Give Me That Old Time Religion

By J. Michael Willard

It’s probably one of the most interesting and conflicting ages, that of — let’s be truthful — the often mawkish septuagenarian, particularly when it comes to marketing and religion.

I am forced to think about commercial venture-ism because it is my day job, and religion because it intrudes none-too-gently on the future. I have with religion a nostalgic but conflicted past.

We’re talking “Do Lord”, “Amazing Grace”, and “The Old Rugged Cross”, those toe-tapping and at times tear inducing hymns. We’re talking a Southern Baptist church doing its damnedest to bar people of color in my youth.

Having grown up as a Bible-thumping Baptist — at least until my late teen years — I am amazed at the ability of evangelicals to turn all I was taught into a stone-washed and debatable discussion.

I didn’t think there was that much leeway between what was formerly forbidden and what today is forgivable given a nod and a wink from evangelicals and the man in the White House.

From a marketing standpoint, it is outrageously bizarre and requires a suspension of disbelief, like with a magician’s trick. It represents a dystopian version of the greatest messages of revered holy icons — from Mohammed to Jesus.

I state from the outset that I am, if not an atheist, a backsliding agnostic. In general, I don’t believe in an after life, and — if per chance there were one — I would consider it a lucky strike extra.

On the other hand, I don’t proselytize, which is to say I don’t give a rat’s behind about convincing others, and readily admit that death bed professions of faith are the norm, not the exception.

Fact is, I am perfectly happy for that large share of the world who are content in their faith, whether Christian, Muslim or the existential beliefs in the Church of the What’s Happening Now.

As the years roll by and seem to hit warp speed after 65, one does dwell on religion and life more than on the match-up of a World Series or who did well in the Democrat/GOP dogfight.

Still, I don’t lose sleep.

I realize that fatalism is a traveling companion to skepticism, as well as to the study of science which suggest earth has been around for 4.5 billion years and not merely 6,000.

Nonetheless, I advance the thought that evangelicals, maybe not all but many, are hanging their hats on what in retail marketing we call bait-and-switch. It kind of ruins their overall sells pitch.

Hence, we have a grabber of female private parts as President, and he skates with the mega church evangelicals as they jet around in their Gulf Streams. I scratch my head at that one.

A column of Central American refugees fleeing horrendous hardship and danger becomes, by Presidential tweets, possible terrorists, rapists and murderers. Is there no sense of charity or shame here for the less fortunate?

And, recently, a US residing journalist is murdered by Saudi Arabia, and a President is ho-hum because it doesn’t balance out with an arms deal with an oppressive regime.

A few years back, it was fashionable for both preachers and politicians to voice the question: What would JC do, meaning, of course, Jesus Christ of Galilee, someone of which I am a big fan.

In this nouveau-branding, the day-to-day marketing spiel by the richest of the evangelicals, what, pray tell, would JC do? They have appropriated a new religion that glorifies wealth.

This doesn’t jive entirely with it being easier for a camel to “go through the eye of a needle then a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”. But then, maybe that was a throw-away line.

I have this theory, though perhaps it is wishful thinking. It goes like this:

Suppose I lived a fairly decent life, following most of the billboarded Ten Commandments, though quite unconsciously. During this time, I didn’t really concern myself with a fiery Hell.

Heaven or the threat of eternal damnation weren’t really relevant to me because, frankly, I couldn’t get my head sufficiently around the mythology, particularly after I grew into long pants.

Wouldn’t one think I would have just as much credibility with the Pearly Gate judge as the fellow who walked the walked, talked the talk, and got the T-shirt out of total, mind-numbing fear of the flame?

Now, in all honesty, I haven’t dotted the “i’s” and crossed the “t’s” on Moses’s Holy Ten, particularly when it comes to keeping the Sabbath Holy and that coveting section, chichis complicated.

The graven image line also throws me for a loop. I do so exalt my 1976 Martin guitar.

But, all kidding aside, for the card carrying evangelicals to market themselves beyond a couple of political seasons, they need serious re-branding based on America’s — and Jesus’s — established values.

In other words, as the old gospel song goes: “Give Me That Old Time Religion”.

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I am a novelist, painter, songwriter and essayist but my day job is elevating the profile of authors, entertainers and business executives.

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