Is Coca-Cola a Religion?

Is Coca-Cola a Religion?


Is Coca-Cola a religion? Um… What?? How could this lovable, fizzy soft drink – the perennial beverage at parties and Warren Buffet share holders’ meetings be the basis of a global religion? This is precisely what Mark Pendergrast quips in his bestselling book: “For God, Country, and Coca-Cola”: “Coke has achieved the status of a substitute modern religion…” And as weird as this may sound, and as difficult religion is to define, his argument almost makes sense. Coca-Cola might actually be a religion. [Music] To prove Coca-Cola is a religion, let’s turn to one of the more popular definitions of religion from the anthropologist Clifford Geertz. Religion is: “A system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in [humans] by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions which such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.” Coca-Cola, as a global brand, fits this definition. Consider how Coca-Cola provides symbols that establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods. When Geertz says symbols, he means more than just images. Sure, it includes imagery like the color red, a swooping iconic font. But “symbol” can denote anything that conveys meaning like objects such as a pleasingly round aluminum can or actions, like the self-assured tilting of your arm and head as you shepherd the drink into your mouth. These symbols convey meanings and values that help establish these powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods. Happiness. Contentedness. Belonging. Safety. Familiarity. Pendergrast writes that Coke, as a modern religion, “promotes a particular, satisfying, all-inclusive world view espousing perennial values such as love, peace, and universal brotherhood.” And we see almost all of this in their advertisements. The all-inclusive worldview? Check out Coca-Cola’s famous commercial from 1971. Or its 2017 Super Bowl Commercial, a subtle commentary of living in a pluralistic society coming on the heels of a contentious Presidential election. Love and brotherhood? Well, check out their viral commercial showing the bond between two brothers, brought together by Coke. It’s a universal panacea to viscerally painful experiences like a break-up with a romantic partner. Coca-Cola’s main appeal is not sexual satisfaction, it’s deeper than that. Community. Belonging. Much how religions today often foster communal identities. But it goes even further than this. The Religious Studies scholar, David Chidester, builds on Pendergrast’s theory. Coca-Cola is not just a conceptual religion on paper, but actual people involved with Coca-Cola have characterized their experience with it as religious. Asa Candler, the founder of Coca-Cola, is said as have had an “almost mystical faith” for the drink. The president of the company in 1923, Robert Woodruff, is described as having “a devotion to Coca-Cola which approached idolatry.” And former CEO Roberto Goizueta is on record saying, “Working for the Coca-Cola Company is a calling. It’s not a way to make a living. It’s a religion.” And they pushed this religion around the globe like missionaries, reaching every corner of the earth. This became the butt end of a joke of the movie “The Gods Must Be Crazy,” where an indigenous tribe in Africa mistake a Coke bottle as a message from the gods. According to Dr. Chidester, in this movie “we find Coke as a sacred sign, a sign subject to local misreading but nevertheless of a global religion.” This sounds absurd, but how do we refute it? If religion is: “A system of symbols which acts to establish powerful moods..” If it’s “a system that clothes conceptions of the world with an aura of factuality…” It makes sense, right? It sounds so fancy. So convincing. And Clifford Geertz is just so dang smart. But Coca-Cola fits this definition, too. If it’s not a religion, does it make Geertz wrong? Well, Not necessarily. No definition of religion is perfect. And to quote Dr. J. Z. Smith, “It’s not that religion can’t be defined, but that it can be defined with greater or lesser success more than 50 ways.” Coca-Cola may not be a religion, but aspects of it are certainly religious. And it goes to show certain religious motivations and practices can be embedded in any aspect of culture, even in the soft drink industry. As always, thanks for watching. [Music]

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About the Author: Emmet Marks

99 Comments

  1. Don't forget how Coca Cola messed up the western Christmas by turning a bishop from catholic history into a smiling grandpa in a furry coat. Damn Cola-fascists.

  2. I've thought for a while that company marketing can hijack religious iconography..
    There are hundreds of companies named after Greek, Roman and Egyptian gods:
    Nike, Hermes clothes shop, Venus (millions of Venuses), Buddha records, Mars bars, Heracles resealable plastic bags, Pan-asonic (maybe a bit of a stretch because Pan is also a word) etc.

  3. Coke is #it!
    I have not drank any for 52 years. It is, however, great for cleaning metal and ceramic surfaces. As a religion, it is merely another facet of consumerism, or Mammon.

  4. P1:If Coca-Cola is a religion, Then not all religions are mutually exclusive
    P2: All religions are mutually exclusive
    C: Therefore, Coca-Cola is not a religion

  5. The founder was actually John Pemberton, not Asa Griggs Chandler. However, Pemberton did sell the company to Chandler very early on in its history.

  6. I'm a home-brand Light Colaist. I've heard gnostic-colasits manually put the coke back into the drink to get closer to the original recipe.

  7. Religious indoctrination predisposes people to believe. That training is easily employed for other purposes, whether it be for country or Coca-Cola. That's not a secondary effect, it's central to the societal utility of religion.

