Since childhood, we have been taught, and rightly so, that cleanliness is next to godliness. But today, thanks to the hygiene industry and their aggressive advertisers, cleanliness is no longer synonymous with being rid of any form of dirt or messiness. Bathing and washing are not enough to make you clean. You must be soaped, shampooed, deodorized, disinfected, and sprayed with cologne and other synthetic scents. Buying a beauty or hygiene product has become necessary to meet the advertisers’ standards of cleanliness, otherwise you’ll still feel dirty.
How do drumbeaters of the hygiene industry succeed in altering our idea of cleanliness? First, advertisements brainwash us into thinking that cleanliness means social acceptability. Second, they equate it with desirability. By using celebrities to sell cleansing and beauty products, advertisers fuel our need to be wanted and loved. Third, by employing a sort of commercial catechism, they preach the miracles of instant skin-whiteners, hair-growers, and pimple removers.
The hygiene industry is an offshoot of capitalism. It has made cleanliness a marketable commodity. Do you ever wonder why they spend millions 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 hygiene products.
Lately, taking advantage of our fear of the COVID-19 pandemic, the hygiene industry began advertising super detergents and soap that are “antibacterial” and “anti-viral.” But Columbia University researchers say that the chemical composition of any soap allows it to kill bacteria and viruses. In other words, the so-called anti-microbial or antibacterial soaps are not superior to plain soap. Adding more and more germicidal chemicals would only help create a whole new breed of bacteria that willsoon develop immunity to soap.
The readings in today’s Mass also deal with cleanliness. In the time of Christ, cleanliness was inseparable from true worship. Ritual purity was required of everyone who approached the temple to pray or offer sacrifices. The leper was the personification of everything unclean and unworthy of God. As an outcast, he was cut off from society. If he ventured outside his house, he must shout “Unclean! Unclean!” to warn people to avoid him (Leviticus, 13:45).
Leprosy was regarded not only as a sign of bodily sickness, but also a sign of sinfulness. Just as leprosy makes a person ugly and loathsome, sin destroys in a person the beauty of innocence, infects him with guilt and shame, and isolates him from God and others. Sin makes one feel dirty and isolated.
One of the prophetic hallmarks of the Messiah was that He would not just heal physical diseases, but also grant forgiveness of sins. Jesus did precisely that, so after healing the leper, He instructed him to show himself to the priest and offer for his cleansing what Moses had prescribed as a proof that he was already healed, both physically and spiritually (Matthew 1:44).
Sadly, if that Gospel story happened today, the hygiene industry will offer a short cut for the cleansing and healing of the leper. As one advertisement says, “Soap cleans, not only your body, but even your conscience.”Malinis pati konsiyensya mo! Far-fetched as it may now seem, future historians may write that never was there a period in history that our thinking, tastes, and feelings, were controlled in a more totalitarian manner than now. Thanks to the wizards of the hygiene industry who sell us hope without any guarantee of fulfillment.