Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Hidden Persuaders

In 1957 Vance Packard wrote what was to become a definitive treatise on the evolution of modern advertising entitled The Hidden Persuaders. It was the early years of television and highly trained ad men were using applied psychology and sociology to tap into the consumer’s purchasing behavior as more and more goods were coming to market. While at one time advertisements focused on a product’s benefits; today, however, less is said about the quality of a product as more is implied about how a particular product can change a lifestyle and lead to greater happiness. On the face of it, such advertising sounds ludicrous -- how can owning a particular product enhance our sense of self-worth? Yet the book suggests that we are so starved for a sense of meaning and purpose that we make many of our purchasing decisions based on the hope that the story the ad men tell us is true and that we will be happier, fulfilled and feel better about ourselves if we simply buy their product being promoted. Now, it's not that the goods that are being sold are bad, but rather that too much is expected from them. In the final analysis a car is just a car and a pair of running shoes are just shoes. These things are not likely to change our lives.

Which brings us to our gospel reading Matthew 4:1-11. Perhaps the primary message here is that Jesus shows us the key to finding our true identity and the ability to resist temptation is possible when we are in a “right” relationship with God. Attachments and possessions are all external temptations and distractions that can get in the way. At birth, God confers upon us our essential identity as his beloved children and, unlike Adam and Eve, we hope to avoid  succumbing to the various external pressures that seek to define our worth with fleeting earthly possessions.
Yet, as with Jesus, it's important to recognize that temptation is not a onetime thing. While Jesus rejects the tempter in the desert, he does have other moments of doubt, particularly in the garden at Gethsemane and on the cross. As with Jesus, our life as Christians does not eliminate feelings of doubt, or desire, or a sense of feeling incomplete. These are all a part of our human condition. Yet, as heirs of Adam and Eve, and like Peter, we will inevitably fall short and need to be picked up time and again, knowing that in and through the crucified and risen Jesus we have the promise of forgiveness and new life.



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