  8. Man being an Anthropology Major I thought I could escape Geertz, at home, apparently not! shakes Fist at sky Your strive to find Universal anthropological definitions while problematic are ultimately helpful! GEERTZ!

  9. I just wonder by what authority do we all speaks off,,I guest in that case cigarette is a religion too…who ever sad symbol👍.

  10. Honestly it is really tough to tell because although coke may just be a symbol it is idolized enough to make one think that it may be its own religion. Nicely made video.

  11. You failed to mention that definition is "popular" because you have to learn Geertz for your exams if you want to study religion (non-theologically). :-p

  12. There is actually an offshoot of the indigenous Mayan religion in Mexico which holds Pepsi to be a sacrament. Yes, Pepsi has been involved in promoting this cult. The theology is that bubbles are the energy of the sun, God. And Pepsi has the biggest bubbles, so it has the most spiritual energy. It is drunk at religious rituals in some places in Mexico, often mixed with local moonshine. It also has its detractors, who urge Local Mayans to return to the original version of their faith, one which worships the Sun God, but not with Pepsi.
    Pepsi may not be a religion, but it has a religion.

  13. This is fun! I still remember a local tourist guide in Egypt in the temple of Karnak, 50 degrees in the sun, looking at his bunch of easily tired Western tourists and saying: "And now we'll go and visit another important shrine, the shrine of goddess Coca-cola!" He received a chorus of Yeeeahh!!!

  14. To be fair, when coke came out it had small amounts of cocaine in it. That might explain the mystical experiences and devotion.

  15. I was almost tempted to say that this was lazy refrigerator magnet style reasoning, but seeing the power of academia animate this thought experiment let me in on the joke. It was just snobbery. In order to understand my point, you must understand the cinematic hermeneutics of The Gods Must be Crazy. Was a Coke bottled dropped in Japan? Was a Coke bottle dropped in Spain? Was a Coke bottle dropped in Russia? Nope, nope, and nope! It was dropped in a location in Africa to make the point of cultural and racial superiority. I don't say this point was intentional more than it just bleed from any humor born of an imperialistic and racist system. The condescending undertones drown out any message about the perception of the unknown. The African marvels and worships Western throw away items as divine.

    Okay now lets link this back to religion. The heathen means to make the saint to be no more glorious than a can collector and perhaps heaven a redemption center. We are just another variety of mindless consumer. The stuffy, lengthy, and convoluted definition of the professor does nothing but eviscerate common sense. Wordiness is often a result of blushing or deception. Religion employs symbols to convey mood as does visual arts, politics, theater, advertisement, social movements, and sports. WOW! That was really insightful. That's like saying religion makes people congregate.

    Mass appeal is not religion. There is a little thing in the intellectual underground we call popularity. Forgive my obnoxious jargon.

    I will concede that religion is a tough thing to define. I do know the key ingredients. That is transcendence and spirit. This is why Buddhism gets in the club while boasting of no God. However they do speak of a spiritual realm and a reality beyond mere senses. I have yet to encounter a religion that did not make an illusion to a non-corporeal realm of existence. These two seem indispensable in formulating religion. Only an atheist could define religion in such a way that he could stomach it. That was horrible.

  16. Milk and Cookies? Santa already had enough diabetes for now… He's like… 💯 years old or something… It's time we put him to sleep with a glass of magic pills

    Cosby style… sweet dreams… Father of the Pasture

  17. Coca-Cola has taken the most successful sales systems (that of various Christian denominations) and has adjusted it for a very successful business. It has worked so well that some people cannot the difference between the business and religion. They’re not the only ones who abuse this very same model with slight variations some self-help social organizations such as the 12 steps recovery organizations and the Amway business have also taken these models and produced successful businesses organizations. As someone once quipped “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” or “there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.” You can’t improve upon a particular item obviously the wheel has been improved upon we no longer use just sawn off pieces of trees with a wooden axle we lightened it with spokes we put iron rims on we put hard rubber around them we change that the pneumatic tires and they’re now working on other improvements because as we learn more we can see that improvements are needed. However, the method used for selling religion other than by the sword seems to have worked fairly well the last few hundred years.

  18. "No definition of a religion is perfect"? Perhaps reworking the question? I doubt that nearly all coke drinkers (if not all) consider coke to be a soft drink and not a religion (I would say that the whole Pepsi vs Coke things come closest to that idea but I would say that's more like a sports rivalry). So using these ideas I would ask: can a religion exist even if its members don't think it is a religion? And what of the Free Masons? It's all symbolism but its members don't consider it a religion. I would think football is more of a religion, as painful as it is for me to say…

  19. Hear this French Joke i still Remember:
    A Parrot and a Lion are sitting in a Bar …
    Each time the Lion Says : Give me a BEER !
    The Parrot Adds Up : & Oone Coca Cola ! With his weird itchy voice.
    The Lion Get Furious and More Furious each time this Happens … & Then Tells the Parrot , If you say " & One Coca Cola One more time after i order a BEER , Im gonna Nail you to the wall…
    So it eventually happens … And the Lion Nails the Parrot onto the wall…
    The Parrot then Sees Jesus Opposite of him on the other wall & Says ,,, ooo nooo You too wanted a Coca Cola ?

