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Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture [Paperback]

By R. Laurence Moore (Author)
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Item description for Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture by R. Laurence Moore...

Religion in America is up for sale. The products range from a plethora of merchandise in questionable taste--such as Bible-based diet books (More of Jesus. Less of Me), Rapture T-shirts (one features a basketball game with half its players disappearing in the Rapture--the caption is "Fast Break"), and bumper stickers and Frisbees with inspirational messages--to the unabashed consumerism of Jim Bakker's Heritage USA, a grandiose Christian theme park with giant water slide, shopping mall, and office complex. We tend to think of these phenomena--which also include a long line of multimillionaire televangelists and the almost manic promotion of Christmas giving--as a fairly recent development. But as R. Laurence Moore points out in Selling God, religion has been deeply involved in our commercial culture since the beginning of the nineteenth century.
In a sweeping, colorful history that spans over two centuries of American culture, Moore examines the role of religion in the marketplace, revealing how religious leaders have borrowed (and invented) commercial practices to promote religion--and how business leaders have borrowed (and invented) religion to promote commerce. It is a book peopled by a fascinating roster of American originals, including showman P.T. Barnum and circuit rider Lorenzo Dow, painter Frederick Church and dime novelist Ned Buntline, Sylvester Graham (inventor of the Graham cracker) and the "Poughkeepsie Seer" Andrew Jackson Davis, film directors D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille, Norman Vincent Peale and Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. Moore paints insightful portraits of figures such as Mason Locke Weems (Weems's marriage of aggressive marketing and a moral mission--in such bloody, violent tales as The Drunkard'sLooking Glass or God's Revenge Against Adultery--was an important starting point of America's culture industry), religious orator George Whitefield (who transformed church services into mass entertainment, using his acting talents to enthrall vast throngs of people), and Dwight Moody, a former salesman for a boot-and-shoe operation who founded a religious empire centered on the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago (and who advertised his meetings in the entertainment pages of the newspaper). Moore also shows how the Mormons pioneered leisure activities (Brigham Young built the famed Salt Lake Theater, seating 1,500 people, months before work on the Tabernacle started), how Henry Ward Beecher helped the ardent Protestant became the consummate consumer (explicitly justifying the building of expensive mansions, and the collecting of art and antique furniture, as the proper tendencies of pious men), and how the First Amendment, in denying religious groups the status and financial solvency of a state church, forced them to compete in the marketplace for the attention of Americans: religious leaders could either give in to the sway of the market or watch their churches die.
Ranging from the rise of gymnasiums and "muscular Christianity," to the creation of the Chautauqua movement (blending devotional services with concerts, fireworks, bonfires, and humorous lectures), to Oral Robert's "Blessing Pacts" and L. Ron Hubbard's Church of Scientology, Selling God provides both fascinating social history and an insightful look at religion in America.

Citations And Professional Reviews
Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture by R. Laurence Moore has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
  • Wilson Public Library Catalog - 12/31/2008 page 83
  • New York Times - 12/24/1995 page 16
  • Wilson Public Library Catalog - 01/01/2004 page 67

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Oxford University Press, USA
Pages   336
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.48" Width: 5.58" Height: 0.83"
Weight:   0.94 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jul 13, 1995
Publisher   Oxford University Press
Edition  Revised  
ISBN  0195098382  
ISBN13  9780195098389  

Availability  139 units.
Availability accurate as of Oct 24, 2016 03:21.
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More About R. Laurence Moore

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R. Laurence Moore is Professor of History at Cornell University and author of Religious Outsiders and the Making of Americans.

R. Laurence Moore was born in 1940.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > General
2Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States
3Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Contemporary
4Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Anthologies
6Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies > History
7Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies > Religion

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Reviews - What do customers think about Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture?

