Last Friday evening I spoke at a Reform synagogue in Calgary, Canada. Four hundred people turned out matching numbers only seen on Yom Kippur.
I was there to speak about love, but not two minutes into my talk I somehow triggered a woman in the crowed to suddenly cry out against the notion that religions are in competition with one another. I had said something to that effect, likening religious competition to that of other brand wars such as Coke vs. Pepsi. She didn’t like her faith being demoted to a brand.
Clearly I had touched a nerve, and whenever I do so I cannot help but touch it again. And again, and yet again until I have either killed the nerve or at least left the person raw and in pain. We learn best through suffering I tell myself.
Do you ever wonder, I said, why theologians from any given religion always end up proving the truths of their religion? Why is it that no Catholic theologian ever discovers that Islam is true? The answer to this is the same as the answer to the question why taste tests sponsored by Pepsi never reveal that people prefer Coke.
We Jews call ourselves God’s Chosen People for the same reason Coke calls itself the Real Thing. Who would stay loyal to a brand that called itself God’s Rejected People, or the Fake Thing? Catholics claim there is no salvation outside the Church even though the Jewishly brand loyal Jesus said that salvation comes from the Jews. But what else could they say?
Brands compete; religions are brands; ergo, religions compete. People who say they shouldn’t don’t understand the nature of religion.
I think competition is good. Nonviolent competition, that is. Sending brand loyalists on crusades and jihads is bad for business, and I wouldn’t recommend it. But other kinds of competition is good.
I suggest religions sponsor person-on-the-street surveys asking people which of the following views of heaven most appeals to them: Endless Bible study with God (the Jewish view); endless singing of the same song (the Christian view); or endless sex and feasting (the Muslim view)? While all of them sound like hell to me after a millennium or two, it would be fun to find out which one people prefer.
We could also ask English speaking people whether they preferred their religious services in Hebrew, Arabic, or English? We could also ask people which kind religion they preferred: one that allowed them to eat pork, one that outlawed pork but allowed cheeseburgers, or one that outlawed pork and cheeseburgers but allowed the eating of a cow’s tongue?
People make lots of money doing brand surveys, so maybe I will go into the religion brand survey business. I will need more examples of possible surveys, so think about this for a minute and share your survey ideas with me in the comments section of this blog, If any one hires me to do your survey I will let you know.