Those who know me best have heard me use the word “God” often. As a Christian, a recovering addict, and a Freemason, my relationship with a Higher Power is central to everything I do. In conversation with friends and loved ones, I’m happy to share my beliefs and why they are important to me. I do not advertise my faith for financial gain, but just this past week I was accused of doing just that. One of my subscribers, after reading my recent post on Social Media Responsibility, suggested that I was using “God” as a marketing tool.
Criticism is something every writer needs to live with, but this was an attack from an unexpected direction. Upon reading the post again, I reaffirmed that the Bible quote I used was in context with the article. Furthermore, a portion of the title for the article is taken directly from the Bible, which is, for all intents and purposes, a widely-read published piece of literature. If that quote came from Webster or Reuters it would not have been an issue. It was the religious connotation that caused the reader to be offended.
God Conversation is no longer Politically Correct
Our currency says, “In God We Trust”. Our parents often exclaim, “God Willing”. Our kids use “God Damn It” as part of their everyday vocabulary (along with more colorful terms), but try to speak about God in a casual conversation and folks get uncomfortable. Why exactly is that? As an addict in recovery, I hear men and women read the name in four of the twelve steps, yet still have the inability to speak that three letter word in a sentence. They profess a belief, but often squirm when I say, “God is in charge”. It seems to me that “God” conversation is no longer politically correct.
I’ve prayed on this (yes, I said it) and I decided to do a little research into the concept of God in social settings and, more importantly for this site, as a tool in business. I have a number of peers and associates in executive positions who use “God Bless” in email signatures and bible verses in their footers. Are they simply men of faith wishing to express their best wishes to all, or are each of these “God Marketing” techniques calculated attempts to generate profits from their fellow believers?
When did God go out of style?
A recent article in Scientific American titled “Is God Dying?” suggests that the spread of Democracy and the opening of economic borders across the world has contributed to a waning participation in organized religion. The number of “nones”, or those with no religious affiliation, is a staggering 20% in the United States, 32% for Americans under the age of 30. Many of these folks have a belief in Deity, but have been turned off or choose not to participate in a traditional “church”.
The Huffington Post published a piece called “Religion, Atheism, and Terror” that presents a different hypothesis. The writer of that piece suggests that the decline in religious participation is a direct result of the actions of both Muslim and Christian extremists who practice intolerance and violence towards others. If you’re watching the stats, their research shows that only 57% of Americans are confident that religion can offer relief from life on life’s terms, compared to 82% fifty years ago.
My father, who passed away twelve years ago, was a member of the “Greatest Generation” and a disabled veteran who fought for General Patton in World War II. One of his favorite sayings when I was growing up was, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” In his day, tension and strife led men to prayer. Today, those issues seem to be pushing us away from God. This is particularly disturbing because faith in a Higher Power, for those who have it, is the greatest source of strength and hope. Without it, where does hope come from? In a Godless society, will we be hopeless?
Religion in American Politics
“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
This opening line of the Declaration of Independence clearly states that “God” provides man “separate and equal station” and the right to dissolve political ties with a sovereign power. This was a foreign concept in the 18th Century. The King of England, according to ancient tradition, had been anointed by God and was therefore given supreme power over all in his domain. The idea of, “No, we don’t want that,” simply did not exist in the minds of the populace.
The Constitution of the United States, ratified July 21, 1788 declares, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This is a statement of religious freedom that this country retains as one of its core values. The actual phrase “separation between church and state” was first used in 1802 by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Danbury Baptists assuring them that the government would not interfere in their affairs.
Have we as a country held true to these values? The rise of Islamic Jihadism and the hate speech of right wing Christian groups like Westboro Baptist Church have sparked countless political debates and even calls for censorship and “banning” of Muslims from entering the US. Our current President Barack Obama faced attacks throughout his term specific to his religious beliefs. Is he Christian or Muslim? According to our Constitution, it shouldn’t matter. Why has it been an issue for eight years?
Thomas Jefferson, who advocated the separation of Church and State, did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, and stated it publicly during the election of 1800, a risky move at the time that nearly cost him the election. Hillary Clinton has been quoted saying, “We are commanded to love. Indeed, Jesus made it his greatest commandment.” Donald Trump is currently campaigning in Florida using the words, ““We will be one people, under one God, saluting one American flag.”
Read “Why America can’t Separate Religion and Politics” published in Boston University Magazine earlier this year. The article shows a drastic change from the tolerance of Jefferson’s time to the near fanaticism about religious beliefs our politicians have now. We seem to be relinquishing the very separation of government and religion that is a founding principle of our nation. Campaigning with faith as a qualification or pushing for a single national “God” sets a dangerous precedent. If you play the tape all the way through, it could very well pave the way for Monarchy, Dictatorship, or Religious Inquisitions.
Is “God Marketing” effective in Politics or Business?
Conversations about God are uncomfortable, religion is on the decline, and our two Presidential Candidates are promoting Christianity. How is the latter justified in light of the two former statements? From a political perspective, it seems to me that staying away from a God conversation would gain more votes. After all, 20% of Americans have no religious affiliation. Are they responding to the messaging they are hearing or is this the reason there are so many undecideds and folks who won’t vote this year?
Presidential Candidates are not stupid and they don’t enter a campaign without doing some research. Trump may seem to come off the cuff a lot, but he’s looked at the numbers. Hillary is obsessive about them. “God Marketing” works for them, and many businesses are using the same data sets.
Let’s look at the demographics:
The first number that jumps out at me is the 5% decline in Christianity in just the past five years. According to the left hand chart, non-Christians currently make up nearly 25% of the total population. This means that only 3 out of every 4 people who see Christian branding actually identify with it. Of those, according to our earlier stat from the Huffington Post, 43% do not have ultimate faith in their Faith.
Dig a little deeper and you’ll see those “none” and “other” numbers increase for men and women under age thirty-five. In this demographic, the percentage of non-Christians is 33%, or one in three. Assuming the remaining two have opposing political stances, you’re looking at a dead heat in the upcoming election, which is exactly where we’re at. Our Candidates are using God Marketing in their platform, but it may very well be the “non-Christian” folks who decide the election.
From a business perspective, it’s all about target demographics. MP Mueller, founder of Door Number 3 in Austin, published a New York Times article a few years back profiling two businesses which were successful using God Marketing. There’s also a great article on the concept at Arkside Marketing, which offers tips on how to best implement God as a marketing strategy. Both of these emphasize targeting.
If your “green field” market is young people under thirty, don’t do it. If you’re looking for older customers, established homeowners for instance, it may work for you. Ultimately, the decision comes down to who you’re selling to and whether or not you feel comfortable using your faith as a profit generator. Personally, I choose not to, but I suppose this article might be considered a “God Marketing” piece, so I’ll include a little branding:
God Bless you all, and God Bless the United States of America
Kevin D. Flynn is the founder and CEO of AdvisorScale Financial Writing. When he’s not writing or on the golf course, he spends his “free” time designing WordPress websites or creating business sales processes for start-ups. In addition to AdvisorScale, Mr. Flynn is also the Executive Director of H.E.L.P. for Young Readers and Managing Editor at October Golf Magazine. He lives in Leominster, Massachusetts, with his wife Evelyn. They have four adult children, two cats, and eight wonderful grandchildren.