Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Conversion Competition

On Sunday (June 21, 2009) I wrote about Catholic efforts to convert Jews (Choosing the Chosen). On Monday I received a private email from a rabbi saying I was taking the matter too lightly. I agree. Converting a person from one faith to another is no laughing matter. So here are a few suggestions on the more serious side.

We ought to have reality shows featuring people of different faiths being pitched to by people of other faiths. On one show, Big Bother, proselytizers would race around a city knocking on doors trying to convert people to their way of believing. On another show, I’m a Celebrity Destined for Hell, Get Me Out of Here, famous clergy would proselytize famous Scientologists. A third show, Amazing Grace, would feature missionary teams proselytizing indigenous peoples in remote parts of Africa, Australia, or Utah.

Reality shows are only the beginning. Religions seeking converts need an all out effort at product placement. Ironically, Judaism, which has little interest in proselytizing, has a leg up on the competition with the FBI hero of the hit show Numbers going to see his rabbi for spiritual direction, and the hot Israeli Mossad agent working with NCIS on NCIS. I wonder how much the Elders of Zion spent on those gigs?

Advertising will also be important. Mormons, for example, can offer converts that cool protective underwear that claims to be God’s own brand of Kevlar®. Judaism and Islam also offer distinctive clothing: caps for men, and headscarves for women. Judaism also has the option of dressing like a 17th century Polish nobleman or noblewoman if you buy the Hasidic package, while the Muslims could counter with the burkha.

Food might be another area of competition. Christianity can promote pork over and against Judaism and Islam’s pig-free diet the way Hebrew National promotes its kosher hot dogs over nonkosher brands. Catholics can offer something unique in that they alone eat the actual flesh and blood of God. Forget trans-fat, how about transubstantiation!

Potential converts looking for value might prefer Christianity’s Three Gods for the price of one, but Hinduism and its 330 million Gods will be hard to beat on that score.

Maybe the kind of eternal life in heaven a religion offers could separate it from the pack. Hindus and Buddhists might lose out on this score since they insist on reincarnation (at worst) and the extinction of the separate self (at best), but maybe not. Jewish heaven is (for those few Jews who still believe in heaven) eternal bible study with God. Christian heaven is the endless singing of the same hymn. And Islamic heaven is an unending feast of culinary and sexual delights. Of course reading the same book, singing the same song, and eating the same food for all eternity can get pretty boring after the first few millennia. And even sex gets old. So maybe this isn’t such a good area for competition.

Anyway, I like the idea of out and out conversion campaign among the world’s religions. I think this would invite creativity, and force theologians to come up with some cool new slogans. John 3:16 is so yesterday. And it will put an end to believers killing nonbelievers since this drains the market for new converts.

In the end, though, I think Catholics will win. As the competition heats up the Church will bring back dispensations and, rather then sell them as they did in the Middle Ages, they will offer dispensational packages to people who convert and get others to convert as well. When it comes right down to it, it is hard to compete with a Get Out of Hell Free card.

14 comments:

AaronHerschel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AaronHerschel said...

Really, the whole idea of "religion" is a nonstarter. When a consumer "gets religion" or is "converted" the ideal outcome is that he or she will be 100% brand loyal for life. This is an absurdly retro proposition: a fantasy of the old school Industrial mass market completely unsuited to today's highly fragmented marketplace. Religions need to do what their corporate counterparts have already done and diversify their images while converging at the top.

Now I realize that under the rubric of any one religion there are already hundreds of spin offs and splinter brands. Indeed, religion has already diversified, atomizing into niches with their own measurable demographic profiles. The problem is that all this diversity has brought an unhealthy level of 'real' competition to the religious market, limiting both market share and profit margins.

In the corporate world, competition has long since been reformatted, refigured from price-based competition, which empowers consumer choice and lionizes demand, to image-based competition, which promotes the illusion of choice while consolidating market share and insulating profits. Religions must learn this lesson!

For example, Axe and Dove are both bath and beauty brands marketed to entirely opposed niches. Axe is targeted to adolescent males and runs over the top ads which objectify women and flaunt their hard core sex appeal. Dove runs ads critical of the "beauty myth," proclaiming a feminist agenda in line with the needs of real women. Both brands, however, are products of Unilever.

Do brand loyalty and market share matter in this context? Unilever wins either way. Similarly, conversion is a non-issue when Catholicism TM and Judaism TM are both subsidiaries of JehovaChrist Incorporated.

Rabbi Rami said...

So,could it be that there is a corporate system at the "top"? Are all religions brands of a single owner? Could the competition be fake? And who runs the master corporation? The Lizard People?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Patti said...

You two just make me smile.

I would love to add to the clothing part. "Christian women can be distinguished by their ubiquitous denim jumper." ghastly.

Jordan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jordan said...

Shalom All,

Upon further thought my response to Rabbi Rami should have been:

Rabbi Rami wrote/asked:

"So,could it be that there is a corporate system at the "top"?"