God: Sold!  Apr 6, 2009
In his book, Selling God, author R. Laurence Moore contends that religion has used the marketplace as a means to support its goals. He claims that religious establishments were forced to use the market to retain their power. Without the "selling" of God, Moore claims that various Christian denominations would have died out or at least become less potent in America. That is to say, without the commodification of religious ideals, religion would not be able to sustain itself on principle alone, says Moore. Although Moore uses a great deal of wit in depicting his various examples of religious commodification, it is quite clear that his humor is to be taken with dead seriousness. While poking fun at the extravagance of many commodifications, Moore shows that the last two centuries of American Christianity have been spiritually and monetarily profitable.

Moore begins his argument by depicting the vast consumption of graphic novels in the early 19th century as America's first taste of non-religious themes. American's were buying novels which displayed acts of "moral" depravity (i.e. sex and violence), says Moore. The Protestant community quickly realized, he says, that people were reading more of these types of books than the Bible. It is then, he states, that the religious ministers and institutions realized that it would take an exercise in capitalism to support their authority. Books were quickly issued to counter this moral depravity by way of moral depiction. Novels now boasted spiritual uplift by depicting sex and violence with a moral message. It is with this process of condemnation reinvented into religious commodification that Moore claims fed Protestant life in America.

Throughout most of the book, Moore gives endless examples of how America turned "sinful" secular activities into "wholesome" fun. It was obvious, says Moore, that Americans were desperate to break free from the Protestant Work Ethic, and thus seek out this thing called "fun" in the secular sphere. From books, to plays, to tent revivals, to mass media, Moore describes how American Protestant Christianity sought to fill a void it could not fill with Bible and sermon alone. Circus-like revivals, for example, filled the need for people to let loose while simultaneously gaining spiritual information, says Moore. The people were allowed, he says, to maintain their protestant work ethic while having fun at the same time. This seems to be a recurring theme in religious America, he writes. The fact that American's generally hated to participate in any leisure activity that did not simultaneously produce something, says Moore, caused the most turbulence. He states that books could not be graphic unless there was a moral to the story. Carnivals could not exist solely for the purpose of leisure, says Moore, they must be reinvented into something spiritually uplifting like a revival.

However, not all religious leaders and institutions where so weary of having too much fun intermingle with their religious life, says Moore. He depicts the prime example of the Mormon president Brigham Young. Instead of condemning and retooling secular fun, states Moore, he fostered the idea that life and its joys are an integral part of religious life. Moore points out, however, that Brigham Young had the benefit of a compact community that could easily be monitored. Other ministers were catching on to the religious fun craze as well, says Moore. Frederick Sawyer, for example, wrote in his book, A Plead for Amusements, "Religion must enter the common life and cease to be gloomy." Pastor James Leonard Corning also urged religious communities to not be so fearful of "mirthful recreation" and to pursue fun as a part of religious life.

It is not clear, however, as to whether religion has influenced the market economy, or the market economy has influenced religion. Moore speculates on this phenomenon, which may in fact have no direct answer. Moore's numerous examples of commodification give us an idea that the marketplace is a neutral entity prepared to sell anything: including religion. That is to say, Moore depicts religion as a commodity that needs to be sold in order to survive.

Overall, Moore's book gives a good generalization of how religion has been forced to sell itself as a commodity. In comparison to his other book, The Godless Constitution, Moore expands on how religion flourished within American culture. In The Godless Constitution, Moore depicts how America should have handled religion. That is to say, America should have provided a greater separation between religion and the other spheres of secular life. In Selling God, Moore depicts what did happen to America concerning religion. Throughout his book, he has built up an effective argument that frames American Protestant religion as being permanently attached to the market economy. Moore does question, however, whether or not this commodification has been entirely degrading to religion. He notes that this commodification has enabled religion to reach a broader audience as well as contribute to solving social ills. The question is then, has the commodification of religion diminished its "spiritual effectiveness"? Moore does not entertain this notion entirely, but leaves this to the reader. In some respects, yes, religion's inability to sustain itself outside of the market creates a level of accessibility only to those who can afford it. But on the other hand, commodification has been able to reach more people through marketing as well as address social ills as Moore has stated. On the whole, Selling God was very insightful and thought provoking, giving numerous examples of the commodification of religion in America.

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