Why I am relating to instead of hating on Volkswagen

I remember my first car. It was a 1992 Volkswagen GTI (1.8L, 8v for those wondering). I loved it. At least while it lasted. It wasn’t long until after I got my license that my spirited driving led to its demise. I got another GTI a few years later, and I’m currently driving my third one. Thanks to my friend Alex, I developed something of brand loyalty for the German auto manufacturer and specifically their hot hatch. I loved VWs.

Although I never drove one of its diesel cars (I definitely have a proclivity for regular gas), I felt some loss when the big scandal about VW broke a few weeks ago. If you haven’t heard, VW programmed the computers in its cars to pass U.S. and European emission tests while still emitting illegal fumes into the atmosphere. It was a conscious choice to deceive and cheat. In a word it was evil. VW was worried that its diesel cars, which have a reputation for being very powerful while being fuel-efficient, would lose either their productivity or perhaps their torque if it complied. It showed me how the invisible hand is motivated and it saddened me. I am a loyal customer, but my loyalty was put into question when this brand failed so egregiously.

I suppose I could end my loyalty to VW over this scandal. Their crime is extraordinary. Michael Horn offered an apology and I appreciated it. But even an apology might not be enough to save the company or even regain their trust. I think it should take out an ad for the Super Bowl. To advertise its climate control feature, but also to note that there are many ways to feel about the scandal, VW has launch this campaign too.


Owners of TDI’s in question are subject to a recall, damaging the resale value of their car and its performance. It is hard when an institution, a company, or even a family member hurts us, betrays us, and loses our trust. On one hand, we may have the expectation that they need to be perfect and when they demonstrate that they aren’t, we cut them off totally. I was tempted to do so when the Philadelphia Eagles, another brand that I am loyal to, fell flat on their faces starting a much-hyped season with two embarrassing losses (including one against the hated Cowboys). Similarly, some people are calling for a complete ban on VW products.

Some of us have banned the church because it has committed similar sins against us. Maybe you’ve banned Circle of Hope! The Catholic Church in particular is a major victim of this kind of problem. One of my friends lost faith because he was kicked out of catechism because he laughed during the class. Pope Francis, who reorganized Philadelphia last week when he visited, is the kind of CEO that is hoping to change the Catholic Churches dwindling reputation. With so many wicked Popes in the past, so much war done in God’s name, so much conquest, judgment, and sexism, the Catholic Church has a lot to apologize for. (On the other hand, we have a lot to thank the Church for, too.) I think Pope Francis is making things better.

I have been told by many people Circle of Hope has done a great job helping people get back into the fold and into the body. We have become quite a safe place for burnt Christians. We won’t keep them safe from Jesus, but we are inviting them into the realness of the body. It’s not because we are perfect, our community doesn’t always work out clean and tidy. Expect conflict. We are all addicted to sin. But we are real. We are vulnerable, transparent, and you can be a part of the safety that follows such things. You probably can’t expect us to be perfect, but I won’t expect that of you either. But you can expect us to work out our faith in love. Nothing matters more, according to Paul.

The other side of merely cutting off someone when they fail to meet our perfect expectations, is to simply tolerate them and kill them with your indifference. Corporations like VW don’t typically get this treatment, but many other social constructions too. For example, you may have gotten uneasy when I listed some problems that the Catholic Church has had in history. Some might be embarrassed that Pope Francis visited the much-maligned Kentucky clerk Kim Davis (who refuses to issue marriage licenses for gay couples).

Donald Trump recently entertained a question at a forum about removing all Muslims from the U.S. and tacitly acknowledged the myth that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Nick Kristof, a favorite columnist of mine, responded: “This video is painful to watch. When a questioner asks Trump about getting rid of Muslims, Trump accepts it as a reasonable question… Do you feel the same disgust at this exchange?”

Kristof is known for his own religious tolerance, and he has even defended Evangelicals for their good work, but he is certainly an advocate for faith merely as a social construction or a cultural artifact (two posts about that here and here).

Then Ben Carson said on Meet the Press that he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.” Bernie Sanders said he was “very disappointed.” Sanders said, “It took us too long to overcome the prejudice against electing a Catholic or an African-American president. People should be elected to office based on their ideas, not their religion or the color of their skin.”

Does not someone’s religion influence their ideas? Or is religion simply a sociological category that is merely the result of one’s environment? Is it merely something to be tested?

I suppose Sanders has perfectly channeled the postmodern ethic. We patronize those with different ideologies by merely tolerating them, fearing that criticizing them is indeed prejudicial. I’m no defender of Trump or Carson and I disagree explicitly and decidedly about what they are saying. But I wonder how freely we consider, sort through, and test people’s ideas and wonder about their merits. Can we offer someone a real human relationship? Or do we merely categorize them into “good” and “evil” categories? I think that’s too easy and too simplistic.

For one with faith, I actually think you need to test my ideas, but more than simply assess whether they are good or bad or wrong or right, I think we need to relate to each other through imperfection. I think the heart of the Gospel is relationship. Jesus came to earth to relate to us personally, and we are doing the same thing. I think that’s why we are a safe place and why you can join us.

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