Today, as we celebrate the birthday of our nation, you will no doubt watch fireworks and hear patriotic songs about the grandeur of our great country. Freedom figures prominently in our associations with July 4th, and in such songs: “the Land of the Free” “Let Freedom ring” “Home of the Free and the Brave” and even Pilgrims whose “stern, impassioned feet” beat “a thoroughfare for Freedom across the wilderness” of early America. One song mentioning freedom you probably won’t hear today is Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee.” In this bluesy American tune of loving and losing, Ms. Joplin’s refrain concludes that “Freedom’s just another word for ‘nothing-left-to-lose.’” Those words perfectly encapsulate the current distortion of the notion of freedom, with more parallels to solitary confinement than to liberation.
“Never be friends with the English!” Despite his own maxim, Dr. Aziz, the main character in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, can’t help but be friends with the English. Aziz moves through a cycle in the story. He opens himself up to and becomes friends with Dr. Fielding, falls out of friendship with him, and then in the end reunites with his old friend. The reason Aziz breaks their compact is that he suspects Fielding betrayed him. This belief hardens Aziz. It shuts him off to friendship with the English in general, who were occupying his country. He had opened himself up to Fielding by sharing about his personal life, his hopes and fears, his joys and tragedies. He trusted. But upon not finding this trust reciprocated (or so he thinks), he cuts the friendship off.
It’s summer, which means that the superhero genre gets to enjoy a little more than its typical share of box-office revenue and media buzz. The appeal of the superhero is a rather interesting phenomenon, though perhaps not too surprising, since man dreams of excellence. It is only natural, then, that he would wonder at what might be achieved beyond the realms of human excellence.
There is no point in being a Christian unless we regard death as God’s greatest gift to us.
What did he say? Death is a gift, even God’s greatest? Death is no stranger to superlatives, but they usually come in the negative form: death is the most terrible reality; death is the final enemy; death is the worst defeat. Because of this, death avoidance becomes a wellspring of activity in modern society: nursing homes and hospitals keep it at a safe distance from the home, and euphemisms are commonly deployed in its description. Is not the euthanasia movement an extreme form of this avoidance in its attempt to master death through free choice? If death must happen, I will decide exactly when and how it happens!
Sports shape our lives from our earliest years. It started with games in the backyard with our siblings and neighbors, and during recess with classmates. Along with encouraging us to study hard and learn a musical instrument, our parents signed us up for sports teams. We made friends on our teams. We were taught how to be a good sport, a gracious winner, and to cheer for others. We also learned teamwork, hard work, “It’s not over until it’s over,” and, most famously, “It’s not if you win or lose, but how you play the game that matters.” This saying contains wisdom in a more manageable package for children than the more spiritually-worded equivalents, such as “abandonment to divine providence.” But the message that faithful effort is more important than “success”, as measured by other standards, is similar. If sports analogies are good enough for St. Paul, who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, urged early Christians to run the race of the Christian life so to win the prize (1 Cor. 9:24), then they must be suitable vehicles for conveying spiritual wisdom for people of all ages.
No, this title doesn’t imply that we’re going discuss whether Jesus used shampoo. Instead, our present discussion has more to do with how Jesus went public with what he had to offer, versus the methods of commercial marketing. In a word, Jesus didn’t advertise.
Some of the most shameless advertising is used for hair products. At some point in your life, you may have taken a brief moment in the shower to read the back of the shampoo bottle. Once you begin a study of these “texts,” you quickly learn that you’ve entered a rather exotic field of word play. Shampoo companies employ some outrageous marketing.
Take a few minutes to survey the field: the promise of restoration made by L’Oréal and their little sister brand Garnier Fructis; the allure of oils from exotic lands, as with products by Organix; or the list of mysterious and unordinary ingredients in L’Occitane or Pantene Pro-V. Pantene even outdoes the rest in their Age Defy Shampoo line, calling out to all who have ears, “Turn your shower into the Fountain of Youth!”
In a pluralistic society with a fairly well delimited (though, some may argue, rapidly shrinking) core of common values, rarely do advertisements fall completely afoul of moral standards. But when they do, the criticism can be violent. The legislative battle over cigarettes is one such example. Despite such widespread moral concerns, profit margins often primarily set the tone of conversation within the advertising world itself, while ethical considerations tend to play a less significant role. Setting aside the question of how this prioritization on the part of advertising agencies registers morally (Yes, I did just dismiss the title of the article), it is perhaps more helpful for the everyday consumer to consider what this means for each of us personally, as we attempt to navigate the marketplace of desires.
No one can dispute the totality of defeat represented by a severed head. Perhaps this is why Caravaggio chose to paint David with Goliath’s scowling head hanging from his hand.
I remember two statements made by Robert Louis Wilken in his commencement speech here at the Dominican House of Studies a few weeks ago. The first is that no one remembers commencement speeches. Now whether that’s because most graduates are too excited, preoccupied with capturing a sufficient number of selfies, or because the speech content is forgettable (often amounting to a glorified version of Vitamin C’s matriculation classic Graduation (Friends Forever)), Wilken’s claim seems regrettably true. What makes the average commencement speech so forgettable?
“The days of acceptable Christianity are over. The days of comfortable Catholicism are past.”
So spoke Princeton Professor Robert P. George during his address at last week’s National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. The thesis is especially remarkable coming from George—one of America’s foremost defenders of marriage and the family, and a thinker noted for his hopefulness about the power of reason to prevail in the public square.