I’ve got no beef with Norton.
The computer software company, not the town in Massachusetts or the actor from Fight Club.
In fact, Sojourners uses the Norton security software on our office computers, but I don’t think that has anything to do with advertising campaigns.
The Norton commercial below is where my beef resides. It says explicitly what most advertisements only imply.
You are the things you own.
Your identity is the stuff you have.
Your worth is what you own.
“Let’s talk about Stuff.
The Stuff that lives on your hard drive, your devices and on the web.
It’s who you are stuff, where you’ve been and where you’re going stuff.
The stuff that connects you to the people you love.
But sometimes bad stuff can happen to your Stuff.
Your Stuff can get lost. Even stolen.
The thing is, stuff happens.
Which is why you need Norton.
Because what are you without your Stuff?
Better yet, without your Stuff…who are you?”
This all makes sense from a marketing perspective. You don’t want your customer to be able to tell where the brand ends and they begin.
Yet from a Christian perspective we understand that ultimately our identity is found in Christ, not in the things of the world. We first and foremost are defined as children of God and not by the stuff we have (or don't have) or things we consume.
Unlike some Christians in this country, I’m really not worried about where the Ten Commandments are or are not displayed in public or in private. My prayer life has never been affected nor my faith shaken by whether there is public prayer at football games.
What concerns me is that the explicit message of the Norton ad is being swallowed by today’s churches. We have politicians who pass resolutions in Congress to “reaffirm” our nation’s motto as “In God We Trust,” when the real challenge we face is to persuade more Christians to live like they actually trust in God.
Jesus set the bar high for his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount when he told them, “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34)
I don’t think this passage implies that anti-virus software is sinful because Christians shouldn’t worry about mal-ware, trojans, or other viruses. Guarding our computers and their contents is probably just good stewardship. But, I don’t think it’s compatible with Norton’s push to make you feel like you lose who you are if you lose your stuff.
Jesus’ words to “consider the lilies,” isn’t a good marketing strategy (unless maybe you are FTD or Teleflora). If Christians were confident in their identity as children of God, it might not be great for third quarter sales figures.
It is entirely possible to be a good Christian in a society that doesn’t have scripture hanging in every court house or prayer in every classroom. But Jesus told his followers that it is impossible to serve both him and mammon.
Religious liberty is important but it’s not essential to the church’s health. In Revelation we see that the greatest threat to the church came not from the oppression of the Roman empire but from a lack of integrity within.
Rather than fighting to have the Ten Commandments hang in courthouses we should make sure the warning to the church in Laodicea is hung in every sanctuary:
"I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, 'I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.' You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.” (Revelation 3:15-18)
Tim King is Communications Director for Sojourners. Follow Tim on Twitter @TMKing .