Jerry Solomon considers many popular slogans to see how they are designed to influence our thinking. Taking a biblical, Christian worldview, he finds that many popular slogans are promoting vanity, immediate gratification, or materialism. Ends that are not consistent with an eternal Christian life view. As he points out, we do not have to let these slogans control our thinking.
Let’s try an experiment. I’ll list several slogans, some from the past, others from more contemporary times, but I’ll leave out one word or phrase. See if you can supply the missing word or phrase. Here are some examples:
“Give me liberty or give me. . .”
“Uncle Sam wants . . .”
“I have a . . .”
“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask . . .”
“Just do . . .”
“Life is a sport; . . .”
“Gentlemen prefer . . .”
“Image is . . .”
“Coke is . . .”
“You’ve come a long way, . . .”
“This is not your father’s . . .”
“You deserve a break . . ..”
Well, how did you fare with my experiment? Unless you’ve been living in a cave for many years, you probably were able to complete several of these phrases. They have become a part of “The fabric of our . . .” Yes, the fabric of our lives. In most cases these slogans have been written to promote a product. They are catchy, memorable maxims that help the listener or reader associate the statement with a commodity, thus leading to increased sales. Advertisers spend millions of dollars for such slogans, an indicator of their importance.
Often a slogan contains a double entendre intended to attract us on at least two levels. For example, an ad for toothpaste from several years ago asks, “Want love?” Obviously, the advertiser is playing upon a universal need. All of us want love. But the initial answer to the question is “Get . . .Close Up.” Of course a couple is pictured in close embrace with vibrant smiles and sweet breath as a result of their wise use of the product. The implication is that they are sharing love, but only as a result of using the love- giving toothpaste. Another example, again from several years in the past, states “Nothing comes between me and my Calvins.” The double meaning is obvious, especially when the slogan is coupled with the accompanying picture of a young girl. No doubt the companies that hired the ad agencies for such campaigns were very pleased. Their sales increased. The fact that I am even using these illustrations is indicative of their success in capturing the attention of the consumer.
Slogans and the Christian
But the marketplace is not the only arena where slogans are found. Christians often use them. Many contemporary churches strive to attract the surrounding population by utilizing various adjectives to describe themselves. For example, words such as “exciting,” “dynamic,” “friendly,” or “caring” are used as part of a catchy slogan designed to grab the attention of anyone who would see or hear it. And such slogans are supposed to be descriptive of how that particular church wants to be perceived. This applies especially to those congregations that are sometimes called “seeker sensitive.” The idea is that there is a market in the surrounding culture that will be attracted to the implications of the slogan. One of the foundational tenets of our ministry at Probe is that the Christian should think God’s thoughts after Him. Then, the transformed Christian should use his mind to analyze and influence the world around him. One of the more intriguing ways we can experience what it means to have a Christian mind is by concentrating on the content of the slogans we hear and see each day. In this article we will examine certain slogans in order to discover the ideas imbedded in them. Then we will explore ways we might apply our discoveries in the culture that surrounds us.
Slogan Themes: Vanity
“Break free and feel; it reveals to the world just how wonderful you are.” “Spoil yourself.” “Turn it loose tonight; don’t hold back.” “You deserve a break today.” “Indulge yourself.” “Have it your way.” These slogans are indicative of one of the more common emphases in our culture: vanity. The individual is supreme. Selfishness and self-indulgence too often are the primary indicators of what is most important. Such phrases, which are the result of much thought and research among advertisers, are used to play upon the perceptions of a broad base of the population. A product can be promoted successfully if it is seen as something that will satisfy the egocentric desires of the consumer.
Christopher Lasch, an insightful thinker, has entitled his analysis of American life The Culture of Narcissism. Lasch has written that the self-centered American “demands immediate gratification and lives in a state of restless, perpetually unsatisfied desire.”(1) We will return to the subject of immediate gratification later, but the emphasis of the moment is that slogans often focus on a person’s vanity. The individual is encouraged to focus continually on himself, his desires, his frustrations, his goals. And the quest that is developed never leads to fulfillment. Instead, it leads to a spiraling sense of malaise because the slogans lead only to material, not spiritual ends.
One of the more famous slogans in the Bible is “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” This exclamation is found in Ecclesiastes, an Old Testament book full of application to our subject. King Solomon, the writer, has left us with an ancient but very contemporary analysis of what life is like if self-indulgence is the key. And his analysis came from personal experience. He would have been the model consumer for the slogans that began this essay today: “Break free and feel.” “Spoil yourself.” “Turn it loose.” “You deserve a break today.” “Indulge yourself.” But he learned that such slogans are lies. As Charles Swindoll has written:
In spite of the extent to which he went to find happiness, because he left God out of the picture, nothing satisfied. It never will. Satisfaction in life under the sun will never occur until there is a meaningful connection with the living Lord above the sun.(2)
Solomon indulged himself physically and sexually; he experimented philosophically; he focused on wealth. None of it provided his deepest needs.
