Marketing 101: Religious Version

The documentary “Selling God” examines the ways that religions market and sell their image of god. Using good ‘ole humor and marketing models, this film delves into the world of, put simply, selling god. Here’s a section of the film that examines religion’s marketing approach:

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All modern marketing works the same way, whether you’re selling clothing or cars, soda or salvation, selling god is no different. The first thing that must be done is to create a need. The second is to offer a product or service to fill that need. The third is to offer rewards for buying the product or service and consequences for not buying it. And the final step is to create urgency. There has to be a deadline to act or people will just keep putting it off.

For children, one of the most well-known figures that uses these concepts to adjust behavior is Santa Clause. Yes, Jolly Old Saint Nick; the omnipotent craftsman that lives up North has been used to control the habits of children for centuries. He keeps a list of who’s naughty and who’s nice, so you’d better be good and do what you’re told or you’ll get coal for Christmas instead of toys.

Evangelism in any religious movement uses the same basic principles to spread their message throughout the world and adjust the behaviors of followers. First, they must start by creating the need. If you’re basically a good person, you don’t need what they’re offering. But if by just being born you’re a sinner, then you’re definitely in need of salvation. Next, they offer Jesus Christ who, having already died for your sins, is the perfect product to counteract your previously established ‘sinful nature.’ And attending their church or watching their program is the perfect service to help you fill this newfound void in your life. Guilt is an incredible motivator. Then they offer rewards and consequences, a carrot and a stick, Heaven and Hell.

You go to Heaven if you’re good, which means you obey us. And if you don’t obey us, you go to Hell. And you’re talking here about your eternal soul, either for reward or punishment, which appeals to normal greed of people. And at the same time, it’s a real winner as far as getting their business.

– Bob Harvey, Ph.D. – UCLA Professor Emeritus

Each religion’s conception of heaven and hell is different, but historically, heaven represents everything good and hell everything that’s to be feared. And finally, they create urgency by reminding people that life is fleeting or even that Armageddon is coming; The world is coming to an end and the Rapture, or Second Coming of Christ, is on the horizon. There’s a cottage industry of saving the lost and delivering their souls.

Over the years, there have been repeated periods of religious revivalism, great revivals when fundamentalist beliefs…spread over the country in a kind of hysteria.

– Noam Chomsky, Ph.D. – Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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