How These Popular Commercials Are Teaching You About Morality

by Morals & Values

One of the most challenging things to communicate to young people about the moral life is the manner in which our actions have larger implications than we could have ever envisioned. Understanding this “law of unintended consequences” requires a great deal of imagination.

Perhaps one of the most underappreciated aspects of the spiritual life is the importance of using our imagination in the service of of virtue. In other words, when we play out the consequences of our actions in our imagination it can often help assist us to “discern spirits” (much like Ignatian spirituality). Yet this is true not only for the bad things, but for the good as well. We celebrate the imagination of children, of novelists and artists, but what about its role in the moral and spiritual life?

The ultimate problem with the moral life comes down to this: sin seems to be extremely generous up front, but robs us blind on the back end, while virtue is initially a bit like working pro bono, it pays us nothing up front, but it pays handsomely on the back end.

Consequently, I present the following commercials as a kind of imaginative effort to illustrate and illuminate what is most challenging and subtle about the moral life. My hope is that both ads provide encouragement to the reader in efforts to recognize the consequences and trajectory of our actions, and how their implications are often much larger than we could have imagined.

The first commercial is derived from DirecTV. The memorable tag-line, as you may recall, is “Don’t end up in a roadside ditch.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpwlh1yl054;

While the moral culpability of the gentleman in this ad may be negligible (or so it would seem), the larger point is still valid. Our actions have a domino effect well beyond our original intentions. The consequence of one misdeed (or attempted shortcut), can be cosmic in its implications. Try as we might to quarantine them, our actions take on a life of our their own, and they can literally come back to haunt us. We can see this occur in a personal sense with our sins, but also in a generational sense as well (see commercial below).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9XUHi_LinQ;

Obviously I do not consider the failure to purchase DirecTV to be a sin, but I do believe that the instinct of this advertisement is quite right (at least in this very specific sense). Vices never happen in a vacuum. And they not only affect our own fate, but those with whom we interact as well.

The next ad campaign which lends insight into the moral life is a recent State Farm advertisement. In this case the insight is a bit more positive. Yes, sin has a cumulative effect, and like karma there is nothing that you put out into the universe that won’t (in some fashion) come back to you. You must “pay every last penny” of your debts. Depressing, no?

However, there are also many moments in the moral life that seem initially off-putting, something otherwise to be avoided. Indeed, this is perhaps the best argument for immorality: not that goodness isn’t reasonable or justifiable, or even beautiful, but rather that goodness is too difficult, and thus rationalization is preferable to bravery. If bravery exists at all, it is a one-off thing, not something that you must build towards day in and day out.

The following commercial recognizes something quite subtle about the moral life, the notion that the virtue- in the most mysterious sense- gets harder and harder, and then mysteriously just when you think can’t make it anymore, you become inexplicably invigorated by it. One might compare it to getting a second wind in a race (appropriate when you think about Pentecost). It seems counterintuitive, but when you consider what our faith teaches about the logic of the resurrection it begins to make a lot of sense.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1Z91YkPatw

At the risk of sounding maudlin, love and sacrifice open us up to a new horizon of generosity. The super manicured, hyper-controlled existence that we may have originally envisioned begins to dissolve away when confronted with this higher sense of beauty and goodness. At first when we sacrifice, we say “I will do this… but only this”. Yet the more we give our bodies to that love, and the deeper we enter into it, the more irresistible it becomes.

The two ad campaigns are a depiction of the moral life going in opposite directions. Our actions have power, and they can be deadly in ways that defy our initial intentions. Yet in the positive sense the moral life can lead you to wonderful surprises, a lifestyle that also defies our intentions… but in the best possible sense. In any case, if there are going to be surprises that defy our original intuitions let them at least be holy surprises!

Discussion Questions

1. How might these two advertisements help explain in a very practical way God’s “blessings and curses” as they relate to Chapter 20 of Exodus?

2. Name some instances in your own life (or the lives of others) where you have seen this “roadside ditch” scenario play out.

3. Name some instances in your own life where you have fought vigorously to avoid doing some new/good thing, and when you did (much to your surprise) it turned out to be an incredible blessing.

4. In the post it says that vice is “…very generous up front, but robs you on the back end”, what exactly does the author mean? What does it mean to say that virtue is like doing pro bono work in the beginning?

5. There is an old expression; “No good deed goes unpunished.” In other words, how would you reconcile the fact that sometimes you can do the right thing and end up in a “roadside ditch,” while the wrongdoer may seem relatively unsacathed and contented?

Catholic-Link Donations donate donation donor
  • No Time To Die: Love Covers A Multitude Of Sins
    HUGE SPOILER ALERT] Jesus often finds his way through my armor via the element of surprise. I’ve always found thinking of myself as a soldier with his shield down to be a helpful analogy.  When the soldier is relaxed and not prepared, the blow seems to be more effective and enter more deeply. When the […]
  • Why Use A Missal (And How!)
    What is the Roman Missal? The Roman Missal is (mostly) the big red book that the priest uses at the altar and at his chair when celebrating Mass. I say “mostly” because the Lectionary (which contains the readings) and the liturgical books containing the rites for the various sacraments, are also part of the Roman […]
  • The Top 4 Questions Teens Ask Before Confirmation (And How to Respond!)
    The question teenagers constantly ask is, “Why does this matter?” And if they don’t feel it matters, they won’t participate. (Or at best, they will drag their feet.) Math homework and cleaning often fall into this category.  And unfortunately, prayer, Mass, the Bible, and Confirmation are often lumped in there, too. So what can we […]
  • A Guide To Virtual Natural Family Planning Instructors
    Need some help learning or relearning Natural Family Planning (NFP), Fertility Awareness Method (FAM), the Marquette Method, Boston Cross Check™, or the Billings Ovulation Method®? Here is a list of providers that offer virtual courses so that you can learn these methods (and more!) from the comfort of your own home. Virtual Natural Family Planning […]
  • Roe v. Wade Overturned: Now The Hard Work Begins
    There is a lot to say and a tremendous amount of apologetic materials to discuss the issue of abortion. However, the gravity of today requires some comment. The Supreme Court has Aborted Roe v. Wade Today, June 24, 2022 is the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. How fitting then that the constitutional abomination […]

Keep Searching, Keep Learning

Our Newest Articles:

Roe v. Wade Overturned: Now The Hard Work Begins

Roe v. Wade Overturned: Now The Hard Work Begins

There is a lot to say and a tremendous amount of apologetic materials to discuss the issue of abortion. However, the gravity of today requires some comment. The Supreme Court has Aborted Roe v. Wade Today, June 24, 2022 is the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus....

Catholic-Link