Finding God in Advertising

In a profound chapter in A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture, Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor look at how advertising has shaped contemporary society. The authors offer “Ten Commandments of Advertising,” all of which point to an overarching question that people in this (and every) culture ask: “What is it to be fully human?”
“This is the question that advertising seeks to answer, a question that was one the pursuit of philosophers and theologians. Advertising is an incredibly powerful form of pop culture that influences us on levels far deeper than getting us to choose certain products. Life choices are part of today’s world of advertising and consumption. ‘The glory of God,’ Irenaeus wrote, ‘is human being fully alive.’ In contemporary society, to be fully human is to shop. Advertising offers us ways to be alive, ways to be human.” (p. 84)
Certainly, there are ads that are manipulative and appeal to the baser aspects of human depravity in order to sell products. But advertising, at its best, appeals to our desire to know who we are, to celebrate life, to find meaning in being human.

Sadly, Christianity has for far too long been more interested in appealing to a base desire to be saved from being human, a desire to transcend our humanness and live forever in another place called “heaven” when we die. While that is always a latent desire in us (a need for transcendence, for eternity), what we really desire in a postmodern world is meaning for the life we live right here and now – we need to know what it means to be more human, to be “fully alive.”

So, while pastors preach from pulpits the need to know where you’ll end up when you die and attempting to create meaning in life in trying to get people into heaven in their future, advertising is dealing with knowing where you are in the world around you and what it means to be human right now.

A new Budweiser advertisement shows a split screen storyline of a young man coming home from his military enrollment. The left side shows him packing up, traveling across the world on a plane and then across the country on a bus, and arriving in his hometown. The right side shows the joy of his family and friends preparing a surprise party for his arrival in the barn of his family farm. When the two finally come together, the emotional payoff is tremendous. This is a celebration of life at its finest. Budweiser beer is there to be a part of the celebration. Christianity needs to “re-message” itself as a religion that embraces the joy of God restoring humanity and encourages celebration.

“They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the LORD—the grain, the new wine and the oil, the young of the flocks and herds. They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more.” (Jeremiah 31:12)

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