Fish and Familiarity
Some of the most recognizable figures in American popular culture came together some time ago to solicit votes. Starting in New York City the candidates—who were not politicians, sports stars, or musicians—were traveling around the US in a no-holds-barred campaign for election. Mr. Peanut, the Jolly Green Giant, and the Energizer Bunny were among the nominees. The vote, which was underway throughout the tour, was to officially inaugurate the best consumer icon. The top five contenders were to be immortalized in concrete on Madison Avenue's new Advertising Walk of Fame.
What is perhaps the most startling effect of viewing such a distinguished assembly of characters is the instantaneous recollection of useless information that can be regurgitated upon cue. Catching only a periphery glimpse of Chiquita Banana put a strategically-worded jingle on the tip of my tongue. And I don't even like bananas. Whether Marvin Gaye would be flattered or insulted that three well-dressed raisins instantly bring his song to mind, I am not sure. And there is a part of me that still feels sorry for the Trix rabbit who is repeatedly told, despite his ploys and pleas, that he can't eat his own cereal.
Advertising companies no doubt find many of these memorable characters textbook examples of marketing victory. They waltz into our worlds, innocently capturing brain space, and forever installing the invaluable propensity for product recognition. As one economist reasons, "Advertising may be described as the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it."
The influence of automatic association is powerful—for what comes automatically, comes without much thought. What we recognize—or think we recognize—seems to give our minds permission to act on autopilot. Familiarity all too often breeds less scrutiny.
In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul writes with instruction for Christians to present themselves to God as an act of worship. Within his description of what this means, Paul singles out the mind: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds" (Romans 12:2). Religion can easily operate on autopilot. The siege of familiarity can present a successful barricade between the allied forces of heart and mind, eyes and action.
In fact, this is true whether you consider yourself a dedicated follower or an unconcerned, non-religious type. Like water to a goldfish, we can see without really seeing. Where we have stopped seeing Christ because too many Christians have let us down, how do we look again? When we come to the same parable or hear again David's twenty-third psalm and our minds respond with an arrested sense of fluency, how do we see it once more? How do we prevent our visions of Christ from becoming susceptible to the sieges of familiarity?
Because the struggle with arrested minds and hearts is real, it is worth considering, whatever our state of belief or disbelief. Paul summons all to attention, urging us to discover that giving God a renewed mind of any sort is an act of worship. Faith is not a mechanical following after his Son, a blind recognizing of right and wrong, or an automatic associating of biblical stories with biblical principles.
I want to live with a mind and spirit renewed. When I see an act of kindness, a scene of nature, a familiar hope or faith, when I read "I am the bread of life, he who follows me shall never go hungry," I want to engage that moment, seeing his mercy, but also seeing by it.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.