Viral marketing, Jesus style

We were in Charleston about ten years ago and I must’ve gotten a-hold of some bad she-crab soup. My wife and I were wandering around the historic district when I found myself in urgent need of a bathroom. After a few desperate moments, I located one in a record store. (Okay, maybe it was 20 years ago).

As I finished up my business, I looked down at the floor of the men’s room, and there lay at neatly folded $100 bill. Risking God-knows-how-many diseases that may have been present in a public toilet, I picked up the bill, only to find the disappointing message printed on the reverse: “Looking for happiness, prosperity and wealth? Look no further than Jesus Christ.” And sure enough, there was a picture of Jesus where I would rather have seen Benjamin Franklin.

Not exactly viral marketing. Bacterial marketing, maybe. Either way, I had been duped into receiving a religious tract left behind by some jerkwad who wanted to show me the way to Everlasting Life.

Lately, I’ve come across several more attempts to win converts to the Lord through publicity campaigns that essentially consist of littering. Not exactly well-targeted, these efforts aim to reach the souls of people who can find nothing better to read, or those who hate to see garbage on the ground, or car owners who wish to use their wipers without having the windshield obstructed by a rapidly disintegrating brochure.

I don’t know what kind of advertising agency advises its clients to reach their target audience through random pamphleteering, a practice I thought had died with Thomas Paine. It seems, however, to be a strategy on the rise. Consider three of my recent experiences:

Decision magazine, a publication of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, featured son, heir-apparent and Islamaphobe Franklin Graham on the cover. This particular issue began its life as a subscription mailing to the home of a fellow worker. Apparently, his desire to witness consisted of anonymously leaving the periodical in our men’s room, covering his imprinted name and address with black Sharpie scrawls before abandoning it. It was the June 2004 issue and now, over six years later, you have to wonder whether all the stuff about God and Christ being so great was still current. For all I know, some recent revelation converted these good Southern Baptists into believers in other deities altogether.

Still, it made decent bathroom reading compared to the other offerings available on the back of the commode (an Us, an Auto Trader and a torn scrap of stock quotes). There was a message from Billy Graham himself, telling the parable of Naaman, a commander of the Syrian army who had wealth, success, prestige and leprosy. The message, according to the headline, is “Having It All Isn’t Enough”, but my takeaway was an interesting fact about how lepers of that time had to constantly cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” to warn fellow citizens to steer clear. I think about how useful this would be in the modern office environment. The ever-sniffling lady three cubicles down from me could spend the day declaring “Mucus leak! Mucus leak!” and then maybe everybody would stop blessing her every time she sneezed.

The other articles were mildly amusing at best. A story about a revival held by Franklin Graham showed a photo a three young sisters who had attended a side session at “Kidzfest” (you know it’s cool because it has a “z” in it) featuring a costumed mascot called “Bibleman”. Among the adults attending the revival was Dr. Greg Heyart, a Bakersfield chiropractor and believer who struck a creepy pose fondling a column of spinal vertebrae as he urged others in the medical community to know Christ.

There was a first-person account from a drug-addicted realtor who came to Jesus during a brief break in the housing boom. She craved salvation, however she wasn’t sure she could work it into her busy schedule. “That Sunday I showed a beautiful house, but it didn’t sell,” she wrote. “I believe God prevented it. When it didn’t sell, I knew I could make it to the Crusade.”

Another article described ways to talk about Jesus with your unconverted, hell-bound friends and associates. “American Christians are giving the lost people around them a silent death sentence,” wrote Ron Hutchcraft. “It’s a death sentence that says, ‘I know how you could live, but I’m not talking.'” He offers tips about how to proselytize without embarrassing yourself, which apparently includes leaving 44-page full-color publications in the can.

On a recent doctor’s visit, I stood waiting for the elevator and noticed a bank of receptacles on the floor nearby. The three locked boxes were the property of LabCorp, a medical laboratory, and were meant to collect various effluents from the human body destined for sample testing. On top of one of the boxes sat a stack of small handouts titled “God’s Simple Plan of Salvation”. The intended readership of this drop were those seeking comfort from concerns they had about blood in their stools.

The message in this piece had to be much more direct than a lavish magazine. “God says in order to go to Heaven, you must be born again,” read one line. “In John 3:7, Jesus said to Nicodemus, ‘Ye must be born again.'” Unlike the smelly samples in the boxes below, no need for analysis and interpretation there.

“Because you are a sinner, you are condemned to death,” read another entry. And you thought that oozing sore on your neck was just a harmless boil. However, “if you read this tract over and over, without laying it down until you understand it,” there is hope. That hope can be found at Emmanuel Independent Baptist Church, 102 Iron Station Road, Dallas, NC 28034, where “you should be baptized in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ as a public testimony of your salvation, and then unite with a Bible-believing church without delay.”

Finally, stuffed into my home mailbox, in direct violation of postal codes though apparently not God’s law, I found a brochure advertising an upcoming four-night seminar at a local hotel. The Christian Creation Conference was promoting an “exciting Bible seminar affirming creation” with the headline “Evolution Exposed!” On the cover, the question is asked “Did Darwin Murder God?”, with artwork featuring a monkey contemplating a human skull, sitting on a pile of biology textbooks and, for some reason, holding a pair of pliers with his foot. (The subtle point here, I guess, is how could we possibly be related to the apes when we can’t even grip tools between our non-prehensile toes?)

Though I myself have never heard such a claim, there’s apparently this great consensus among foolish science-believers that Darwin murdered God.

“Charles Darwin didn’t want to murder God, as he once put it, BUT HE DID,” read one large headline hovering above a T. Rex. “See shocking evidence that, at best, Darwin could only be charged with attempted murder.”

The seminar’s other topics will be “Dinosaurs, Fossils and the Age of the Earth (Wednesday)”, which will ask why missing links are still missing and how “the Cambrian explosion in the Geologic Column has effectively cut down Darwin’s Tree of Life”; “Noah’s Ark and Secrets of The Flood (Thursday)”, wherein “secrets of The Flood may supply the most critical information in the entire creation/evolution debate”; and “Ape Men: Don’t Make a Monkey Out of Yourself (Friday)”, wrapping up the week with a tour through “evolution’s hall of shame” and finally an answer to the question we all ask: “What about ape men?”

“Bring your Bible and your mind, you will use both,” claims presenter H.S. Rester, whose pre-Christian credits included a course in chemical engineering before finding his way to a divinity degree. “Jesus will be uplifted! The Bible will be affirmed! Free book for all those who attend three or more nights!”

I assume any leftover books will be strewn over the lawn outside.

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3 Responses to “Viral marketing, Jesus style”

  1. hoaxdetector Says:

    You’ve run low in ideas, I take it

  2. jedwardswright Says:

    Dear Mr. W,
    Yes, Virginia, junk mail comes in religious form too.
    Somewhere out there someone is praising the Lord because you read that magazine cover to cover, thinking, “There may be hope for Davis yet!”
    Mother Hen thinks that it is nice of all the good people who think that you are going to heck to try to save you. Ill-advised, apparently, but nice, because after all, they think that you are going to roast perpetually if they don’t. Take it from MH, roasting is not a pretty fate!
    Santimoniously yours,
    Mother Hen

  3. LetUsAllUsPlayDominoes Says:

    ~Among the adults attending the revival was Dr. Greg Heyart, a Bakersfield chiropractor and believer who struck a creepy pose fondling a column of spinal vertebrae as he urged others in the medical community to know Christ.~

    Great imagery.

    On a related topic-read William James’ “The Varieties of Religious Experience” (1902) for insight on the thinking of people who publish such tracts.

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