Rediff Logo Life/Style Banner Ads Find/Feedback/Site Index
July 21, 1997


Farzana Versey

Lead us unto the Light

Pramod's illustration Whenever I hear about how a religion must keep up with the times, I start getting worried. For I know that no one will tackle the root of the problem. Instead, there will be a lot of hot air flying around to make God accessible.

In America, tele-evangelism is big business. The church of England had once formulated an advertising campaign. Islamic societies constantly hardsell their system of justice. And Hinduism as a way of life is the latest karma cola.

Does all this bode well for the concept of religion? Is faith not a matter of personal belief, or are we only fooling ourselves? After all, we believe because we have been brought up in a certain faith, or because we have seen devotees throng to places to worship and, like in everything else, the herd mentality prevails. If everyone does it, it must be right.

In that sense, religion does not need advertising; it is advertising. It follows all the marketing rules, the brands comparisons regarding which religion scores over which other, whose product has greater appeal and which market can be captured.

If fact, many of our superficial concepts have been sold to us by religion. Temptation, for example, Were it not for Eve, the apple, the serpent and the garden of Eden, we might have all succumbed to the worst and not be held sinners for our trespasses.

Hinduism has sold karma to us in a manner not too different from any company offering a public issue. "As you sow, so shall you reap," with a sly nod at profit-making, of course. Islam sells a lot of unviable things which its believers find so difficult to follow but, lay a cherry on a hard crust of bread, and there is the possibility of houris in heaven.

The point, then, is -- why does religion need to sell itself when its task is to further sell other things? One born-again Christian has other ideas. As he says, "I don't think you sell the church. I think you put forward what the church is offering, inviting people to make a leap of faith."

How different would this be from converting people through missionaries and other old-fashioned media? Will this not set a wrong and damaging precedent? Would not the same subtle forces be at work? Would not the hidden persuaders be upto their dirty tricks, trying to reach the innermost recesses of our consciousness to find areas of darkness deliberately in order to lead us unto the light? Would the church truly find its feet with so many lost souls that have drifted in perchance, like in a shopping mall where you end up buying things you do not want only because they are so prominently and attractively displayed?

Religion already plays on our emotions. It works on our insecurities, fears, dependency, need for superiority and salvation. How much further does it need to be marketed?

Even if we were to turn a blind eye to all these aspects, there is still the morally binding one -- how can the church, the very home of God, be sold as a product, which it is not? Can you sell the Almighty as the complete man? Or as the father figure who brings home Cadbury's and other goodies? Or as Superman who destroys evil?

But these are not products, they are the sentiments the products wish to convey. So how can the church become the USP?

Religion is well and truly on its way to the billboards, hoardings, and shelves. Now we can wait for the brand wars and consumer surveys. While the soul smiles to itself.

Illustration: Pramod

Tell us what you think of this column

Farzana Versey