Bookmark and Share

Season 3: "Selling God"

Broadcast Date: August 8, 2009

This week Terry O'Reilly marches you boldly where the angels of marketing fear to tread: he looks at the delicate, always-controversial relationship between faith and advertising. He'll look into the controversy surrounding recent bus ads, which read "There Probably Is No God. So Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life." And he'll explain why not all people of faith embrace the marketing tactics popular in some of today's churches.

CBC News: Full Story
Interactive: What message would you put on the side of a bus?

Listen to this episode as streaming audio (runs 27:30)


Previous Comments (21)

From a first google search and listening to some news casts it looks like AOP will continue on into the future congratulations. Notice to all other CBC programs if you make something worth listening to, at a reasonable cost people will support you.
Keep up the good work!!


Gerrid Gust, March 29, 2009 2:58 PM

At one time I thought using business and marketing techniques to help church growth was a good idea.

Now I know better. You can't market religion; you can't turn it into a product for mass consumption (though the parallels between that and the Eucharist are interesting). It turns clergy into hucksters and sells out religion for a counterfeit sham.

Richard Boychuk, March 30, 2009 12:03 PM

Thanks for another wonderful discussion on advertising - what was the key aha point for me was the phrase about how once churches open themselves to advertising, they open themselves to being chosen, like purchased goods. So interesting, and, as usual, filled with things that make me go hmmm. Thanks a lot!

Dorothyanne Brown, March 30, 2009 12:25 PM

I don't understand where there is a dichotomy in advertising religion (or atheism for that matter). While faith may be a spiritual pursuit, religion is a form entertainment no different than cable television. Whether it be purchasing statuettes in a Catholic Rectory (blessed statues an extra $5.00) or a televangelist requesting donations before God kills him, religion removed itself from any believable association with a diety decades ago, so why not let them flaunt their wares.

Fortune tellers and magicians can advertise, why not a bit of fire and brimstone marketing!

-PeBo-, March 30, 2009 1:57 PM

Dear Terry,
I have just finished listening to"Selling God". Now I would like to know the religion of the writers so that I can tell where they were coming from and why they wrote the program they did.

Bob Forbes, March 30, 2009 2:40 PM

What a great episode, very torontocentric, but seeing as it is the centre of the universe.... :p

The church was abused as a media tool for a few movies not just Passion... Last Temptation of Christ and DaVinci Code pop into mind... without the church's "outrage" I doubt either of these movies would have done so well.

Lizapest, March 30, 2009 3:15 PM

I realise we're entitled to our own opinions. One thing I don't get is how can one enjoy life without hope in something bigger than our imperfect selves? Also, as a society, when do we draw the line when it comes to what is right and wrong in expression?

jen, March 31, 2009 1:15 AM

Life can be a lot of fun and you don't need to believe in an omnipotent being to have hope. Unlike Jen I believe you can have hope for your family, your community, your country and in humanity in order to provide your life with meaning.

Joe Z, March 31, 2009 7:45 PM

As always an entertaining and interesting program.

I have read a number of Neil Postman's books and tend to agree with much of what he has to say. As far as advertising and religion goes I think it all comes down to what you advertise and how you do it. While the very media one uses is not neutral - the use of it can either be good or bad. The problem is that some churches have begun to change their message to suit what they have determined are people's desires (itching ears and all that). This may be successful and grow a mega church - but one must be very careful to determine if it is indeed faithful.

As a pastor in a small church in a small town I have made use of what media I can. Newspaper advertisements, we have a sign on the side of the highway, posters around town for various events, web pages, etc. If I had the budget I would seek to use radio and television as well. But I would always try to represent what we are as a parish and church body truthfully and faithfully. No "bait and switch." The message must not be changed - the message changes us.

Mike Keith, April 1, 2009 2:09 PM

The always insightful, and sardonic, Thorstein Veblen identified the connection between marketing and religion in the early 20th century. However, he reversed the relationship. He writes in 'Absentee Ownership', that in comparison to the 'Propaganda of the Faith,' "the many secular adventures in salesmanship are no better than upstarts, raw recruits, late and slender capitalisations out of the ample fund of human credulity."

According to Veblen, "It is of the nature of sales-publicity, to promise much and deliver a minimum." Therefore, in following the 'publicity-agents of the Faith,' those involved in sales - including marketers - should ideally seek to 'promise everything, and deliver nothing.'

Troy, April 1, 2009 3:13 PM

12 ? arent we at 13? just curious i always enjoy your shows. And really really enjoyed this one.

