Friday, April 22, 2016

The problem with the advertising bug. . .

In his 1966 essay "The Worship of God in a Secular Age: Some Reflexions," Complete Works: Prose: Vol. V, 1963-1968, ed. E. Mendelson (Princeton University Press), the poet W.H. Auden warned the Church about the dangers inherent in the Church’s use of mass media. “I am convinced that the Church cannot make use of them without falsifying what She stands for,” he wrote. Written a half century ago when the media captured a much smaller slice of our lives and had a very different influence, I wonder what he would say today.  The mid-sixties use of television, radio, and print advertisements threatened, in his view, to render the Church's message banal and ordinary.

One can hardly prevent the use of such technology and every congregation, hierarchy, and agency has a social media presence.  I am not necessarily advocating the Amish option of complete disengagement from technology.  However, our use of such technology cannot mirror the way the populace or the marketplace uses such media or we will, as W. H. Auden so presciently observed, taint the message with the media used to proclaim it.  “In the New York subway one can see placards saying: ‘Go to Church next Sunday. You will be richer for it.’ The effect of this is to put going to church on the same level as buying a particular brand of cigarettes or tooth-paste” (from the same Auden essay).

This is exactly the problem.  The Gospel has been marketed as if it were merely a product, with concern for market share, the target audience, and how the message will be received.  And we have done such a good job of it as Christians that those not yet of the Kingdom view the Gospel as a product, look for choices as they would shopping for any other product, and go for a church that fits their preferences the way they would shop for a phone.

The Church is not marketing anything.  We have no product to sell.  We have no target audience (unless you define it as all those not yet of the Kingdom).  We do not provide a service or life-enhancing program.  We speak the Word of God to all those in the world (whether those in or not yet of the Kingdom).  We address the world not with what they need to do but with what God has done.  We trust the Lord to work through the means of grace (Word and Sacraments) as He has promised.

I am NOT suggesting that we remove ourselves from the social media but we must not allow our presence there to become that of a religious purveyor of a religious product.  We do not have to justify who we are the world nor do we have to prove the value of the Gospel to the world.  We speak and God works.  We apply the splash of water in the Triune Name and the promise of God is kept.  We absolve the penitent and they are forgiven.  We give the bread and cup with Christ's Word and the flesh and blood of Christ are given as the food of the faithful to eternal life.

The downside of evangelicalism and the whole entrepreneurial impact upon religion is that the Gospel has become a thing, a product to be marketed and sold to a religious consumer, and the tools of this consumer oriented transaction borrowed from the business community.  Once we realize that we don't belong there, then we just may learn how to use technology in a different way and tarnish the Gospel less as a product brought to a market to satisfy a consumer.  Believe me, Popes taking selfies and ads designed to mask who we are in order to overcome bias against religion will not help in the long run.  The Lord has promised.  If we faithfully speak His Word and administer His Sacraments, He will build His Church.  He is faithful.  He will do it.  He does not need help from an army of marketing gurus who think they know how to place religious product for mass appeal.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have come to believe that it's important for us, especially Christians, to understand how we are being shaped and formed by mass media. Investigative reporter, Sharyl Attkisson, has caught my attention by the way she investigates events and strives to deal with proven facts and not opinion. It's hard not to love this kind of traditional reporting in our current times.

In the video links below, I think Sharyl Attkisson has nailed what is happening in the unholy trinity of corporations, government, and activists that act, often in unison, to create an illusion of reality that propagandizes our youth and culture. Please take the time to view them.

These videos have important insights into what we, as a church, are facing and its important to grasp what she is reporting in order to help warn others. We are being inundated and coerced with a dangerous media blitzkrieg in these dangerous times. Please check out the videos below and Full Measure on Facebook with Sharyl Attkisson for her weekly news reports.

~10 minutes - Astroturf and manipulation of media messages | Sharyl Attkisson | TEDxUniversityofNevada - YouTube

~60 minutes - don't be fooled by the title, it also covers the unholy to trinity - "Investigative Journalism and the Obama Administration” - Sharyl Attkisson at Hillsdale College - YouTube