by seeing them for sale. As for sex related items. I do feel there should be a filter, but maybe the filter should work the other way. If you are offended by racy items, then turn on the filter.

Nice to find a group of very tolerant people! Lately they seem few and far between in my community--sometimes makes me want to opt-out of the human race!

Unknown said...

"How Mature is Etsy" from my blog back in May almost could have been written as my response to your post.

Big fat thing I want to add: I think what matters most in the grand "Is it OK to mix belief and business" debate is CHOICE--is a business abusing a captive audience? Or does the consumer have a choice?

If there is only one plumber in town and she won't unclog my toilet unless I pray with her, that is NOT ok.

If the only way I can obtain food for my family is by first listening to a political candidate's three-hour stump-speech, that is NOT ok.

If 809 of 9,034 soap sellers on Etsy require a sacrifice to Apollo in addition to PayPal or check, I can go to one of the 8,025 shops that don't profess their loyalty to the ancient Greek god.

Get rid of Meerkat Nativity and where will Christian meerkats go on Christmas? Religion and politics are part of the lives of many people, and associated merchandise isn't inherently good or bad. Like the "mature" marketplace, it should exist for those who want it and be optional for those who don't.

Sheryl at Hand Painted Petals said...

What a lively blog-- very interesting! I have my beliefs but am also put off by being preached to, and esp when someone uses God or religion as a selling tool when it's irrelevant. Some of the quotes I paint refer to God, and I list tags reflecting that, but I do not think it appropriate to promote my views over someone else's via Etsy or similar venue.

krex said...

I would imagine that some people are offended by religious proclamations because they have been made victims of others beliefs at some people who hold power over you because they are your parents, bosses, co-workers who bully the "non-believers" just because they are the majority . I think that is a reactionary if understandable response to religious bullys .I've experienced it through out my life and I know that it is annoying but...

Instead of being turned off by and avoiding people who openly share their religious beliefs, I have decided it is more logical to be turned off and avoid buying from bullies whatever their belief .

I spent 20 years of my life among what some people call the "counter-culture/alternative/hippy and punk/death-rockerers" A lot of different kind of people who mostly hate each other yet proclaim they have a right to express themselves. What I learned was that some of these people who proclaim THEIR rights are the first to hate others when they try and express a different believe . Honestly, no different then the religious people who had tried to control me except the latter had better music (imo).

So, yes, even if I avoid any kind of church, I do not hide that I believe that there is something beyond the physical world even if I don't have a name for it . I mention an "original creator" for lack of a better word because it is important to why I create and what I create . I also recently wrote a blog about a new product I will be selling on Etsy called a "merkin" which I am sure will lose me some customers who believe my product....(and in their minds....myself), a pervert .

If you can't afford to alienate because of need for sales, then it is just good business to be bland but I think that is at the cost of something more important to the very nature of being creative .

Heather Leavers said...

And the views keep coming - thank you, one and all. I'm so pleased to be in a community of tolerant adults.

Unknown said...

Big fat HELL YES, amen, hallelujah! to krex.

Waterrose said...

I'm pretty much in the camp of keeping my religious and political views to myself. Or, when they are appropriate to discuss. I don't think I need to mix my business with these topics. I also believe in freedom of speech, so those that want to exercise it have every right to do so. Whether I agree with their opinions or not is up to me. But I will say that if there opinion is way out in left field to what I think I probably will not do business with that person/shop/corporation/entity. So I think it does make sense that if you are in business and want to reach a wide group of people not to be so outspoken in your views. But that's just my 2 cents.

Kelly aka STITCHNMOMMA said...

Excellent post!

I firmly believe that everyone is entitled to their own choice of religion, political affiliation, etc. There is a time & place for everything and your beliefs should not be "pushed" upon others.

If there is a forum thread specifically to discuss politics, religion, etc. then I think it is OK to do so, but keep the grand-standing & pulpit speeches for private conversations.

Unknown said...

Hi Heather! I tend to steer away from political and religious discussion in selling venues, and rarely will discuss on something like, say, Twitter or Facebook. Some people will discuss anything anywhere, but I don't think that's a good business practice.

My own beliefs would be categorized as spiritual, I guess, but not religious. And while I generally do not quote scripture (I won't get into why and why not here), I think there's something in the bible (paraphrased by me) about not praying in public, that it should be a personal thing. I see misplaced public religious discussion as falling under the same category. Then again, "misplaced" is likely a matter of opinion... :c)

vjhreeves said...

