Guerrilla Marketing & Christian Compliance

There is no love without sacrifice. But in a political system, sacrifice without love becomes a distorted perversion of the sacred, used by the few to control the many. We may not promote the common good to the detriment of human dignity.

“The path to happiness was self-sacrifice and suppression of the individual for the good of the collective.”— Barbara Demick in her book, Nothing to Envy, speaking to the propaganda of North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-il

A few years ago I read a book called Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick, a journalist who chronicled in minute detail the day-to-day lives of six North Korean citizens who eventually escaped communism and defected to find freedom in South Korea. It wasn’t so much the challenging lives these characters led that caught my eye — although they did — but rather the never-ending state-led propaganda (i.e. Marketing) that accosted North Korean citizens on a daily basis.

North Koreans have no access to outside media. They enjoy only state-run media, state-run entertainment and state-run news. Subjects in this book commented about how controlled was the narrative on any given subject, and through any given medium. North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-il, believed that movies, for example, were critical for instilling loyalty to his regime. He believed that “revolutionary art and literature are extremely effective means for inspiring people to work for the tasks of the revolution.” Under his direction, film was used to that end. Demick explains that movie themes always ran along the following lines: “The path to happiness was self-sacrifice and suppression of the individual for the good of the collective.” In communist North Korea, pretty much every message from every outlet served to promote this message. Whatever the medium, the regime sought always to increase love for Kim and allegiance to whatever the state determined was in the interest of “the common good.” 

Enter the United States, 2020-2021. 

What we’ve been watching in the United States over the past year can be likened to tactics used in North Korea. Those in the marketing business call it Guerrilla Marketing. Yes, the term is derived from Guerrilla Warfare. When you think Guerrilla Marketing, think ambush, attack, sabotage, only think in terms of ad campaigns. Often guerrilla marketing campaigns use a variety of techniques to attract attention and action, “attacking” the would-be consumer from all angles, and employing most often an attempt to connect emotionally with clients, a tactic which exponentially increases the likelihood of buy-in or acceptance. When marketing shuts down debate and is completely one-sided, at times even misleading, it is called propaganda. When you combine guerrilla marketing with propaganda, you have a dangerous, if effective, combination. 

Mask Matters

If you paid any attention to the promotion of masks, you noticed guerrilla marketing style tactics used again and again. Mask mania was everywhere (and it continues). It seemed all of Hollywood joined the bandwagon to encourage the wearing of masks, from Wonder Woman to Harry Potter, from Kathryn Bigelow to Morgan Freeman and Paul Rudd. Matthew McConaughey even made a PSA about how to make your own mask in a pinch. In addition to PSAs, there were signs everywhere. Posters in stores, ads on social media, billboards — even digital billboards — shouting boldly above our nation’s highways.  With the cooperation of virtually every available outlet as well as industry and government, this was guerrilla marketing at its finest. 

Please note that not one of these ads provided “science” to help educate the public. They may have used the words, “Listen to the Science,” but not one of them provided any data for us to examine. There was nothing for us to consider, to evaluate. No reason to engage our “reason.” Instead, each and every one of these ads sought an emotional response. Each pointed to a “responsibility” toward our fellow man. Some were inspirational, some were guilt-ridden, and some even employed bullying techniques intended to isolate those who may have been tempted to opt out.

One of the most blatant bullying offenders was CNNs, This is a Mask PSA. While showing dozens of masks in all shapes, sizes and colors, the ad had only one line:

“ A mask can say a lot about the person who wears it; but even more about the person who doesn’t.” 

– CNN’s PSA: This is a Mask

The last mask featured in the ad, just before the narrator ends this sentence, says “Greater Good.” 

