Advertising your belief in God, or no God, that is the question.

October 24, 2008

Mother Mary or the St. Pauli Girl?

I ripped a blurb out from the Chicago Tribune this morning. (Yes, I still read the morning paper. Interfacing with a computer cannot replace coffee and the sports section… yet.) The story was about a slew of billboards going up in London (alas, none to show), produced by a group of well-moneyed atheists who, according to the Trib, “object to the favorable treatment given to religion in British society.” Some 30 buses will carry the slogan:

There’s probably no God.
Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

As many of you know, I’ve got a novel out about God and advertising: The Happy Soul Industry. In it, God finds an advertising agency to market Heaven. The campaign they come up with features this headline:

These days everybody’s skipping prayer.
So, how’s everybody doing?

You can imagine my amusement, then, at the non-believer’s advertisement. Same tone but a very different message! My line suggests the world is fretting and could really benefit from communion with God. The other suggests that there is no God and just get on with it.

Interesting use of the word “probably” as opposed to “definitely.” Does that make them agnostic? Regardless, unequivocally denying God’s existence would only infuriate the many to get a chuckle from the few.

What I don’t like is the “stop worrying” declarative. Constructive worrying is not a bad thing. It leads to positive change. And Lord knows, we have PLENTY to worry about, in the UK as well as here. “Don’t worry, be happy” is not so much atheistic as it is ignorant.

One has to place the now-famous “God Speaks” campaign into this discussion. For many years, a Southern congregation has underwritten countless messages beseeching people to heed God. Especially provocative about this campaign is that it maintains God as the copywriter! I know for a fact He isn’t, but the conceit does provide the work with a unique and powerful voice.

Like a lot of sensible people, my religious views evolved over time. As a boy, I was ignorant of God. He was merely a concept. As a young man I was an atheist. Not only did I believe in the power of “Self” (Ayn Rand being a huge influence), I also bought into the dismissal of religion as opiate for the masses. When you’re 22 you feel immortal -what need have you of God? By the time I got into my thirties, I questioned everything. At 40, I understood the need for a power greater than myself. I could no longer fill the hole in my soul by intellectual or hedonistic means, which had been my previous defaults.

Apparently, a lot of people can live without a higher power, hence the campaign from Britain. Like it or not, the message will get noticed. To what aim, I’ve no idea. I am fascinated (and amused) by God’s infiltration into popular culture. After all, I wrote a book about it! He (or She) is EVERYWHERE. Including, even now, in advertising.

Me before God, or rather an ad about a book about God. (best price on Amazon)


15 Responses to “Advertising your belief in God, or no God, that is the question.”

  1. To me, the following quote from Frank Herbert captures the essence of the role that creative folks can play in the search for a higher power-

    “Religion is the emulation of the adult by the child. Religion is the encystment of past beliefs: mythology, which is guesswork, the assumptions of trust in the universe, those pronouncements which men have made in search of personal power, all of it mingled with shreds of enlightenment. And always the ultimate unspoken commandment is “Thou shalt not question!” But we question. We break that commandment as a matter of course. The work to which we have set ourselves is the liberating of the imagination, the harnessing of imagination to humankind’s deepest sense of creativity.”

  2. SRP said

    Frank Herbert, author of Dune?
    Great quote. I needed to read it several times to get it all.

  3. Yes. The above quote is actually from Children of Dune, which is the third Dune novel and in my opinion, the best of the series.

  4. mexi said

    i want to be offended by the inset image with the dart board halo, but it’s just so damn tasty…

  5. as a french philosopher once remarked, “It’s better to believe in a God that might not exist, than not to believe in one that does.”

  6. SRP said

    A very fine quote.
    If one has trouble believing in God but acts “as if” what’s the worst that can happen? You help others. You do the next right thing. You get out of your head, which, for me, can be a rough neighborhood.

    Uh-Oh, this post is getting spiritual. Back to advertising.


  7. Voice of Reason said

    Your comment just confirmed Republicans are “boob” men.

  8. mexi said


    how wonderful that we are discussing faith, God’s existence, French philosophers, etc.–and in a civil manner! Wasn’t that one of your book’s purposes? Does that qualify you as some sort of heavenly agent?