So what is Solomon’s conclusion in regard to those needs? He realizes that we are to “fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). How would the majority of this country respond if a slogan such as “Fear God and keep His commandments!” were to suddenly flood the media? It probably wouldn’t sell very well; it wouldn’t focus on our vanity.
One of the Lord’s more penetrating statements concerning vanity was focused on the man who is called the rich young ruler. Douglas Webster has written that
It is sad when Jesus is not enough. We are told that Jesus looked at the rich young ruler and loved him.But the love of Jesus was not enough for this man. He wanted it all: health, wealth, self- satisfaction and control. He knew no other way to see himself than the words we use to describe him a rich young ruler.(3)
Perhaps this analysis can apply to us too often. Is Jesus enough, or must our vanity be satisfied? That’s a good question for all of us.
Slogan Themes: Immediate Gratification
“Hurry!” “Time is running out!” “This is the last day!” “You can have it now! Don’t wait!” These phrases are indicators of one of the more prominent themes found in slogans: instant gratification. This is especially true in regard to much contemporary advertising. The consumer is encouraged to respond immediately. Patience is not a virtue. Contemplation is not encouraged.
Not only do we have instant coffee, instant rice, instant breakfast, and a host of other instant foods, we also tend to see all of life from an instant perspective. If you have a headache, it can be cured instantly. If you need a relationship, it can be supplied instantly. If you need a new car, it can be bought instantly. If you need a god, it can be provided instantly. For example, a few evening hours spent with the offerings of television show us sitcom dilemmas solved in less than half an hour; upset stomachs are relieved in less than thirty seconds; political candidates are accepted or rejected based upon a paid political announcement. About the only unappeased person on television is the “I love you, man!” guy who can’t find a beer or love.
You’re a consumer. Be honest with yourself. Haven’t you been enticed to respond to the encouragement of a slogan that implies immediate gratification? If you hear or see a slogan that says you must act now, your impulse may lead you to buy. At times it can be difficult to resist the temptation of the moment. The number of people in serious debt may be a testimony to the seriousness of this temptation. The instant credit card has led to instant crisis because of a thoughtless response to an instant slogan. When we hear “Act now!”or “Tomorrow is too late!” we can be persuaded if we are not alert to the possible consequences of an unwise decision.
One of the most respected virtues is wisdom. The wise man or woman is held in high esteem. This is especially true for the Christian. The Bible tells us of the lives of many people: some wise, some unwise. The wise person is portrayed as someone who patiently weighs options, who seeks God’s counsel, who makes decisions that extend far beyond instantaneous results. The unwise person is portrayed as one who acts without sufficient thought, who doesn’t seek God’s counsel, who makes decisions that may satisfy for the moment but not the future. So the contemporary Christian should strive to become wise in the face of the slogans that surround him. He should realize that the supposed benefits of products cannot be compared to wisdom. As Scripture states:
How blessed is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding. For its profit is better than the profit of silver, and its gain than fine gold. She is more precious than jewels; and nothing you desire compares with her (Proverbs 3:13-15, NASB).
Let’s develop our own slogan. Perhaps something like, “Wisdom now; decisions later!” would be a good antidote to the messages we hear and see so often. Also, let’s implant the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, especially patience and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). And let’s reinforce our thought life with the truth that things of value are not achieved instantly. That reminds me of another slogan: “Rome was not built in a day.” And how Rome was built is not nearly as valuable as how our lives are built.
Slogan Themes: Materialism
In the early sixteenth century an Augustinian monk declared Sola Fide!, “Faith Alone!”, a slogan that had been used by many before him. But Martin Luther issued this proclamation in opposition to certain theological and ecclesiastical emphases of his time. Instead of teaching that faith could “make” one righteous, he insisted that only God can “declare” one to be righteous based upon Christ’s victory on the cross. Eventually he came to believe that the church needed reformation. And as the saying goes, “The rest is history.”
In the late twentieth century it appears that the most important slogan is Sola carnalis, “The flesh alone!” or “The physical alone!” Put in a contrary manner: “What you see is what you get!” Material things are usually the focus of our attention. Non material or spiritual things generally are not part of our consciousness. The impression is that life can be lived properly through the purchase of products. Or, life is to be lived as if this is the only one you’ve got; there is no heaven or hell, no sin, no sacrifice for sin, no judgment. As the old commercial says, “You only go around once in life, so grab for all the gusto you can get.” And the slogan of a more recent commercial relates that “It doesn’t get any better than this!” as friends share the events of a wonderful day together in a beautiful setting while drinking just the right beer. Of course, there is a measure of truth in each of these slogans. We should live life with gusto, and we should enjoy times of companionship with friends. But from a Christian standpoint, these ideas should be coupled with a sober understanding that this life is not all there is.
