Posted by: nickgerlich | September 24, 2007

Marketing God

They say there is no better way to pick a fight than to try to discuss politics or religion at a party. With the former, you’ll find the Democrats and Republicans choosing up sides on opposite corners of the room. And with the latter, you’re bound to push someone’s buttons the wrong way and launch a holy war.

But in an academic setting, it’s all just good fodder for discussion.

I have broached the subject of church marketing in my courses many times, as well as the related matter of Christian book- and music retailing. While I do not have a problem with either, many of my students hold very strong opinions against one or the other, or both.

And I have also thrown out the example of a church using tithing kiosks to facilitate easier giving among parishioners. Many students were aghast at this idea. For what it’s worth, my church recently installed these kiosks. I plan to use one of them soon to submit my tithe, if not also to simply experience something new (the machine, not the tithe).

I suppose one could say that “only in America” would people turn religion into a business. Look at the Christian bookstores on the retail landscape. Ponder the number of Christian music and book titles for sale at mainstream retailers like Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and Barnes & Noble. You can’t blame management, for there’s money to be made in religion.

Which leads to me my point: Current indications are that Christian books have seen better days, and are being challenged by a new breed of atheists determined to make their voices heard.

HitchensAtop the small but growing list of anti-God books is God Is Not Great, by Christopher Hitchens. He is joined by Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) and Sam Harris (The End of Faith and Letter To A Christian Nation). They are to atheism what Max Lucado and Joyce Meyer are to Christianity, and are equally unabashed in their strident criticism of religion.

Last year, sales of religious books dropped 10.2% in 2006. This occurred while pro-atheism books were selling like ice on a hot summer day (or a day in Hell, take your pick).

Have Americans suddenly grown tired of the role of religion in our culture? Following the events of 911, church attendance and Christian books were in vogue, as people sought answers to their questions, and solace for their grief. But in the last six years, church attendance has settled back down to rather discouraging levels: only 20-25% of people on any given Sunday.

Being an academic who also happens to be Christian, I am not interested in devotionals or apologetics. Instead, I am apt to read scholarly works explaining the faith, its traditions, and its origins in Judaism. But I have also read Dawkins’ latest tome, and have considered reading Harris and Hitchens as well. I am not afraid to hear all sides of an argument.

If anything, this shift in American book-buying interests may signal an important trend. Maybe Americans are getting sick of religion. Maybe the atheists have finally figured out how to sell books.

That said, I do have some concerns. While I respect the atheists’ right to believe (or not believe), it is their ranting that leaves me bothered. It is one thing for a person to raise serious questions and engage in scholarly debate. But it is quite another to simply foam at the mouth and say that anyone with religious beliefs is, for all intents and purposes, an idiot.

Engage me rather than belittle me. Challenge me; don’t call me names. And consider that Jesus of Nazareth despised religion just as much as atheists do. Make your case and then let me decide.

Anything less is just not good marketing.

Dr “And Your Point Was?” Gerlich

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