A recent advertisement for Samuel Adams' beer outrages religious Americans and historical purists. - Image courtesy of "Another Pint Please..." (http://bit.ly/12WUwYN)

A recent advertisement for Samuel Adams’ beer outrages religious Americans and historical purists. – Image courtesy of “Another Pint Please…” (http://bit.ly/12WUwYN)

Marketers at the Boston Beer Company have a new brew they want you to taste: secularism. And to sell it, they’ve redacted the Declaration of Independence.

The company omitted the reference to God in the preamble to America’s second most important document in a recent advertisement for their Samuel Adams brand. In the Independence Day ad, an actor says, “All men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The original wording, composed by Thomas Jefferson reads, “endowed by their Creator.”

Not surprisingly, some consumers are outraged.

One person wrote on the Samuel Adams’ Facebook page, “I guess I should not be surprised that a company, interested only in profit, would rewrite American history for commercial gain.” Another commented, “It’s not about religion, it’s about HISTORY! The fact is, “Creator” is in the quote. It was your choice to use the quote-use it all. Thank you for showing us where you stand or rather don’t stand.”

The Boston Beer Company released a statement defending its decision. “We adhere to an advertising code, established by the Beer Institute – a beer industry trade organization—that states, ‘Beer advertising and marketing materials should not include religion or religious themes’,” the statement said.

But such a defense fails to explain why they chose to wade into these waters in the first place, which is why many patrons aren’t buying it. Samuel Adams’ marketers had a near infinite number of themes they could have chosen for their Independence Day advertisement. They might have selected fireworks or family gatherings or — here’s an idea — the superior quality of their product. Instead, they chose to wade unnecessarily into a contentious cultural debate. By so doing, they’ve loaded ammo into conservatives’ guns, adding weight to the argument that government and some corporations are cramming a politically correct and secularist agenda down their throats.

I’ve argued that America has been moving into a post-Christian moment for some time, but bold moves like this one say something stark about our culture. We have arrived at a time in our history where some people are so offended by even the idea of God that they can’t bear to speak God’s name or quote someone else speaking God’s name. Worse yet, they have to delete God’s name from the Declaration of Independence to make a point.

It says something about our culture that a beer company–one named after a deeply religious man, no less–would pick such a fight with so little to gain and so much to lose.

If you’ve followed my columns or read my recent book, you know I am an equal opportunity offender. I have also criticized fellow Christians and conservatives for being unnecessarily divisive or forcing their point of view on others who disagree with them. (Case in point: the “War on Christmas.”) We’ll never move beyond the culture wars unless we stop this kind of pointless eye-poking.

But more than being unnecessarily inflammatory, this advertising omission is troubling because it robs the declaration of meaning. Historians will tell you  Jefferson noted that these rights are “endowed by the Creator” to emphasize that they can not be revoked. They are universal, for all time and all people. As with God, the founding father was asserting they are timeless and true. So the error made by Samuel Adams is not just religious; it’s historical.

Turns out, more than a few feel the the ad drew an unnecessary line in the sand and then threw that sand into the eyes of millions of religious Americans and historical purists. And who can blame them. The combination of political correctness, historical inaccuracy, and a needless slight to the religious are enough to drive someone to drink.

44 Comments

  1. I agree with all your points, Jonathan. Still, the Boston Beer Company makes pretty good beer though. Not the best, but nothing I’d turn my nose up at. If I were at a friend’s house thirsty for a brew and they offered Sam Adams, I’d quaff away. Not going to let a little thing like cultural controversy stand between me and a cold brewski!

      • “Drink responsibly.”

        I would, if I still drank. I miss good beer and wine and single malt scotch. Especially single malt scotch. But I haven’t had a drink since I was 40* and now I’m … umm … erm … older than 40.

        Tim

        * There was no religious reason for giving up alcohol. I simply couldn’t justify the calories, and I really didn’t want to have to explain to my kids (who were approaching their teens) why I could drink and they couldn’t. So I took the easy way out. I should blog on this some time.

        • re: “…and I really didn’t want to have to explain to my kids (who were approaching their teens) why I could drink and they couldn’t.”

          Tim, I’m a little confused by this idea. As they become teenagers, what will you tell them is the reason you can drive but they can’t? It’s the law. You obey the law and teach them to obey the law. They can’t drive until they are of legal age. It’s similar with drinking alcohol. They can drink responsibly when they are of legal age. This helps them to respect authority, laws, rules, contributes to their ability for delayed gratification, and you can teach them about misconceptions of Biblically based reasons for alcohol abstinence (which far too often leads to binge drinking) in exchange for a healthy, responsible view of drinking alcohol. Thoughts?

          (FYI: I don’t mean to imply someone can’t have a Biblically based reason for alcohol abstinence. Just that there are some reasons based on incorrect interpretations of scripture. Regardless, I really don’t have any issue if someone practices alcohol abstinence for any reason.)

          • You ask for my thoughts, Jonn, and here they are: I never told them anything about alcohol abstinence, whether a misconception of a biblically based reason or otherwise. I just didn’t drink.