 Not surprisingly, the pressure worked. According to a National Geographic survey, by October 2020, 92% of people surveyed said they wore a mask when leaving home. Never mind that cases went up shortly after that survey. Never mind that states that did not mandate masks appear to have lower transmission rates than those who went all-out on mandates. Never mind that until last year, every study ever done regarding masks and respiratory spread found no evidence that masks actually stopped transmission. Never mind a recent study in China that followed 300 people who were Covid-positive but asymptomatic and found that of the more than 1100 people they contact-traced through these cases, not one of them ended up testing positive though that contact. The bottom line is that the science is not final regarding masks. In fact, if actual studies (as opposed to anecdotal stories) lean in any direction at all, it is against their effectiveness.

But no matter. The marketing was never about facts. It was all about emotion. It was about self-sacrifice. It was about social responsibility.

Vaccine Valor

In case you haven’t noticed, the same type of campaign is now in full swing for the Covid-19 vaccine. Again. No science. No facts. Just emotion. And this time, they’ve added incentives.

State and local governments are pushing, military is promoting,  news outlets are advocating. Health care workers have produced entertaining PSAs, celebrities like Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton have written songs they hope will sway us. Other celebrities have been posing for pictures as they receive their vaccines – and then posting them all over social media. All four living ex-presidents participated in a PSA promoting the vaccine. There is also a giant collaborative campaign between corporations, media companies and faith communities to “educate” people about the vaccine. (Note their campaign is called “It’s up to You,” clearly implying that the future hangs in the balance unless we get the vaccine.) Priests and preachers from coast to coast are “preaching the gospel of the Covid-19 vaccine.” Even Pope Francis has suggested that people have a “moral obligation” to take it.  In an interview, he stated, “It’s a moral choice because it is about your life but also the lives of others.” 

And if all the ads and the social pressure don’t work, there are other campaigns to reward us with perks, if only we’ll be “good” citizens. And on the flip-side, they’re willing to punish us if we won’t (think China’s appalling, ‘social credit score”).

Again – science? There’s no need for science when you have the government, every media outlet and the entertainment industry all promoting your product. Unlike those of other vaccines, this promotion has dispensed with the idea of a rational, thought-provoking discussion between me and my doctor about pros and cons of the vaccine and risk vs. reward for my family. This is more akin to Nike’s Just Do It campaign.

Everywhere we look, they are playing on our emotions. And now, we have — as we did with the masks —  a PR campaign telling us that our getting the vaccine is a sacrifice that we should be willing to make for the common good. Don’t ask how a medication that is injected into MY body is going to help you. Don’t ask why my getting the vaccine should matter if you have it and are protected.

Just don’t ask questions. It’s not about facts. It’s about emotion. It’s about our being willing to sacrifice for “the common good.” 

The Cross Without Christ – Recipe for Disaster

All this pressure to self-sacrifice? It sounds great. Really it does. Especially if you don’t listen too closely. If you don’t analyze. But in fact, these campaigns are very deceptive. 

This obligation to our fellow man is very similar to what they promote in North Korea (and China, and Cuba and Venezuela, etc.). But sadly, when Christianity becomes all about humanitarianism, it ceases to be about the salvation of souls. There is grave danger in that idea. It is a danger that seeks to separate God from the equation by dispensing with the spiritual in favor of the material. This is what Archbishop Fulton Sheen called A Cross Without Christ. 

A pursuit of the “common good” is something the Catholic Church has always promoted. But these words have become twisted in the public square. They have been used as a tool for manipulation, so much so that the words have become a lie that serves to distract Christians from what is most important. This lie feeds on our compassionate nature, our ordained call to serve, to love our neighbor, and to ensure that justice is accomplished for those most in need. But in fact, to the extent that this pressure to comply is forcefully applied, it can undermine our compassion, inhibit our service, remove the natural relationship we have with our neighbor and destroy the very outcome of justice it professes to serve. 

Christ gave us two great Commandments. The First is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind…and a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). Our love for neighbor stems directly from our love for God. It should speak always to the dignity of every human person. Love of neighbor should recognize that each soul is made in the image and likeness of God, equipped with both reason and free will. These are two characteristics that separate us from animals. And yet we are being asked to set both aside, to pay homage to the Gospel of Covid-19. 

