Religion: Caveat Emptor

In his remarkable book - Breaking the Spell, which I strongly recommend everyone to read (especially 'believers'), Daniel Dennett argued for the study of religion using principles of evolution. Leaving aside which flavour of religion you prefer, religion or faith has survived the test of time. Even in our modern age of science and reason, religious belief has not crumbled. Any organism or idea that has managed to survive for so long in humans has to confer some sort benefit or evolutionary advantage.

In my opinion, an easier and alternative way to look at religion is to treat it like a product. A product that satisfies and serves certain public needs.

Proving or disproving whether God exists is difficult (The quest itself does lead to more useful and tangible results as in the case of the Rev. Bayes). The priests, mullahs and rabbis who are the stewards of religion cannot but know that religion is nothing but a business enterprise. Belief of millions in the divine word of God is quite separate from the business of religion. Every religion, sect, cult is a product and needs good marketing and favorable advertising. But you have to come to America, the land of the free and home of the brave, to really appreciate how 'professional' religion and its marketing needs to be. There is much competition in the market to save people from damnation.

In my first semester, I often noticed flyers for a 'Free Fellowship dinner' or 'Come Dine with Us and practice English' and I am not one of those people who pass an opportunity for a free meal. The fine print below all these flyers always mentioned that the activity was sponsored by some church or the other. Oops! As it is November, I will have a few emails inviting me to a Thanksgiving Dinner with an American family. In the subtle guise of providing international students with a flavour of Americana, there is always some church behind it.

Truly speaking, Haggard should argue that as CEO of the New Life Church he has been exceptional in his professional duty towards Evangelism (a religious product) and his flock (clients) which should be separate from what he did in his personal life in his free time. He has made the Church popular (increased marketshare) in an increasingly competitive market and is a spiritual advisor to President Bush, so why should anyone complain? (See Ashutosh on Haggard).

Gaurav was surprised that he met a Mormon who knew about Hindi movies. Luckily or unluckily for him, she did not consider his soul worth redeeming as she did not thrust the Book of Mormon or take down his address to pay him a visit. I have had the unique opportunity to watch one of my Mormon colleagues in action and they are really smooth. In his own words: All of them are well-trained for their 1-2 year missions in foreign countries. They have crash courses in the language, culture and politics of the people whose souls they have to save. The moral is: If you have something hard to sell, which involves something like the person giving you his soul, you should do it slowly and gently. I see a very strong parallel to the strategies employed by them and the Amway folks (see: old post).

Like any medicine or product there are benefits to religion if taken in moderation. But religion can do you great harm and I wish it came with statutory warnings. Till then: Caveat Emptor.

1 comment:

Ashutosh said...

Very well-written! I completely agree that religion is a business product, and it's in America where it is marketed the best. All the rules applying to conventional advertising apply to it as well, and I also think that connecting good deeds like feeding the hungry, doing community service, and preaching about world peace tremendously increases its brand value. This actually may have been a good thing, had it not also enforced accepting things on blind faith.