Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Marketing Jesus

Recently, someone in an old, beaten-up sedan committed an appalling number of traffic sins in about one minute: he cut me off, crawled along at a snail’s pace, weaved back and forth between lanes, and then (once I’d thought I was rid of him) suddenly swerved back in front of me once he realized he was in a turn-only lane. As I’d predicted as my eyes traveled down to his license plate, he was a foreigner; hence, I’m obligated to conclude that he was lost or can’t drive. But what caught my attention were the big words “In God We Trust” that he must have paid the State of Indiana a pretty sum for.

Every day, I see cars with Christianese bumper-stickers and license plate frames that the drivers found witty. When those drivers are rude or not alert, it’s disheartening if not offensive. But in this case, I was puzzled. Here was Indiana’s DMV making money by marketing Jesus to Christian customers. Yes, it’s our country’s official motto. However, who would buy that vanity plate but an enthusiastic believer? I really doubt that Indianan atheists drive around with them.

Christians are a huge consumer market, and many businesses cater to them. But seeing a government agency do the same rubbed me the wrong way. They took advantage of a loophole in their “separation of church and state” doctrine to target Christians with a product that worked on at least one. The Christian driver probably thought he was witnessing for Christ. Instead, he looked like a victim of a mass marketing scheme.