eBay Atheist

Emerging markets: Souls, for sale and/or saving

In the future, no marketing textbook will be complete without a chapter on Hemant Mehta, the 22-year-old who last month sold his soul on eBay. It's not that he made a killing on the item itself, which at a closing bid of $504 presumably sold for a loss, but on the upside, whoa—the stunt has racked up several ad campaigns' worth of exposure for the product he was actually marketing: atheism as a wholesome American way of life.

A dedicated nonbeliever, Mehta auctioned his soul on the following terms: For every $10 bid to win, he would attend an hour of services at a local house of worship of the winner's choosing. He promised to keep an open journal of his experience and an open mind to the possibility of conversion. The bait was the chance to win him over for God, but only the purest of souls could fail to see the hook in Mehta's own bid to sell atheism as just another strand in our glorious tapestry of beliefs.

Happily, the winning bidder turned out to be an equally canny marketer—liberal evangelical Jim Henderson, apparently bent on re-branding Christianity with an eye to the NPR demographic—and the comedy of ironies has come full circle. As Mehta blogs away on both Henderson's site and his own, each party markets his constituency to the other's as a nonthreatening alternative, Henderson welcoming Mehta's feedback on the "product" he's sampling in various local churches, Mehta charmingly relaying atheist jokes ("Did you know Atheists have a holiday? It's on April 1st!"). The crowning irony being, of course, that both are righter than they know. Where markets reign supreme, even the most passionate of beliefs is just a lifestyle choice compared to that ultimate of values, the sales price.

 
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