Smartest thing posted yet: "Instead of being turned off by and avoiding people who openly share their religious beliefs, I have decided it is more logical to be turned off and avoid buying from bullies whatever their belief." Thank you, Krex.

Heather Leavers said...

Very true - and that leads into a whole new discussion: "What is a bully?"

Anonymous said...

Here's my honest long as religious posts centered around people innocently proclaiming their love for Christ aren't trying to FORCE others to believe the same things they do (in reality, most likely they're just trying to find other people who share their same beliefs---is that wrong? People seem to be grouping together more than ever before...they're trying to find others who feel the same way they one has complained about why complain about religious groups?). And as long as the posts don't turn to war then no person should have any reason to dislike or attack those posts.

Christianity is a personal belief (and other religions too) however God commands His people share their beliefs (not force them...accepting Christ as one's savior is a personal decision, no one can MAKE you accept Him) and help bring people to Him.

Buyers who might be offended can simply overlook the posts or comments. After all, most buyers buy because they like the PRODUCT, not because they necessarily like the seller.

Besides, Muslims and other religious groups are continually gaining more rights....Christians, Catholics, etc. should not lose theirs.

Now, trust me, I am NOT trying to force anyone to believe the way I do, however, I just thought that this discussion/debate could use some comments that will make people think.

Heather Leavers said...

Thanks "Anonymous". I'm not sure why you mention that Christians shouldn't lose their rights, or that Muslims are gaining more - my post isn't about a specific religion, my view is that NO religion is of interest in a selling venue.

Anonymous said...

You have a point there...I don't know why I included that....I sorta get sidetracked when writing long things!! Then ignore that little paragraph :)

Heather Leavers said...

Thanks for checking back :-) I know *all* about getting sidetracked!

Jordan Elizabeth said...

Since you asked for the opinions of those with "strongly held beliefs", and since it appears that only one other person has (my appologies if I missed a comment!) I'll share my view :)

Preface: I am a Christian, and it is very much a part of who I am. My shop is called Heavenly Princess in subtle reference to that fact, and my website/shop pages have not-so-subtle references as well.

That said, I don't think an Etsy/other selling venue forum is the place to discuss such things. I do like having a "Christian" group separate from the regular forums when applicable, though. Being a Christian is a part of a person, just like, say, being a mom, or a knitter can be.

Niftyknits, you said:
"I don't think for one moment they think their views are potentially offensive - because they think they are *right*."

I think I am right, you think you are right... Have you considered that your views are potentially offensive? I think everyone's views are potentially offensive to somebody. I know that mine are, but I can get along with people who find them so without compromising either of our perspectives. I have even discussed very offensive subjects (within the correct context, ie, not on public forums) that end with both sides amazingly un-offended!

I hope this wasn't too long... I'll keep an eye on this post in case anything I said was unclear.

Or - dare I say - offended someone! :)


PS thanks for bringing this up in a respectful, unoffending manner!

Heather Leavers said...

Thank you Jordan. You're right, my views could well be offensive. It's really hard to explain in writing - what I meant, when I said "I don't think for one moment they think their views are potentially offensive - because they think they are *right*. is that for someone of deep faith, there is no room for doubt. So you're bound to want to share it, because you consider it uncontrovertibly true.

But I don't. And nor do many others - and we'd rather you (generic, not you personally) kept it to platforms that aren't about selling.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking more about this (it really makes you think) and really EVERYONE believes something, whether they be religious or atheist or whatever. I do believe in Jesus and that He died for everyone's sins (whether or not people accept that, it is a personal choice and I would never try to force that on someone: honestly I tend to keep to myself however if I'm asked, I will be honest---others talk openly whether asked or not and I admire that)....however, I get along just fine with people of all faiths, beliefs, and worldviews....I just accept that not everyone will believe the same way I do...that's ok! However, people who are atheist or whatever have to also accept that others can believe in God and they can't let themselves be "offended" by it (couldn't it be the other way around: religious groups being "offended" by those who aren't religious---really it's ridiculous)...this goes for the selling community too. Really it depends how you look at things. Of course people will be biased but they never think about how the other "side" views it!!!

Heather Leavers said...

Thank you (it really does make you think!)

From my point of view - I'm an ex-Christian, so I remember how it felt on the other side of the fence. I suppose now I'm an agnostic - I couldn't say I'm a certain atheist because proving the absence of something is even harder than proving it's there.

But my issue was 9when this was first published) and remains the same - I do not think religion has any place on an online venue. Discussing personal belief systems in front of customers is no more appropriate, in my view, than discussing our sex lives.