Jesus often spoke directly to those who would deter Him from His mission, which required His brutal sacrifice. For example, Satan sought to tempt Jesus by focusing on material things. But the Lord rejected Satan’s enticements by focusing on things that transcend this life. And His rejections always began with a powerful, eternally meaningful slogan: “It is written,” a reference to the truth of Scripture. On another occasion, after Jesus showed “His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things,” Peter proclaimed, “This shall never happen to You.” Jesus replied that Peter was setting his mind on man’s interests, not God’s. Then followed a haunting statement that has become a crucial slogan for those who would be Christ’s disciples: “If any one wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” This conversation came to a conclusion when Jesus asked two rhetorical questions: “For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:21-26)
Do those questions sound trite? Have we heard and read them so often that we don’t consider their implications? If we are immersed in the concepts of today’s slogans, such questions should be sobering. Referring back to our previous examples, Jesus’ questions contain answers that say no, it is not true that “You only go around once.” And yes, it does get better than this. We are more than physical beings destined for dirt. We are spiritual and physical beings destined for life in heaven or hell. And for the believer in Christ this life is to be lived with “the life to come” in mind.
Are We Slaves of Slogans?
“Remember the Alamo!” “No taxation without representation!” “I shall return!” “I have not yet begun to fight!” “Never give up!” These memorable slogans are the stuff of legends. They represent a level of commitment that led many to give their lives for a cause or country. Are the slogans of today any less intense? No doubt many new ones are entering the consciousness of those who have been at the center of the tragic conflicts in Bosnia, Lebanon, and other centers of violent conflict. Strife seems to create powerful slogans.
But what of the strife that is found on the battlefield of our minds? Slogans are indicative of the war that is a part of the life of the mind. (It is fascinating to note that the etymology of the word slogan stems from the Gaelic slaugh-garim, which was a war cry of a Scottish clan.)
No doubt I could be accused of exaggerating the impact of slogans. But let’s remember that enormous amounts of money are spent to encourage us to respond to the messages they contain. For example, commercials shown during the most recent Super Bowl cost the sponsors approximately $1,000,000 per 60 second spot. Such sums surely would not be spent if there weren’t a significant payoff. And it is not as if slogans were hidden in some underground culture; we are flooded with them at every turn. As one writer has put it: “Commercial messages are omnipresent, and the verbal and visual vocabulary of Madison Avenue has become our true lingua franca.”(4) We may be at the point where we can communicate with one another more readily through the use of advertising slogans because they provide a common ground. But what is that common ground? Is it compatible with a Christian worldview? The answer to both questions in our secularized culture is usually “No!”.
We have emphasized three themes that are readily found in contemporary slogans: vanity, immediate gratification, and materialism. Of course, there are many more subjects, but these serve to demonstrate that the lingua franca, the current common ground, is one that should be carefully weighed against the precepts of Scripture. The Christian worldview cannot accept such themes.
A disciple of Christ is challenged not only to consider the implications of slogans in the marketplace, but in the church as well. We can be swayed by the same ideas that drive those who formulate the slogans of commercialism. Douglas Webster offers these penetrating comments:
Public opinion has become an arbiter of truth, dictating the terms of acceptability according to the marketplace. The sovereignty of the audience makes serious, prayerful thinking about the will of God unnecessary, because opinions are formed on the basis of taste and preferences rather than careful biblical conviction and thoughtful theological reflection. Americans easily become “slaves of slogans” when discernment is reduced to ratings.(5)
Surely none of us would like to be described as a “slave of slogans.” We want to believe that we are capable of sorting out the messages we hear so often. Yes, we are capable through the Lord’s guidance. But as Webster has written, we must be sober enough to be sure that we are not being led by taste and preferences. Instead, we should implant careful biblical conviction and thoughtful theological reflection in our lives. And I hasten to add that such thinking should apply to us both individually and within our churches.
Perhaps the most fitting way to conclude our discussion of slogans is with another slogan: “To God be the glory in all things!” Such a thought, if made the center of our lives, surely will demonstrate the power of slogans.
1. Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in An Age of Diminishing Expectations (New York: Warner, 1979), 23.
2. Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge (Waco, Texas: Word, 1985), 16.
3. Douglas D. Webster, Selling Jesus: What’s Wrong with Marketing the Church (Downers Grove, Ill: 1992), 68.
4. Rogier van Bakel, “This Space for Rent,” Wired (June 1996), 160.
5. Webster, 29.
©1996 Probe Ministries.