Charity, April 1, 2009 4:45 PM

Would it be too tacky to do an ad that combines religion and big business? Something like "Jesus saves, but (insert store name here)saves you more"
What if any would be the boundaries for using religion to promote anything, let alone itself in the current political/religious climate?

Jonesy, April 2, 2009 12:07 PM

Thanks to Ariane Sherine and Richard Dawkins for the reality check!

Adam Cotton, April 4, 2009 10:20 AM

I'd like to pair this show with "Do This Or Die."
Why can't religions be held to the same standards as advertisers and manufacturers? After thousands of years the "product" has failed to achieve anything but to arrange people into groups, just like dog shows. There has been no evidence that the "product" even achieves its ultimate goal of providing access to eternal salvation. We don't even know if the religious actually believe what they say they believe. There is a section of the local Saturday paper called "Ethics and Spirituality." I know some religious people. Too well in several cases. I'll take my chances with advertisers and used car lots, if you don't mind. At least you get to drive the car. At least you get to find out if the toaster toasts. I suspect that the great attraction of religion is the fact that there is no standard of proof. Relax, indeed. Funny that that should be in the ad.

toomanycrayons, April 4, 2009 8:46 PM

Dear Terry,

I had a few thoughts re: marketing & faith I wanted to share with you. Thanks for the opportunity!

The early church had a tiny percentage of the resources available now - AND - most people couldn't read. They were dependent on the priest for spiritual knowledge. They lived & died within a few miles of where they were born. Their life experiences, communication & relationships were grounded within their tightly known culture.

I'm a Canadian Christian in the 21st century. The cultural, ecological, technological ways in which I live life, meet with friends,family & other spiritual seekers will happen within that context. As such - talented people of faith have used the tools available to them to share & spread the gospel. That doesn't make it wrong - it makes it accessible. One of Jesus' commandments was to 'go and make disciples of all nations'. The method of delivering the message must be in rhythm with the society that will be receiving it. Wycliffe Bible Translators work with people groups & languages all over the world to find the meaning-laden words that speak directly to those people.

Is this marketing - you bet. Does this make sense - yes - it is a respectful way of 'going' to the people, of the church doing the work to invite them in, rather than sitting back & expecting the world to bend to it. Imagine how you would feel if someone from the middle of Africa came to you and said, "For the last 5 years I have been working on translating & recording our tribe's stories into english so that you would be able to enjoy & read them. Here - this is for you." Wow - what an honour! The point of marketing to people within their cultural perspective is to honour them - to treat them with the respect & love of God!

One of the things that Jesus showed us so well is that relating to each other is dependant upon the social context we find ourselves in. He dealt with the following people in differing ways: the Roman soldier whose son was dying, the woman at the well, the young rich man who wanted to get into heaven, and the Jewish religious aristocracy. If, as Christians, we seek to 'Bible-thump' others, it'll be met with resistance & anger. Advertising, marketing, etc. is based on attraction. At this time of financial instability, a lot of people are feeling spiritually lost - the 'god' of capitalism has let them down. They are looking for answers, and they are a completely different demographic than their grandparents. They come with so much baggage & hurt, and they desperately want to be free from that. What could possibly be more attractive than a 'do-over': an opportunity to start living a whole new life, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit in your heart so you never again have to do it on your own?!

God Bless you Terry, and your whole team too!
- Kim Schellenberg

Kim Schellenberg, April 6, 2009 12:04 PM

Wow insightful and dangerous topic, props to you Terry for tackling it with such grace!

Viv, April 7, 2009 11:42 PM

terry... this was fantastic. love it... how do i get a copy of all the episodes?

gwest, April 13, 2009 12:49 PM

Hey, I was looking up media sources for an essay on the potential death of religion due to cynicism and your link popped up, and I thought the show was great. I will definately listen to it in the future. People have to understand that the church is a man made entity, and therefore is subject to the same mistakes as any human organization. HOWEVER, IF THE WHOLE HISTORY WITH JESUS NEVER HAPPENED THAN THIS MUST BE THE GREATEST HOAX OF ALL TIME. PEOPLE DIED FOR CHRISTIANITY BACK THEN, WHY WOULD THEY DIE IF THEY DID NOT BELIEVE?????? So why now, do we question our faith. Every religion is a cultural interpretation of the same GOD!

Chris Babic, April 13, 2009 8:02 PM


chris, May 6, 2009 12:27 PM

I am looking for the show that talked about the power of "free" -- how consumers respond to free items in perhaps less-than-rational ways. Can anyone direct me to that particular episode?

Susan, September 8, 2009 12:24 PM

Well said Chris Babic!

Kevin Smith, January 20, 2010 9:22 AM
Post a new comment