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might, of his own accord, seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to Him. (GS 17; Sir 15:14).” (CCC 1730)

In Life of Christ, Archbishop Sheen addresses the danger inherent in any approach that neglects those important truths:

Communism has chosen the Cross in the sense that it has brought back to an egotistic world a sense of discipline, self-abnegation, surrender, hard work, study, and dedication to supra-individual goals. But the Cross without Christ is a sacrifice without love. Hence, Communism has produced a society that is authoritarian, cruel, oppressive of human freedom, filled with concentration camps, firing squads, and brain-washings. — Life of Christ, p. xxv.

Cleaving to God is the path whereby we can obtain the grace that allows us to love enough to sacrifice our own wants, our own needs, our own desires for the good of another. 

There is no love without sacrifice. But in a political system, sacrifice without love becomes a distorted perversion of the sacred, used by the few to control the many. As Christians, we may not promote the common good to the detriment of human dignity.

This flagrant and no-holds-barred use of guerrilla marketing and manipulation to pressure us to act is an affront to our dignity as human persons. The social pressure to conform is akin to campaigns history has shown to cause the most dangerous form of division and isolation. This kind of pressure should be intolerable to all. If vaccines and masks are for the betterment of society, open the gates to allow a fruitful and meaningful discussion. One that celebrates actual science, bans propaganda and respects the need for each and every one of us to resort to both our God-given ability to reason and to our own free will in order to make appropriate decisions regarding our health and the health of our families. 

(Thanks for reading my post! If you liked it, please check out my new book, The Lost Art of Sacrifice, published by Sophia Institute Press!)

Socialism: Cunning Seductress for Catholics but a Deadly Plague on the Body of Christ

Before the cheerleaders of this dangerous ideology take another step, we need to look them in the eye and denounce their ideas for the evils that they represent.

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Last Tuesday for the first time in the history of these United States, a president stood before both houses of Congress and declared, “The United States will never be a socialist country.” This was a monumental moment. As recently as three years ago, that would have been like saying, “A springer spaniel will never be president.” It would have been so ridiculous that no one would have thought it worth mentioning. That just goes to show you how fast things are moving to the left. The pace of this drive toward central control is almost mind-blowing.

But is it really? There has been a drum beat in this country that has consistently pounded the words universal health care, income equality, social justice, economic security and more, a persistent pounding against the backdrop of all public discussion that first resonated in the halls of discourse and moved on to the public square. So constant and so echoed are these terms that they have come to represent ends in themselves, mantras of moral absolutes which actually lower the dignity of man to a mere material being — one that can be adequately served by shifting a decimal point or passing a bill. 

And who are the drum majors behind this movement? Given that socialists proclaim compassion, promise to answer domestic problems with financial commitments, and appeal to the Catholic desire to love our neighbor by pledging to “lift up the poor” and by promoting “social justice” and the “common good,”  it shouldn’t be a surprise that many of the band leaders have been Catholics. Of course, there is the old guard of Catholics, like Andrew Cuomo, Joe Biden, and probably the most powerful woman in America – Nancy Pelosi – and so many others who have used their public pulpits to seduce the hearts and minds of poorly catechized Catholics into following the pied piper issues of human rights, economic ‘fairness’ and ‘affordable’ education, universal healthcare and more – which really means expanding the government by exponential numbers. At this moment nearly 1/3 of Congress is Catholic. (141 House/22 Senate) Imagine how those souls could work together to build up the Body of Christ!

But not only do more than half of the Catholics in Congress tout a socialist agenda, recently they seem to have made a decision to proudly bear the standard of socialism. Those on the left have found a new, fresh young face with radical ideas to offer as a mouthpiece for the future. Oh. And by the way – she’s a Catholic.

Like many radicals before her, Freshman US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) was inspired to run for public office by her Catholic faith, sharing that she was raised to serve the less fortunate. She claims that now she is merely taking that sentiment to the public square. She comes by her misguided ideas honestly. The Democratic Socialists of America, of which she is a proud member, was started by a once devout Catholic — Michael Harrington —  who left Princeton to join Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker Movement. Eventually he left the Catholic Church (Perhaps he realized Catholicism and socialism don’t mix?); but it was his commitment to Catholic social teaching that first inspired him.

