By Deacon John De Gano
That’s the tag line for a TV commercial featuring a middle-aged guide who attempts to teach 20 and 30-somethings not to become their parents.
It’s a cute ad, designed to “humanize” the insurance industry and make us feel that this particular company cares about our needs and will helpfully guide our future.
Their goal, however, is to sell us insurance.
Not to be our friend.
Advertising often preys upon our egos, highlights our fears and insecurities and manipulates us to crave more and “be” more by promising us popularity, fame and fortune.
One of the greatest exchanges on film about the potential dark side of advertising in my opinion comes from the 1993 film, Dave.
In the movie, Dave, the stand-in President of the United States, upsets his handlers when he begins to act “presidential” by coming up with a way to balance the federal budget and reallocate $47 million (slated to make consumers feel good about a car purchase they had already made) for the homeless section of the Simpson-Garner Works bill. When pressed about his idea, Dave explains, “I don’t want to tell an eight-year-old kid that he has to sleep in the street because we want people to feel better about their car. Do you want to tell him that?” The Secretary responds, “No, sir. I sure don’t.”
Which brings up an advertising phrase, Caveat emptor (“let the buyer beware”).
Not all advertising is bad. It can be used to promote healthy eating and exercise. It can warn us of danger or remind us to get our flu shots. It can be the bellwether to progress and innovation.
However, we must be prudent in what we accept and/or believe. We must ask ourselves, who has my best interests at heart?
We can see the negative side quite clearly as the Russian government attempts to control the news of the war in Ukraine from their people through propaganda. Even in our own country politics has brought us the terms “fake news” or “alternative facts/truth” in what George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, termed “Newspeak,” where words mean only what the government wants them to mean at the moment and are used to oppress the people who live in constant fear of their overlord, Big Brother (who is forever watching them!).
That is the way or vision of a world bereft of family, community and roots. As Catholic Christians, we need to be wary of the taint of sin and divisiveness seeping into our church from without. We need to be prudent, as Jesus says, in our judgment. To be in the world and not of it (John 17:14). Or to be “wise as serpents and gentle as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
We need to cling to our faith and not let ourselves be dissuaded from the truth, nor sell it for temporary gain or pleasure. For there is only one truth: There is a God. We are his creation. Out of love, we were given free will to choose to return God’s love or not. When we turned away from him, desiring our own way, God loved us still, sending us his Son, Jesus, to reconcile us to the Father through his cross and reveal to us God’s perfect love: “For while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 8:34).”
And by our baptism, we become God’s children, through adoption. We become his beloved, co-heirs with Jesus to the Kingdom of Heaven (1 John 3:2). That is the message we should be hearing. That is the message we should be sharing.
While our own parents may not have been perfect role models (more like TV’s Dan and Roseanne Connors rather than Ozzie and Harriet Nelson or Mike and Carol Brady), we do have, in God the Father, a parent whom we can trust implicitly, a parent who loves us unconditionally, whom we, like Jesus, can proudly call, “Abba, Daddy!”
Deacon John De Gano is a deacon at St. Catherine of Alexandria parish in Riverside.