If you're a thinking person who has questioned conventional Christian doctrine, no doubt you have been attacked--whether threatened with eternal damnation and Hellfire or more subtly "beat up" for your lack of faith. Fundamentalists automatically chide non-believers and doubters with Biblical excerpts like "Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for to such belongeth the kingdom of heaven."
Soon to be released on DVD, director Carl Christman's documentary Selling God can serve as a counter to such traditional Christian attacks. His irreverent approach traces evangelical Christianity from its early days to the post 9/11 era where pop culture and doctrine frequently mesh in absurdly humorous fashion.
Christman's central thesis holds that evangelical Christianity has used basic marketing strategy for centuries to expand its financial empire. Business strategies about finding a client's needs, promising to fill these needs, posing threats, and creating urgency have been and still are standard practice with evangelicals. Go to any service and you are certain to be bombarded with promises of instant salvation and the eternal heavenly bliss while the firery pits of Hell await non-believers--and dire warnings that the Rapture is nigh since the signs of the final days surround us (just as they have been for the past several centuries).
The documentary points out how evangelism relies on steadily increasing numbers. That explains why the doctrine of celibacy never worked out well for the Shakers while banning birth control and practicing polygamy helped Catholics and Mormans multiply their numbers exponentially.
Some even put a price on saving a soul. A secretary to one televangelist calculates this as about 49 cents a soul for a gathering in South Korea--calculated via the cost for renting the facility divided by the number of pledge cards received that claim to have been "saved" by Jesus at the event.
That's only a small sample of the satirical nature of the documentary even before inclusions of television clips from well known televangelical legends--Jerry Falwell, Ted Haggard, Pat Robertson. They all proclaim their place in Heaven and promise that you can join them equipped with harps and non-stop Barry Manilow music as long as you are "saved" (I'd gladly opt for the other place and hang out with Mark Twain).
Similar in tone to Bill Mauer's Religulous, Christman's brand of humor is more restrained but even more provocative. He includes serious interview clips from Dr. Noam Chomsky along with other scholars and religious leaders.Televangelists are easy targets with so many outrageous moments preserved in the public domain, so mining these self-righteous pundits for material is an easy task. Christman does the job effectively, selecting excerpts that drive home his themes--how evangelists use standard marketing ploys to hawk their brand of religion (as well as commercial products).
As the documentary indicates, nearly half of U.S. citizens have fallen prey to Christian fundamentalist marketing campaigns--which is hardly surprising considering how so many are obsessed with pop-culture and habitually dine at McDonalds or wander the aisles of the local Wal-Mart. Jesus has to be rolling over in his grave as He sees what has been wrought in His name. Selling God explores terrain that has been visited before but does take a few creative turns that should provoke intelligent post-mortem discussions--at least with those who haven't already bought totally into Christian fundamentalism.