            Cheers,
            Tim

            P.S. If you want to know if I ever taught them respect for the law, click on my name and read what I do for a living.

  2. Did the beer company make a dumb move — of course, but I’m sorta charmed by the idea that it didn’t occur to them that the Christianists would gin up the outrage machine, and probably start a boycott.

    But I bet it really didn’t occur to them. They are in the Northeast, not the South. Its different up here. They probably left out the word God, because that would sound like a Serious Message. And look, these folks were trying to sell beer. Not be uber-patriotic, not uber-religious either.

    Perhaps it is lost on people not from Boston — but Sam Adams started out as a local beer, and its had a kitchy founding-fathers label, which, not unlike the whole of Boston, is a sort of a defacto cultural mascot. I dunno, if it were Texas, maybe it would be the Alamo. But really, sometimes a beer ad is just a beer ad.

    Back off, my fellow Christians. Back off.

    Let’s make this the skirmish in the culture war that Christians refuse to attend. Let’s just let it go. There is nothing to be gained (except traffic to web sites, and advertising $ for tv networks.) Let’s just pass on this one, okay?

    • Exactly Jay!

      And Very Serious People (people who comment on facebook no less, or get paid to go on the teevee) will tell us that history! civilization! God himself! — need us to rise to their defense.

      Its (War on) Christmas in July for Fox News.

      • So why are you going on Fox News? What deeply serious issue is at stake? If you’d rather avoid the whole thing, I’m guessing, at some level, you understand it is a whole lot of noise about nothing.

        You do know, “our beer is tasty” wouldn’t make the first cut, right?

        Advertisers look for cute, and they were thinking “4th of July, people drink a lot of beer. How can we make a 4th of July ad? Well, drinking beer–doesn’t the Constitution mention the pursuit of happiness ?! Get it?!! Now go buy our beer!”

        And Christians are about to embarrass ourselves once again by trying to make a big fat deal out of this.

        Isn’t it some sort of Christian duty to use our imaginations to consider what someone we disagree with might actually have meant? Are we really meant to pounce, and infer, and make hay over stuff like this? How about we imagine they had the best of intentions — I mean, they only meant to sell beer. Not diss the Christians, not stomp on the historians, not anything like that. For all you know, the person who wrote this ad is a Sunday school teacher.

        The sad part about all this, is that it is so distracting from important things. So tell the good people watching you, turn off the tv, lose the outrage, and go outside and throw a ball to your kid.

      • Why does it even matter, how is getting outraged about this even worth the eyerolls from people who don’t agree that it is a big deal. How does getting up in arms about crap like this build the kingdom of God? The answer is that it doesn’t in any way, more than likely only harms it.

  3. Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t the term “Creator” as used by the Founders actually an artifact of The Enlightenment in the form of Deism? If we are to place “The Creator” into true historical context then should we not examine the reasons behind the Founders unwillingness to use the names “God” or “Jesus”?

    Obviously “Creator” is not a Christian term. I have been seated in many a pew, and heard many a sermon…but have only rarely if ever heard the Christian God referred to generically as “The Creator”.

    If leaving “The Creator” out of a beer ad’s reference to The Declaration of Independence is so awful for Christians…then how awful is the true historicity of leaving the holy name of Jesus out of all official government documents to Christians? If historical accuracy is what worries you, then by all means shouldn’t this fact also be under discussion?

      • Andy Anderson

        Really? Because you wrote:

        “We have arrived at a time in our history where some people are so offended by even the idea of God that they can’t bear to speak God’s name or quote someone else speaking God’s name. Worse yet, they have to delete God’s name from the Declaration of Independence to make a point.”

        You know full well most Americans use the word “God” to refer to YHWH/Jesus/Holy Ghost. The deistic capital-c Creator referred to in the Declaration of Independence isn’t the triune Christian God.

        So if “This was a deistic phrase inserted by a deistic writer” then why did you write the above paragraph I quoted, using the Christian term you used?

        • Jonathan Merritt

          Uh…The phrase “God” refers to all of those things. Every newspaper, public opinion polling company, and religious organization I know of would use the phrase that way. Fun fact: the word “Deism” is derived from the Latin “Deus” or “God.”

          • Andy Anderson

            Are you asserting that the deistic ‘Creator’ is the same being as the Christian triune YHWH/Jesus/Holy Ghost?

      • When I lived in England I attended a small chapel where they served a very nice port for communion every week. Tough to leave any for the next person as we passed the cup.

    • I was originally an Episcopalian, although I have done a good bit of religious wandering since then. 50+ years ago, when I was in the Army stationed in Germany, I went to the Episcopalian services on base. When I returned to the barracks, the sergeant (a Baptist) sniffed my breath and said, “You’ve been drinking!” I replied, “Only Holy Communion. We use real wine for Communion.”
      The sergeant laughed and said, “You do!? Now I know why you want to go to your own chapel every week.”

  4. Samuel Adams was my favorite beer. When you turn your back on God, God will turn His back on you. I will never again buy Sam Adams. Screw your advirtising code.

