A tried-and-true advertising concept is a technique called myth analysis. In it, the marketer establishes a narrative that has nothing to do with the product, but which sticks in the minds of consumers.
It applies to beer and beach volleyball, GEICO and geckos, Budweiser and Clydesdales, AFLAC and a duck.
It applies as well to Republican presidential candidates and Christliness.
As with beer and beach volleyball, the branding has nothing to do with the product.
No matter how many times GOP aspirants rush to the stage at religious-right Liberty University, as Jeb Bush did last week and Ted Cruz before him, they move not an inch closer to the Christian principles they profess.
No matter how many times Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson claim to be Christians, they know they are only doing the kind of branding that gets them in the graces of the demographic that will crown a king in the GOP sweepstakes.
Hearing what these candidates say about religion, one quickly realizes it has very little to do with most of what Christianity is.
What they espouse is — let's call it retail religiosity — the pitch that will sell. Yes, market that product to a self-satisfied, mostly comfortable, mostly white, mostly Protestant audience.
Hear Ben Carson talk about homosexuality (he thinks it's a choice) and abortion, and of course prayer. (He says he does that a lot.) Carson doesn't dare devote a word on the stump to helping the poor, or denouncing materialism or militarism. And treating all people with respect and kindness? No well-fed conservative audience wants to hear that.
The thing is, one can read page after page of the sacred text these retail agents say is their playbook – the Bible -- and see almost nothing about the issues Republican candidates treat as front and center relative to their Christian faith. But one can read page after page about things they will ignore on the stump, like materialism and militarism, and the edict to treat all people with respect and kindness. We are to assume, you understand, that "all people" includes homosexuals.
But then again, what the candidates offer is as far from Christianity as a duck is from life insurance.
Jeb Bush last week said he'd have authorized attacking Iraq just like his big brother. What would Jesus have done?
Ted Cruz, just like the white demographic he needs, wants to deport young Americans whose parents came here illegally. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says that's inhumane and foolish. The better policy is to let the nation's investment in those young people pay off through the DREAM Act, resulting in higher education and more productive lives.
Huckabee's new book is "God, Guns, Grits and Gravy." We cannot be sure about Christ's position on grits and gravy, but let us assume that the rod in "spare the rod, spoil the child" is not sold by Smith & Wesson.
Like everything that keeps the Republican Party in coin, what these candidates embrace is not the Christ of the New Testament but something and someone molded in the capitalist image. Call it Corporate Jesus.
Corporate Jesus is about product development and market share. Corporate Jesus is about rationalizing our culture's excesses in marginalizing the poor and prioritizing possessions. And don't you forget it. The GOP candidates will not.
I think back to my father, who couldn't have been more devoted to his church – a church he helped build with his very hands. In his later years, alarmed by the influence of the religious right, he became a dues-paying member of Americans for Separation of Church and State.
Webster's defines a charlatan as someone who pretends to be something to deceive people. Based on their stump appeals as pertains to religion, my father would say that a bunch of charlatans have taken the stage as 2016 approaches.