On Earth, "at the top" has always been a transitional organizational form. As a result of the Internet, "top down," will eventually go the way of the dinosaur. Rabbi Rami continued:

"Are all religions brands of a single owner?"

Bingo! And the "single owner" is the collective
"us." Rabbi Rami continued:

"Could the competition be fake?"

The apparent competition (like the notion of "at the top") has always been a transitional phase. The Internet etal, has accelerated its ultimate demise. Out of the ashes will arise cooperation, and collaboration. Rabbi Rami continued:

"And who runs the master corporation? The Lizard People?"

Nah... Folks like you and me as well as folks not like you and me, will "run" the whole shebang. The Internet is the big equalizer/world flattener. Rabbi Rami continued:

"Inquiring minds want to know."

And now that we do what will we DO about it?

Biv'racha,
Jordan

PS Please feel free to delete my previous post.

AaronHerschel said...

Jordan,

There's a lot in common between your post and the critical commentary on electronic media from about the mid sixties on. The idea that the internet would reformat not only capitalism but politics reached a kind of zenith during the .com boom of the 1990s, when lefty writers like Douglas Rushkoff, and even right wing politicos like Newt Gingrich posited that the internet would, as you said, equalize everything, launching a new era of socio-political egalitarianism under a reformed system of capital--what Bill Gates called "friction free capitalism."

And yet there are problems: barriers to access remain high for both consumers and producers, especially in the postcolonial world; a whole culture of surveillance has become de riguer, having developed around the idea of consumer empowerment and narrow casting; and, of course, the internet has fostered a corporate convergence and globalisation which is frequently neo-colonial and which has often only increased the disparity between classes, concentrating unprecedented wealth and power in the hands of a post-nationalist elite.

Though electronic media, and the net especially, has certainly spurred the demise of mass, industrial capital and its attendant heirarchies, new networks of power are emerging in their place.

So while I agree that the net has opened up powerful new spaces for social organizing, free speech, and activism, I would also urge caution and skepticism regarding claims of any inherent "revolutionary" potential in digital communications technology.

After all, on the internet, no one can tell you're a lizard.

Aron said...

I share Aaron H's skepticism of the Internet as an equalizer. Primarily, I'm a technological realist -- in that any new tool humans gain also possess a dark side. If we ignore it, we do so at our own peril.

Every time a new technology appears, you hear all these idealistic possibilities of how it's going to equalize things, but these problems of equality still exist. I don't see the Internet doing so either without actual people living and acting, transforming their own bodies, minds, psyches, etc.

Hopefully, any religion worth it's salt, in my mind, will be primary there in such a transformation.

Jordan said...

Shalom Aaron and Aron,

"It is the fate of every great idea that no sooner does it come on the stage of history than it is accompanied by its caricature." Martin Buber

There's no turning back the clock on the Internet etal. There's no denying the dark side and the need for vigilance. And the upside potential is still new terrain for most. No Pollyanna am I and I prefer going with the wave rather than having a fear driven response. The question is:

"What would YOU DO if you weren't afraid?"
Spencer Johnson, MD in "Who Moved My
Cheese?" I highly recommend this book!

Other wonderful resources are:

The Virtual Mosque
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: June 16, 2009

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/17
/opinion/17friedman.html

"What Would Google Do?" by Jeff Jarvis
as well as his blog: Buzzmachine.com

Biv'racha,
Jordan

Jordan said...

Shalom Aron Aaron and All,

Two more important resources:

"Tribes" by Seth Godin as well as his blog,
http://sethgodin.typepad.com/

Biv'racha,
Jordan

AaronHerschel said...

Jordan

I agree that the net is a tremendously important cultural milieux, and that digital media-which includes the internet, as well as cell phones, dvd's, mp3s, etc-- is absolutely remaking our world in its image.

I'm excited by all of it--and there's no question that there is revolutionary potential. One only has to look, for example, at the way blogs have become part of the political landscape, or at the erosion of copyright, or at the use of flash mobs to organize protests (especially in countries where the right to assemble is not protected), or at the banning of facebook in Iran, to see the flowering of some of that potential.

At the same time, I don't want to get so swept up that I forget to be critical. I'm all for embracing new media; I just want to keep my eyes open and my wits about me.

AaronHerschel said...

Oh and of course I'll check out those links!

Aron said...

"No Pollyanna am I and I prefer going with the wave rather than having a fear driven response."

Are those the only options before us, being afraid or going with the wave? I'd hope the rest of us who choose neither could also have a place in the debate.

Jordan said...

Shalom Aron,

You wrote: "Are those the only options before us, being afraid or going with the wave? I'd hope the rest of us who choose neither could also have a place in the debate."

Please help me understand what others options you
see.

Shabbat Shalom/Shavu'a Tov
Biv'racha,
Jordan