Last week AOC ushered out her Green New Deal to the praise and adulation of the media (and her three million Twitter followers). Never mind the fact that actually passing this deal — or virtually anything on her agenda – would be a tipping point toward socialism from which we might never be able to recover. According to the Green New Deal, Cortez wants to extend the public dole for — among other things — “guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States.” Notice the word all. Just read this statement closely, and you will see the utopian ideas that lie beneath the surface of this massive government overhaul of the economy and our freedoms.

Young adults that have been indoctrinated through the education system and have been groomed to think in terms of punchy one-liners, banners and headlines have been flocking to join the band. That constant thumping, ever pressing drumbeat reverberating through the chambers of media and in the halls of education throughout this country has had a powerful effect. In 2017 the Victims of Communism conducted their second annual survey on American attitudes toward socialism and learned that over half (51%) of Millennials would prefer socialism or communism to capitalism (even though most don’t really know what socialism means). Not just the terms but the ideas are gaining ground. A poll released this past week shows that Americans (not just Millennials) favor increasing domestic spending and increasing taxes on the rich more than they favor lowering taxes on everyone. By domestic spending they mean increasing the size of the government safety net – healthcare for all, education for all, affordable housing and so on.

Unfortunately, many Catholics seem to be so caught up on the feel-good, emotional advocacy of the left that they cannot see the inherent dangers of the socialist agenda. To many generous hearts,  the hype sounds deceptively attractive. Sure we want to take care of every American. This is exactly what Christ meant when he said we should love our neighbor. Based on the big hearted extension of handouts to all, one might think the Catholic Church would be inherently supportive of such proposals. But one would be wrong. 

Socialism is NOT in line with Catholic teaching. 

Pope Leo XIII condemned socialism as far back as 1878 when he called it “the deadly plague that is creeping into the very fibers of human society and leading it on to the verge of destruction…”  In Quod Apostolici Muneris (On Socialism), he explains what is so deadly about these ideas on several levels.

First of all, this massive plan for the redistribution of wealth to pay for universal health care, education, a guaranteed income and more is thievery and it is wrong.

In response to the notion of taking from the rich and giving to the poor, Leo XIII said,

…while the socialists would destroy the “right” of property, alleging it to be a human invention altogether opposed to the inborn equality of man, and, claiming a community of goods, argue that property should not be peaceably endured, and that the property and privileges of the rich might be rightly invaded, the Church, with much greater wisdom and good sense, recognizes the inequality among men, who are born with different powers of body and mind, inequality in actual possession, also, and holds that the right of property and of ownership, which springs from nature itself, must not be touched and stands inviolate.

For she knows that stealing and robbery were forbidden in so special a manner by God, the Author and Defender of right, that He would not allow man even to desire what belonged to another, and that thieves and despoilers, no less than adulterers and idolaters, are shut out from the Kingdom of Heaven. (#9)

Does it matter whether the rich have millions or even billions? No. stealing and coveting are forbidden by the 7th and 10th Commandments. And man has the right to the fruits of his labor. Certainly he is compelled to share. But this proscription comes from his God, and should not come from the government. Man will be held to account by His Creator, should he refuse to open his heart and his checkbook to serve those less fortunate.  

Rather than apply (or extend) the Robin Hood philosophy of stealing from the rich to give to the poor, the Church desires, as Christ desires, that the human soul give from the heart. We are all called to sacrifice. And this gesture to care for those in need is one that should be extended in love and not compelled by the government. Given the chance, throughout history Americans have done an amazing job of serving the poor, both body and soul, performing corporal works of mercy with a gracious hand and a discerning eye, having such close contact as to evaluate the fruits of such service – whether their generosity is helping to lift a man from the depths or enabling him to wallow in misery by his own choice. When it comes to works of mercy, the Catholic Church has been at the forefront of the action. By no means has the Church ever abandoned the poor, but rather has extended in love the beautiful gifts offered by the Body of Christ. She knows that while God has commissioned His people with the Two Great Commandments, He has also given them free will. And in order for Him to truly love, His gift must be offered freely:

