Anagrams, Amazon and the Ave Maria

Why the Outcry Against Amazon's Newest Commercial Ignores the Great Commission

(photo: Register Files)

I admit it: I’m a Wordscapes junkie. Since discovering PeopleFun Studio’s popular word scramble on my smartphone, I've grabbed little minutes in the car, or waiting for the microwave to signal that lunch is warm, to peruse the anagrams. It's a healthy mental exercise, I tell myself – thus excusing the time I waste trying to unscramble the letters, happy to discover little words inside of bigger words.

And one of the little pleasures that I derive from playing the game is seeing the casual integration of faith into everyday life. Not that Wordscapes is a Christian game per se; rather, the writers just seem to take it for granted that along with everyday secular words like “duel” and “nice” and “isle” there are specifically religious words, like “amen” and “rosary” and “kneel” and “holy” and “pope.” It's not necessary to check one's faith at the door in order to play the game. Isn't it great, I say to myself, that these religious words are integrated into everyday parlance?

That's how I felt, too, when I first saw Amazon’s new television commercial featuring a soothing rendition of Schubert's Ave Maria. You know the ad: A couple of cute kids are staging “band practice” with drums and a spiky hairdo created with gel; both the drums and the hair gel were ordered through Amazon Prime. The commotion has awakened the mom, but the dad sits oblivious in the living room, wearing noise-canceling headphones and smiling to the strains of the Ave Maria. Like the hair gel and the drum set, dad’s headphones were ordered through Amazon Prime.

Anyway, I loved the commercial – because the still-life photos were truly memorable, but also because a Marian hymn is given such prominence on national TV. It’s not a “religious” advertisement per se; but the message of faith is front and center. Perhaps Amazon’s creative advertising department didn’t intend to proselytize, and someone simply chose a classic composition that was especially serene. God can use any situation for good; and certainly there are those among the viewing audience who may be hearing the Ave Maria for the first time. Perhaps someone out there in TV-Land wonders enough to look it up, and learns something about Catholics’ devotion to the Mother of God. Perhaps someone else hasn't thought of faith matters for years, but is drawn to the lyrics and reconsiders his Christian roots. Someone else may just enjoy the fine music. It’s all good.

Anyway, that’s what I thought. Not everyone agreed with me, however, as proven by the explosion on Twitter and throughout social media. The outrage that was generated by Amazon’s highly effective advertisement fell into two areas:

  1. Religion! How dare Amazon use a religious hymn for its own secular, commercial purposes? and
  2. Male Dominance! How dare that father sit there smiling, totally unengaged from the parenting process and leaving it all to the mother?

[Eyeroll here.] Here are just a few of the comments among the hundreds – no, thousands! – of comments that popped up in response to the heartwarming commercial:

“I think @Amazon using the Ave Maria as a marketing gimmick is reprehensible.”

“Honestly, I'm not religious anymore really, but hearing the Ave Maria on an Amazon ad makes me a little sick.”

“I'm not easily offended at all. But it offends me that Amazon is using the Ave Maria in one of their commercials. Ave Maria is a sacred prayer.”

“Did I just hear the Ave Maria as the backdrop soundtrack for a commercial for a kid band and a parent on the couch with noise canceling headphones? NO! Sacred music is not for your commercial. Stop it now. Some things are STILL sacred.”

The complaints go on and on. One result is that I feel sort of lonely – does everyone else in the world think that publicly playing a few lines from the Ave Maria is an assault on the sacred, evidence of worldly intrusion into our personal faith space? Is it really our role to safeguard the faith, ensuring that Catholic ideas don't get dragged through the dust of secularism – or is it our privilege to spread the faith through every possible means?

Another result, one which I especially despise, is that Amazon and other companies may learn from this that it’s better to ignore the Christians, further secularizing society.

I am mindful of the Great Commission. “Go into all the world,” Jesus told the apostles gathered at the table, “and preach the gospel to every creature.” The New Evangelization, which was introduced by Pope Paul VI and popularized by Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, calls each of us to go forward and to spread the word of God in our home, our workplace, our community. But if we hold on to our precious music, our architecture, our art – denying the rich traditions and teachings of Catholicism to those who don't share our faith – we've missed an opportunity to draw others in to the mystery of God. We're like that foolish servant Jesus speaks about in Luke 19:1-28 who hid the master's gold coin, storing it away in a handkerchief, rather than investing it and earning a profit. Upon his return, the master deals harshly with the servant, taking away even that gold coin.

Perhaps playing a Marian hymn seems less effective than preaching the gospel, admonishing the sinner, inviting people to embrace the Catholic faith. But then again, for those who will never enter a Catholic church to hear a life-changing homily, Amazon's apparently controversial commercial may be their only opportunity to reflect on the beauty and truth that is the Church. Bring it on!

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