    Thx For putting up this video ! 😉 You know who you are 😉 …& i hope you know who I am <:) :O LOL

  20. I think all this really shows is that large corporations employ similar tactics to religions to sell themselves to customers/followers, linking their brand with particular feelings, aspects of life or people.

    What coke certainly doesn't have is the pervasiveness of a religion – no one rearranges their work day to pray 5 times a day to a coke bottle. It only really absorbs the life of the corporation's employees, and perhaps a few obsessive vintage bottle collectors (you get obsessive collectors of aeroplane sickbags and you wouldn't call that a religion).

    It also lacks any significant mythology, which isn't necessary in and of itself for religion but is usually a big part of what most people experience as religion – Jesus' resurrection, Muhammad's revelations, the birth of Athene from Zeus' headache. The vague link this video says there is between coca cola and a feeling of 'community' is only an advertising device, not something people believe out of genuine conviction.

  21. this is what happen when u keep struggling with theories definations and stop looking at practical things.how bullshit

  22. I never drink sugary drinks. sugary drinks cause fatty liver disease and Alzheimers. Coke is the religion of consumeristic secularism.

  23. I think the core aspects of defining a religion are the message from the ideal world and proclamation of the truth, as well as the element of initiation and ritual. The truth is the answer of the universal questions that we, as self-aware species, seek to answer, namely "What is the world around us?" "What is our purpose?" "What happens after we perish?". The initiation and distinction are reflected through a). An initiate is proclaimed to be devoted to this particular truth and b). follows certain practices through which he/she manifests/projects the concepts of the truth into our world.

  24. Seems like a stretch to me. I would instead point to sports team fandoms as more of a secular sort of “religion”, with supposed luck-giving rituals, iconography, an in-group/out-group mentality, and devotion out the wazoo.

  25. It's a nonsense to define what a religion is without explaining its appeal to the metaphysical (God/Gods)

  26. It may mostly live up to the definition of religion, but I think there is one key trait of religion that big brand products don't have, and that is answers to the unknown. Does Coca Cola tell you what is right or wrong? Does Coca Cola tell you what happens after you die? Religion begins as an attempt to understand the world we live in, and even the most popular of products fail to do that.

  27. I have this affection for coca cola, as if it was a lifelong family member whereas I see Pepsi as a school bully, lol

  28. Like religion is t opium of f masses, I think , it made a lot more sence for those earlier Coke employees to view it as a religion since it used to contain cocaine.

  29. This is approaching Disney territory, with the added bonus of Disney assimilating more into itself not unlike how some ancient pantheons like the Roman one would occasionally assimilate deities from conquered regions…

  30. Stretch city. Widening the definition of religion to encompass anything popular. Semantic tricks to sell the book version of clickbait. Yawn.

  31. Wait- behavior associated with consuming a favorite/liked product may have a few things in common with a small portion of human behavior observed with religious worship, but I would think if THAT was the only criteria for the ranking of a religion, that someone needs to make a better definition.

  32. Ok I confess I love the all inclusive world view and all that. I'm a "late" baby boomer – no i did not ruin the economy, thank you – but I do l love brotherhood, etc.

  33. Loved you we t for their can shape, which, of course, is shared by most beverage brands & skipped their bottle, a tactile iconic image so potent, there are videos longer than this, just about how it was developed. about

  34. After seeing this I began looking at Apple and decided it's even more of a religion. Complete with glass cathedrals and die hard congregationalist that gather every year to worship there and give their tides, buying the latest iphone or macbook pro. You should do a video on that.

  35. People say we need to do out calling in life the calling that brings us purpose. Would you say doing exactly thst follows some type of religion?if so, which one?a spiritual religion? Then whats the difference between natural life and flow state?

  36. Then if cokes a religion, freezing it, shaking it and alterig kts ingredients would change its religious origin. What avout a coke slushe for 711?it is a new form of religion based off rhe same principles? Which oe isnright?diet coke doesnt use any sugar but peolle drink it. Is diet coke atheism?

  37. The original Coca-Cola contained cocaine. ^_^ 😉
    The Coca-Cola brand has become a positive symbol for globalism.
    (And, going global has made a great deal of money for Coca-Cola.)

  38. However the association with Coca-Cola and happiness, community, love, universal brotherhood and joy is just a pastiche. The reality is the company is happy to exploit poor and vulnerable communites to create a product, to make a dollar. They don't actually care about the values they paint themselves with.

    There is an inside group who knows the sales pitch is a sham, and an outside group that spends money because they like the sales pitch. I suppose there are cults where the leader is fully aware they are a fraud.

  39. Coca Cola also had it's holy wars. There's it's long-standing rivalry against Pepsi Cola, but also the suppression of the heresy of New Coke.

  40. I don't know if it's true or not, many years ago I heard that either Coca Cola or Pepsi had planted rumors that the rival brand contained small amounts of pork in their formula as a viral strategy to dominate the market in Muslim countries.

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