    VOR, for the record, I am more of an “ass” guy

  9. SRP said

    don’t forget to add boobs to your list, Bernie!
    But you’re right, it is wonderful.
    But If I’m a “heavenly agent” God has serious problems…
    Thanks for reading and writing, Bernie.

  10. it’s a funny old world. when we’re younger we’re always making bargains with God. ie, help me hit this pitch and I’ll go to church forever. then we get older and start to pull away from the notion of a higher power–believing such things to be very unscientific. Of course, at some point we all face the death, and you can’t bargain with death. it’s absolute and happens to all of us. So what do we do? We go back to God and start bargaining again.

  11. malcomz said

    These posts about God and advertising. I see how they relate to your book, which I liked. But this blog – Are you trying to say advertising can be Godless because is “makes you want what you don’t need?” I think that’s kinda ballsy (or stupid) coming from an adguy! But if you keep it up I’ll keep coming back.

  12. I haven’t read the blog in about 9 days because I’ve been in Ireland (where they definitely believe in God) and I find it such a treat to come back and have so much to go through. Although this isn’t the most recent post, I find this topic far too tasty — to paraphrase Mexi — to pass up.

    I find myself in an odd place in the middle. I’m not in my 20s anymore, feeling invincible and running on hedonism, consequences be damned. And I’m also not in my 40s or 50s with children and a need to find a higher purpose to explain the life I’ve got, or the world I’m living in. I am, without question, an atheist. I would say that my beliefs, or lack thereof, can be summed up in something Bill Maher said, and again, I’m paraphrasing: I don’t believe in living a life based on superstition or lack of accountability. Now, that’s certainly the comedic effect, far extreme wording of my thoughts, but accurate nonetheless.

    On the one hand I truly long for a world where we live our lives, run our countries, and make our decisions based on logic and reason. And I certainly don’t think “God” should exist in our communications or be our barometer to measure anything. After all, nearly every war in human history has some significant tie to one God or another. But on the other hand, it/he/she is by far the most common tie that binds us, regardless of the slight differences. God, in my estimation, is indeed the single greatest, lowest common denominator in the world. Even this self proclaimed “individualist/humanist” used the nativity scene in last year’s agency holiday card. Which, by the way, got pulled at the last minute due to some internal complaining from some of the more conservative colleagues. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

  13. @Ronan Doyle

    I think it’s perfectly fine to be an atheist. I know I sometimes am, especially on Sunday.

    But many of the greatest mass murderers of the 20th century -Stalin, Mao, Hitler- were either atheist or were inspired by a spiritual belief system other than one of the monotheistic religions. (Hitler was inspired by Germanic occultism.) And atheism, as we think of it, only came about in the West in the 19th and 20th century. So i don’t think blaming all of history’s atrocities on “god” is a very good argument.

    Beyond that, I think this statement-“I don’t believe in living a life based on superstition or lack of accountability” tends to throw believers and fundamentalists all into the same bucket. Which isn’t fair or accurate at all. Fundamentalism is much more the product of intolerant and/or power-hungry political leaders using religion as a tool to maintain and increase their control. For example, radical islam and reactionary evangelical christianity very much had their roots as political movements. The “radical islamic” Iranian revolution was a reaction to the West’s support of the Shah in the 20th century. The reactionary Bible-bangers you see in this country right now had their roots in McCarthyism and the GOP’s “Southern Strategy” earlier this century. Again, nothing that involves a “god” , not really.

    For every religious movement that stifles rationality and demands intolerance, there is two or three that are exactly the opposite.

    And atheists that throw all religious or spiritual people in the “crazy” basket are, to me, displaying quite a bit of the irrational and intolerant fundamentalism they claim to be against.

    gods bless, (or not), Mark

  14. Voice of Reason said

    The last two arguments are perfect examples of the ever-existing rift between believers and non-believers. I feel the best position is in the middle: agnostic. I recognize there is a power greater than myself but I don’t force it on anyone else. This allows for all of the best religion has to offer without any of the bile.

  15. I don’t believe in atheism. (Schmidt, it was Pascal.)

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