    • This is the thing I don’t understand about us Christians. In an effort to stand up for the beauty and holiness of God, we are reduced to saying things like “Screw your advertising code,” and presuming we know how God feels about another human beings. (Do you know for sure that God has turned his back on this advertising team? Isn’t that kinda presumptuous?)

      How does this help anyone turn their attention to a loving Savior? I think it just makes people defensive and annoyed. I bet God is wishing he could do his own PR.

  5. Myth that it was founded as a Christian nation? Please explain then why more than half of the signers of the declaration were preachers? Another 20% prominent Christians in their communities. Meaning nearly 2/3 were well known and outspoken Christians. That it was literally a handful of “deists” who signed. Read other legal documents of the time and see that it is the vernacular that was appropriate.

    • Jonathan Merritt

      I recommend reading “Faith of the Founding Fathers” by David Holmes of William and Mary. He spent more than 40 years diving into the faith of the founding fathers. It’s an illuminating read and an unbiased academic work.

    • Nathan,
      The America I grew up learning about was founded as a devoutly Christian nation. I remember learning about manifest destiny and the Pilgrims and the whole nine yards. And sure, the Founders were believers. But it turns out that what I was not ever taught about was the Enlightenment. The founders were indeed men of the Enlightenment. And men of faith as well for the most part. However they were also firmly committed to the tenets of The Enlightenment. The US Constitution was born out of it. The idea that men were free, that inherited power was wrong, that religion and state should not combine their power to tyrannize the populace…those are all core Enlightenment principles. Deism was a way for these religious men to speak with each other and the people in a language which did not privilege Baptists over Congregationalists. When one hears “Creator” one can be a Jew or a Muslim and not be offended or marginalized. This is why there is no reference to Jesus in official government documents. There are currently more that 20,000 different denominations in the USA which can be called Christian. Without true religious freedom as offered by a separation of church and state there could not be such religious diversity. The founders knew this. It did not matter whether or not they were pastors and preachers. they set up a government that they knew would be free and fair to all religious and non-religious people alike.

      Anyway, that’s what I found out through my own relearning of the bogus watered down history I was taught in the 70′s.

    • Why do we jump to the conclusion that anybody hates God? For all we know, the person who wrote that ad is a Sunday school teacher, who merely wanted to borrow the phrase, tongue in cheek,, “pursuit of happiness” to sell beer. Maybe this wasn’t a big statement about God at all.

    • Likewise, I don’t understand why, Lindsay. But it IS happening, and happening more and more, right here in America.

      To me, the Samuel Adams thing isn’t much of a controversy because Christians shouldn’t be doing alcohol anyway, (that’s just asking for a DUI fatality or a domestic 911 call).

      But the beer company’s decision to quote the Declaration of Independence minus its reference to God, is indeed one more barometer of this country’s rapid slide towards “forgetting God” (as Abe Lincoln put it). Just one more pit stop as America races towards divine judgment. Christians should start preparing for things, quite honestly.

  6. I sincerely doubt that any Christian who is so devout as to take offense at this, is buying that much Sam Adams anyway. And if you’re that much of a stickler for accuracy in advertising, I think you’re out of touch with reality. I think I need a beer…

    • And Stephen, I think the people criticizing this on religious grounds should put their money where their mouths are. Drink a bunch of beer made by Sam Adams’s competitors, that’ll show the brewery that Christians mean business!

  7. Sam Adams is trying to avoid being branded as downmarket–as any reference to religion will do. That’s the real problem: religion has become a class marker. Religiousity is identified with low-prestige groups: working class, rural, less educated, old rather than young, female rather than male; secularism is prestigeous, identified with the upper middle class urban-coastal knowledge workers. Religion is like fat–it marks you as loser. So Sam Adams is doing like Abercrombies–hiring sales people that look right and not stocking large sizes. And since it’s easier to lose religion than lose weight, secularization is inevitable: who wants to be associated with a low-status group if they can avoid it?

    • After reading your paragraph, it is obvious that the low class person is the one that is is such a bigot. I’m sure you learned your low class ways at the knee of another bigot somewhere.

  8. Jonathan, I agree the exclusion is interesting. I’m sure there was conversation about it in their mad men meetings. I was wondering if it went something like this:

    “If we say anything about a Creator the religious fundamentalists will complain that we are trying to use God and religion to sell beer.”
    “Maybe we should just leave any reference to God or religion out of it.”
    “You know, we’re gonna be blogged about either way!”

    …which I believe is your point. Why even go there? Maybe they just want us just to talk about them more…. Wait! I believe we’ve all just participated in their marketing scheme.

    I raise a glass to you Samuel Adams. Well played.

  9. What difference does it make? I don’t look to advertising copy for spiritual guidance, especially alcohol ads. It’s sad that some Christians have gone over the edge to over-react on what is perceived to be virtually everything, thereby turning off many to Christianity or God in any form. What harm is created by the redaction? (Has God been removed from beer?) The real harm comes when someone is turned off from God by observing pious Christians create a fuss on this.

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