Word-snatchers invade the church.

Advertising sells a lot more than cars, cookies, and computers,” a recent Advertising Council Ad states. It also sells culture, colleges, candidates, and churches. The rhetoric of ad men transforms standard brands into graven images for profit. Moreover, in the areas of religion, politics, and charities, as well as business, there is a growing trend to sell an image instead of a fact, person, or product.

This image-vying and image-buying is, according to Wright Morris, “a ‘religious’ rite in the sense that it involves idols behind altars.…” (A Bill of Rites, A Bill of Wrongs, A Bill of Goods, New American Library, 1968, p. 135). These “idols of the marketplace,” to borrow Francis Bacon’s phrase, are hawked in a liturgical lingo. However, this religious doublespeak has another side; while Madison Avenue uses religious ideas and language, churchmen have adopted the techniques and language of Madison Avenue.

A typical use of religion in advertising is the ad for Italian slacks called “Jesus Jeans,” which displays a girl in tight-fitting shorts branded he who loves me, follows me. Biblical echoes in other recent ads are Michelob’s Do unto others, Johnnie Walker’s Honor Thyself, and Seagram’s Stop loving thy neighbor’s-Get thine own. Yardley of London asks Can woman live by detergents alone? and Rolf’s of Amity Leather Products offers a wallet For your daily bread or a beatific, Welcome to the fold. Such ads are designed to transfer positive associations to products that otherwise might have no appeal.

If the advertiser, sometimes verging on sacrilege, borrows language from the churchman, placing idols ...

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