Once, commercials promised us a list of things that they would do. The focus was on the fact that they were new and improved. That they could out-clean the others in lab-tests. They were the ultimate living example of what that sort-of product could be.
This is only half to the destination for modern advertising. The focus, now, is not just on what they do. It is what they do for us. Whether it’s a product, a service, an idea being spread through a PSA, a political commercial, advertisers can’t trust us enough to apply their products to our own lives. They’ve done that hard work for us, painting a picture that is most often full of hyperbole, exageration, and lies around how our life will change if only we’d adopt product/idea/politician X.
We think this is the sort-of world where we have to drink mediocre coffee. If we would just embrace the knowledge that our local Starbucks has good coffee, then our existence would be limitlessly better.
We think that our current car isn’t doing something we need it to do. If we just had the new Porsche, we would get to places faster, and we would look so much cooler. Our lives forever would be changed.
We think that the system is waited down by parasites and big-government types. If the government just got out of the way, and people could spend all the money they earn, everybody would be hard-working and would contriubute and we would all be living happilly ever after.
We think that the rich have too much power. Education and oppurtunities for the lower classes are just a myth. If the rest of us could just sieze back the power that we ought to have in a democracy, all of societies’ ills would just work themselves out.
When the bible talks about idolatry, some of us see this as a wider picture than just other religions. In this day and age, other ideaologies stealing the devotion we owe to God can be more threatening than world views which are obviously, openly, and clearly religious.
Though I have come to disagree with much of the rest of his theology, I am increasingly fond of John Hick’s definition of religion and his use of the word pseudo-religion.
According to Hick, a religion is a world view which begins with the observation that we are self-centered, prescribes a view which will make us reality-centered, and promises through the adoption of this view that we will experience a limitlessly better existence.
Though I am quite familiar, and even sympthatic to the camp within Christianity that says following Christ isn’t a religion, I think that this is just a little disengenuous. I can see how Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, etc. have fallen short of what they should have been. I can relate to the idea that we might want to distance ourselves from our spiritual ancestors as well as others who claim to represent various religions. I know that people say following Christ is a relationship, not a religion. But I disagree. Sort-of.
I think that the fact that we can see so many idealogies, commercial products, philosophies, economic schemes, world views, etc fufilling Hick’s definition of religion is suggestive.
From those annoying toilet paper adds where animated bears promise us a world where toilet paper works effectively, to Right-Wing promises of a laissez-faire eden where everybody pursues their own interest, to Left-wing day dreams of a world where all are protected and safe and have thier needs met, religion has a formula that works, because we are built to see that truth: we are self-centered, we are in desperate need of reality-centering, and once we get there, we can expect a limitlessly better existence. Even the constant failure on delivering is not enough to get us past our deep-held belief that somewhere, there are truths that will move us away from self-centeredness, toward reality-centeredness, and deliver a better existence.
Even the most pessimistic of us is like Charlie Brown, going after Lucy’s football, over and over and over again. Even after products disapoint, idealogies disapoint, politicians disapoint, we know that there is some truth out there.
I would submit that following Christ is both a relationship and a religion. Because the way we make the jouney from self-centeredness to reality-centeredness is through relationship with and in Jesus.
This relationship-religion is the archetype that causes us to chase after all those other pseudo-religion shadows. It is the only one that will not, in the end, disapoint. After all this time, we as Charlie Brown, finally get to kick the football.