A car that can help save your soul." Would that commercial entice you to buy a Volvo? Or how about this: A young woman sits in church, "confessing" her miserly ways. "It's not a sin to be frugal," the preacher reassures her. And the young woman is released from guilt to enjoy her sporty new Chevy Cavalier.

Madison Avenue has discovered spiritual chic.

Commercials are cultural bellwethers. Advertisers spend fortunes on studies to probe our psyches so they can pitch their products to our deepest longings. Today "spirituality is in," says Sam Keen, author of Hymns to an Unknown God. It has become profitable to exploit Americans' growing spiritual hunger.

In a commercial for IBM's Solutions for a Small Planet, Catholic nuns walking to vespers talk about surfing the Net. Gatorade features Michael Jordan running in Tibet and meeting an Eastern holy man who intones, "Life is a sport; drink it up." Snickers shows a politically correct football team inviting a Catholic priest to bless the team, followed by a rabbi, a Native American, a Buddhist, and a long line of other spiritual leaders. The tag line: "Not going anywhere for awhile? Grab a Snickers."

There is no missing the religious overtones in this familiar television commercial: With a flood threatening to wash away the family home, a father cries out for help. Behold, the heavens open and a giant cartoon hand descends to rescue the family from disaster. The company, of course, is Allstate insurance. One almost expects to see the family offer up a prayer: "We thank thee, Allstate, for thy help in times of trouble."

The need for salvation has been imprinted on the human soul since the Fall. Ironically, in contemporary America, advertisers seem more attuned to that need than our spiritual ...

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Charles Colson
Charles Colson was the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, an outreach to convicts, victims of crime, and justice officers. Colson, who converted to Christianity before he was indicted on Watergate-related charges, became one of evangelicalism's most influential voices. His books included Born Again and How Now Shall We Live? A Christianity Today columnist since 1985, Colson died in 2012.
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