I live in the United States of America, and today is the holiday of Thanksgiving in the USA. Like Christmas, it has been poisoned with commercialism. While this day is set aside for the giving of thanks and expressing gratitude, the day following has fallen victim to advertising campaigns that have stipulated that it is a day for grasping, greedy consumption. It is a day for assembling at the shrines of acquisition with a frenzy sufficient to trample anyone in one’s path, even unto death, that one might forget thankfulness in a rage of worldly want.
And so it goes for most people through to Christmas. The bombardment of advertising is with us all through the year: Valentine’s Day is for buying flowers and chocolate. St. Patrick’s is for buying green beer. Easter is for buying chocolate and eggs and that horrible fake grass that gets everywhere. Mother’s Day is for buying things for mothers. Father’s Day is for buying things for fathers. July 4th is for buying lots of meat and fireworks. August is for buying things for returning to school. September is for buying things in general, at Labor Day sales. October is for buying candy and costumes. But in November, the advertising takes on a sinister quality. It drives people to deadly frenzies and deep depressions. In a time that Christians have set aside to contemplate the birth of Jesus Christ and the message of love, compassion, and truth that he brought, we face the demeaning chants of mammon that overwhelm that message.
We hear and see evidence that we are worthless without making new purchases. We buy things that we don’t really want or need, but we do so and experience some form of psychic release and joy because of the imprint that advertising has burdened us with. Make no mistake: the advertising these days is a highly polished product, capable of infecting even the most stalwart of men that declares, “I’m not affected by advertising!” Yes, you are. It’s that effective. Legions of psychologists have constructed those ads to cause you to believe, with all your heart, in the lies of worldly consumption as salvation.
For the film, “Czech Dream” (Czech: Český sen), the filmmakers showed how easily a lie could be fashioned to the point of driving a mind to madness. They started by shaving their beards and getting some sharp clothes – provided free to them, if they but made an advertising mention for the product in their film. Next, they created an ad campaign for a store that would never exist. The advertisers refused to tell an outright lie, but the filmmakers got the advertisers to go with a negative campaign. “Don’t shop.” “Don’t buy.” “Don’t show up.” Those were the slogans of the campaign, which, legally, were not false advertising.
Next came the psychological touch to the construction of print ads. The filmmakers showed how the makers of the ads study the layout on the page so that they produce not only a document that informs, but that convinces the reader to desire an opportunity to pay for the goods advertised. Was there deception involved? Legally, no. But, ah, there’s that qualifier that the advertisers and psychologists hide behind as they create their propaganda! “Legally.” “Technically.” Words like those mean that, while there is no legally-defined illegal activity taking place to the best of the knowledge of the participants in the activity thereof, oh, yeah, it’s totally unethical and manipulative.
Honestly, I believe that one day, a host of outraged parents could engage in a class-action suit against Nickelodeon, Walt Disney, and, to a lesser extent, McDonald’s, for causing their children to become affected with ADHD and/or ADD. By brandishing the “kid-friendly” adjective, these agents fooled parents into trusting their children’s attention spans to their advertising onslaught, leading to minds made pliant and submissive to the whims of anything flashy. I saw this affecting my child and put a parent block on those channels. With only a few days of withdrawal, she was reading again. She was also no longer nagging me incessantly about how we needed to have a vacation in a Disney property or that we needed to purchase a DVD with a Nick or Disney label on it.
Turning off the advertising on television is only part of a solution. Sadly, I still live in a world of people that are awash in ads. The ads surround me on road signs, on the airwaves, and on whatever sneaks past my adblocker software. It’s a constant mental assault. There are even programs dedicated to the best ads, as if, somehow, the advertising itself is the content to view and not just the things we allow ourselves to endure in order to see non-advertising content. And there are ads, as well, in that content. “Product placement” is as pervasive as it is perverse.
The antidote to this advertising, in my experience, is true devotion and service. I find this in my religion, which teaches me of the constant need to express thanks and gratitude, to avoid the influences of the world, and to seek after the better things that God offers us. The time I spend in devotion and service gives me true joy. Those times give me precious memories with family and friends that are beyond the prices that the pure free-market libertarians want to put on everything, even the breaths that we take. No, there are things that have no way to be bought or sold. They are much more real than the material goods that pass through our fingers on their way to the garbage dump or resale shop.
True religion is not the cause of woe in the world. False religions do cause woe, but look at the causes of false religion: one sees grasping materialism, lusts for power, and desires for control at their roots. Those things are also the causes of many, many other woes in the world. Those things are mammon. Mammon is not some deity of old – it is the Hebrew word for “money.” One cannot serve both mammon and God. The priests of mammon know this, which is why they poison the year, and especially the religious holidays, with their propaganda. Even though service to mammon destroys humanity, it appeals to our lusts and allows them to be unbridled while blinding us to the consequences that surely follow. True religion asks us to restrain our wildness, and shows us the consequences of our actions. It then encourages us to do what is right, to do what is loving. It encourages us to seek after treasures not of the world, but the treasures of true love, for God is love.
I have never bought my wife a diamond ring, and I never will. My love for her is not of this world, so why would I want a token of the world to express it? No, I bought her a small Swiss cowbell as a token for our love. It has a meaning to us (as well as anyone else that has seen “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” or DDLJ). The bell can pass from this world, but the symbolism contained in it is eternal. It is not a sign of my earning potential or folly: it is a small material representation of a vast, infinite network of devotion.
Thanksgiving, at its heart, is about humbling oneself. It is about realizing that there is much to be grateful for, even in the worst of circumstances. It is for accepting that the material world will pass and all the things of the world with it, but that something greater yet endures. It is not nation, it is not corporation, and it is not even land or sea. That which yet endures, which is greater than all things, is love, for God is love.
My nation might plunge itself into a conflict which I know to be immoral and abominable: yet I will give thanks for my family and friends. I might be ridiculed for my fidelity towards something that I cannot prove exists: yet I will give praise to my God. I might be assailed with messages that tell me I am nothing without a certain worldly possession: yet I will find joy in knowing that I am a child of God, and that He is part of my family and friends.
There is much that can be done to fend off the impact of the servants and followers of mammon. We serve and follow love when we give service. We serve and follow love when we humble ourselves and give thanks. We serve and follow love when we can find the quiet stillness within each of us, that allows us the simple, yet eternal, pleasure of discovering our unity with God.
We can all find this quiet stillness, each in our own way and after our own journey to that place. The secret to finding it, however, is not in wrath, but in patience. We find it not with purchasing, but with giving. We approach it not with grasping consumption, but with loving compassion. Mammon is found through acts of violence. Love is found through acts of non-violence.
Therefore, I wish peace unto one and all this year. Find a quiet place and a quiet time, and discover that loving stillness within yourself and let it grow in its influence upon you.