But not the less on this account does our holy Mother not neglect the care of the poor or omit to provide for their necessities; but rather, drawing them to her with a mother’s embrace, and knowing that they bear the person of Christ Himself, who regards the smallest gift to the poor as a benefit conferred on Himself, holds them in great honor. She does all she can to help them; she provides homes and hospitals where they may be received, nourished, and cared for all the world over and watches over these. She is constantly pressing on the rich that most grave precept to give what remains to the poor; and she holds over their heads the divine sentence that unless they succor the needy they will be repaid by eternal torments.

There is great danger both to the souls of those in need and to the souls of those with means, should the government step in and demand that all men be made equal. The Church has been shouting this from the rooftops; but somewhere along the line, our obligation to the poor has been reduced to an economic obligation, and his soul has been forgotten. Likewise with the giver. His gift has been reduced to a mere economic transaction. There is no relationship between the two. Their eyes do not meet; their souls do not connect. As a result, each suffers greatly. This material driven world has demeaned man by reducing him to a mere material being. Headlines and taglines and hapless phrases have lost the notion of our fallen nature, of the soul, of our need for affiliation, bonding, freedom — our need to be touched by the hand of God through His Body, the Church.

Second, closely tied to the above, the desire to ensure equality among all types of people – whether in terms of economics, gender, age, education, income, etc. – is immoral. It completely dispenses with the Body of Christ, by trying to make everyone the same, rather than celebrating and valuing our differences. As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Cor. 12:20)

When it comes to a desire to place everyone on equal footing, the Church would argue that socialists, 

“stealing the very Gospel itself with a view to deceive more easily the unwary, have been accustomed to distort it so as to suit their own purposes…” 

Not only are they wrong, but, Pope Leo XIII emphasizes, 

“…nevertheless so great is the difference between their depraved teachings and the most pure doctrine of Christ that none greater could exist: ‘for what participation hath justice with injustice or what fellowship hath light with darkness?’” (#5)

For socialists also attempt to take the notion of equality and stand it on its head. Rather than recognize that the equality of men rests in the their shared inherited nature, through which all are created in the image and likeness of God and will be judged according to the same law regardless of their status in life, socialists attempt to call all men equal by nature, denying inequality when it comes to authority, power or rights. 

Their habit, as we have so intimated, is always to maintain that nature has made all men equal, and that, therefore, neither honor nor respect is due to majesty, nor obedience to laws, unless, perhaps, to those sanctioned by their own good pleasure. (#5)

You may think this is untrue. That socialism is not about rejection of authority, only about promoting and ensuring equality; but in effect, it is. For in promoting equality, any differentiation based on uniqueness, authority or power is rejected. According to Jeff Stein, formerly of VOX and now a reporter for the Washington Post and supporter of socialism, 

“Socialism is about democratizing the family to get rid of patriarchal relations; democratizing the political sphere to get genuine participatory democracy; democratizing the schools by challenging the hierarchical relationship between the teachers of the school and the students of the school,” said Jared Abbott, a member of the DSA’s national steering committee. “Socialism is the democratization of all areas of life, including but not limited to the economy.”

These ideas have been seeping into the culture for years, with virtually every television show, movie, article, book,  upending relationships in the most precious institution in all of society — the family. Think about it. When is the last time you saw a television show where a father actually knew more than his children or was in any way a hero to his wife? Even in commercials, fathers are fools and mothers have all the power and authority. How many of us have been permanently affected by this constant beating of the “equality” drum?

This play on the idea of “equality” runs absolutely contrary to the Gospel. As Quod Apostolici Muneris explains,

But, on the contrary, in accordance with the teaching of the Gospel, the equality of men consists in this: that all, having inherited the same nature, are called to the same most high dignity of the sons of God, and that, as one and the same end is set before all, each one is to be judged by the same law and will receive punishment or reward according to his deserts. The inequality of rights and of power proceeds from the very Author of nature, ‘from whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named.’ 

