Advertisements are where our children receive their cosmology, their basic grasp of the world's meaning, which amounts to their primary "faith", though they don't recognize it as such. Perhaps the most recalcitrant children will view upwards of a hundred thousand ads before they cave in and accept consumerism's basic worldview. But eventually they all get the message. It's a simple cosmology, told to great effect and delivered a billion times a day, not only to Americans, but to nearly everyone on the planet. Its message: human beings exist to work at jobs, to earn money, to buy stuff. The image of the ideal person put forth by the ad is not Jesus or Socrates. Forget all about Rachel Carson or Martin Luther King, Jr., with all their suffering and love and wisdom. In the propaganda world of the ad, the ideal people -- the fully human humans -- are relaxed and carefree, drinking Pepsis around a pool, unencumbered by powerful ideas concerning the nature of goodness, undisturbed by visions of suffering that could inspire a commitment to justice. None of that ever appears. In the religion of the ad, the task of civilization is much simpler. The ultimate meaning behind human existence is getting all this stuff. That's paradise. And the meaning of the earth? To provide the raw materials from which to manufacture consumer stuff.
-- Brian Swimme, from "The Religion of the Ad", an excerpt from The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos: Humanity and the New Story (1996), printed in the May 2001 issue of The Sun. Excerpted here without permission, but I don't think Sy (the publisher) would mind, just as he wouldn't mind my mentioning www.thesunmagazine.org, his magazine's website, where this article may eventually appear in the archives.