If you haven’t seen it yet, “Catholics Come Home,” soon to be airing on multiple TV networks, represents a superb piece of marketing. The Catholic family, we are told, is comprised of human beings the world over and from all walks of life, the rich and poor, old and young, sinners and saints. It has given us the Bible as well as the scientific method. It is the largest humanitarian organization in the world. It has served as a source of love and compassion, and a sorely needed moral compass in a deeply troubled world, for two thousand years. While the ad explicitly appeals to lapsed Catholics, its pitch is clearly extended to newcomers as well. In short, this family would be great to join, or rejoin.
Of course, similar advertisement strategies have been deployed by a variety of religious communities. The LDS’ “I’m a Mormon” TV and billboard campaign, for instance, emphasizes the normalcy of members and their well adjusted and happy lives thoroughly versed in mainstream American values. The Church of Scientology has likewise aired rather striking spots on the Sci-Fi channel, offering the mystical breakthroughs and personal successes this tradition alone is said to make possible. Indeed, the notion of joining a community of belief and practice to gain access to vital existential resources overflows what we typically identify as “religion.” Recent ads for Gold’s Gym, for instance, suggest that Gold’s is “more than a gym,” but a community that, with sustained devotion, leads to inner and outer transformation.
So, is Gold’s Gym offering something “religious”? Or, are these religious institutions engaging in the same kind of ideological production that we see everywhere else? Or do both of these questions and the interpretive frames they suggest lead us to interesting ways of reading contemporary social worlds?