By FR. ROLANDO V. DELA ROSA, O.P.
In a world stained and disfigured by garbage and other human wastes, cleanliness is one of the virtues we admire most in a person.
But the lucrative hygiene industry, revved up by advertising, has distorted the meaning of cleanliness. You’re not yet clean even if you’ve washed yourself thoroughly. You must also be soaped, shampooed, deodorized, bleached, disinfected, and then sprayed with cologne and other synthetic odors. Buying a hygiene product has become an indispensable condition for cleanliness.
Imagine the fantastic rituals a person must undergo before being considered clean by hygiene gurus and advertisers. For every ritual, she has to buy a cleansing or cosmetic product. Buying a product incorporates her into a mystical community whose members are redeemed from bad breath, foul body odor, dandruff, pimples, falling hair, and other skin blemishes. Failure to do so makes her feel outcast (“Ang may B.O. hindi kasali”).
How did the hygiene cult and its drumbeaters succeed in altering our idea of cleanliness? First, through a kind of visual catechism, they equated cleanliness with social acceptability. Second, they identified it with desirability. By using beautiful models to sell cleansing products, advertisers mobilized our perennial fantasy to be desired by others. Third, through serial and recurrent commercials designed to linger in our consciousness, they transformed our wants into needs. Thanks to advertisements, cleanliness has become a marketable commodity
If we come to think of it, the hygiene cult is an offshoot of capitalism and consumerism.By keeping the consumption of cleansing and beauty products sufficiently buoyant, advertisers make capitalist production immensely profitable. Do you ever wonder why they spend a fortune for a few seconds of TV commercials? Do you ever ask yourself why they give millions of pesos to raffle draws? These are not magnanimous acts. These are marketing strategies to maintain the stability and profitability of their products.
We have allowed the hygiene cult and advertising wizards to tyrannically control our thinking, tastes, and feelings. Perhaps this tempted G.K. Chesterton to write: “Nowadays, cleanliness is no longer next to godliness; people have made cleanliness essential, and godliness an offense.”
In today’s gospel, Jesus reminds us that a dirty body can easily be cleansed, but no amount of detergent or showering can remove the effects of sin in our soul. There is no truth to the popular advertisement that goes: “Kapag ginamit mo ang sabon na ito, malinis pati konsiyensya mo!” Trying to pacify our troubled conscience by maintaining a clean and perfumed appearance is like putting on clean clothes over a filthy body. Jesus reserved His most stinging rebuke to those who appear clean on the outside but morally rotten on the inside.
A passage in the 1763 hymn written by the Reverend Augustus Toplady, “Rock of Ages.” is a good meditation piece on God’s forgiveness, which, in truth, is what we need to make us truly clean:
“Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling . . .
Helpless I look to thee for grace.
Foul, I to thy fountain fly,
Wash me Savior, or I die!”