For keep in mind,

…even in the kingdom of heaven He hath willed that the choirs of angels be distinct and some subject to others, and also in the Church has instituted various orders and a diversity of offices, so that all are not apostles or doctors or pastors, so also has he appointed that there should be various orders in civil society, differing in dignity, rights, and power, whereby the State, like the Church, should be one body, consisting of many members, some nobler than others, but all necessary to each other and solicitous for the common good.

Socialists have long been promoting a paradigm. And their first fully indoctrinated generation is now of age. If they get their way, they will compel a complete overhaul of the most critical institutions.Unless we come to realize the inherent dangers in socialistic thought and the disastrous results these policies would produce, we are bound to destroy what we value most:

…you know that the foundation of this society rests first of all in the indissoluble union of man and wife according to the necessity of natural law, and is completed in the mutual rights and duties of parents and children… You know also that the doctrines of socialism strive almost completely to dissolve this union; since, that stability which is imparted to it by religious wedlock being lost, it follows that the power of the father over his own children, and the duties of the children toward their parents, must be greatly weakened. But the Church, on the contrary, teaches that ‘marriage, honorable in all,’ which God himself instituted in the very beginning of the world, and made indissoluble for the propagation and preservation of the human species, has become still more binding and more holy through Christ, who raised it to the dignity of a sacrament, and chose to use it as the figure of His own union with the Church.

Socialism promises an end to all social ills. It plays on class envy and identity politics to promote scapegoats and division. This division allows for some to capitalize on the fruits of others, to deny authority and destroy boundaries. Archbishop Fulton Sheen shares some wise insight that you may find interesting. He said that pre-communist Russians were prophetic, believing that  

…the Antichrist would “come disguised as the Great Humanitarian; he will talk peace, prosperity and plenty not as means to lead us to God, but as ends in themselves…he will be so broad-minded as to identify tolerance with indifference to right and wrong, truth and error; he will spread the lie that men will never be better until they make society better and thus have selfishness to provide fuel for the next revolution…he will increase love for love and decrease love for person; he will invoke religion to destroy religion…his mission, he will say, will be to liberate men from the servitudes of superstition and Fascism, which he will never define…He will tempt Christians with the same three temptations with which he tempted Christ. The temptation to turn stones into bread as an earthly Messias will become the temptation to sell freedom for security, making bread a political weapon which only those who think his way may eat. The temptation to work a miracle by recklessly throwing himself from a steeple will become a plea to desert the lofty pinnacles of truth where faith and reason reign, for those lower depths where the masses live on slogans and propaganda…the temptation to have a new religion to destroy a religion or a politics which is religion — one that renders unto Caesar even the things that are God’s. (Communism and the Conscience of the West, p. 24)

In her motherly love, the Church calls for a halt to this ever-pounding drumbeat that simplifies the needs of men – those with and without means — before we meet the same demise that plagues every country that attempts to direct and plan for human success. Catholics must know that this is not humanitarianism. Socialism is evil. It is never coercion, but rather freedom that allows the pursuit of true happiness. Freedom to find common ground with our neighbor. Freedom to appreciate how our unique gifts can serve the Body of Christ and to use them appropriately. But ultimately, we must have the freedom to make our own way, freedom to distribute the spoils of our labor as we are called by God, freedom to serve and the freedom to love.

There are so many serious reasons popes have denounced socialism that all their rationale could not possibly fit into the length of one post. In this space I’ve had room to cover only two points. But please think about them. And consider sharing them with fellow parishioners over doughnuts after Mass this Sunday. Before the cheerleaders of this dangerous ideology take another step, we need to look them in the eye and denounce their ideas for the evils that they represent. Like President Trump, Catholics need to make a declaration. They must stand with the Body of Christ and say NO. Catholics will never be socialists.

Image: Adrian Lyttelton: Italian Culture and Society in the Age of Stile Floreale

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