Faith and Corn Chips

Sitting at the dinner table after Mass one evening in those incredibly dewy and pious days of Jesuit novitiate, my novice brother Gary mentioned through a mouthful of broccoli that he thought the best way to give the Church a better understanding of the divinity of the Eucharist would be by replacing the standard host with Krispy Kreme doughnuts, the incredibly glazed, sweet and greasy breakfast pastry that has become a symbol for excessive dietary habits in the U.S. The six of us seated at table with Gary concurred — all the while laughing at the absurdity of the suggestion — then went back to eating our broccoli.

Our Christian ancestors were eaten by lions; surely we can look a 30-second advertisement in the face without flinching… Each time a firestorm over a whole lot of nothing like the Doritos campaign erupts, credibility erodes.

I was reminded of that joke last week, when a recent entry into a Super Bowl commercial contest sponsored by PepsiCo, maker of Doritos and Pepsi, set off a small media storm because it showed the pastor of a financially struggling congregation replacing bread and wine with the snack food and soda.

Many Catholics were riled by the ad because they viewed it as sacrilegious and an affront to the Eucharist. Those behind it claimed that there were numerous clues given throughout which showed that no consecration occurred and the Doritos were not, in fact, supposed to be the Eucharist. The ad has subsequently been pulled from the contest and the website.

The tension between humor and faith

The ad that caused the reactions. (This link may
not last, as most copies have been pulled.)

As a comedian and a Jesuit, I recognize the tension that exists between humor and faith and the danger of taking things too far for the sake of a laugh. The line that exists between reverence and irreverence is especially hazardous in the age of irony in which we live, where mistrust of institutions and hierarchy is de rigueur. It is now the rule to jab, snark and knock down anything and everything around us and perhaps because of this a vigilance of a sort has crept in amongst the faithful.

It has now become acceptable to make fun of all things Church and as a result, many members of the Body of Christ have become understandably reactionary. Unfortunately, in the case of the Doritos commercial, their ire and energy is misguided and lacks reflection.

Having watched the commercial my initial impression is that it is not particularly funny. It is humor based entirely on the element of surprise, and since by the time of my viewing, the narrative had been hashed and rehashed all over the internet, any sort of surprise was gone. Without it, the piece has little else to offer for itself, and comes across as rather generic if not slightly smug — as is usually the case with content cooked up by Madison Avenue.

The most troubling thing is the reaction

Catholicism has a long and august intellectual tradition steeped in reflection and discernment, and knee-jerk responses to any and all perceived threats to the faith do not do it any favors.

The mediocrity of the ad notwithstanding, what proves to be most troubling about the controversy is the reaction it provoked amongst Catholics. Catholicism has a long and august intellectual tradition steeped in reflection and discernment, and knee-jerk responses to any and all perceived threats to the faith do not do it any favors.

It also raises questions about the authenticity and depth of the faith amongst those who led the public outcry, as they seem to suggest that we are threatened by even the most trivial clowning. Our Christian ancestors were eaten by lions; surely we can look a 30-second advertisement in the face without flinching.

This is not to say it is open season on the Church and its Sacraments; rather this is a call to reflective discernment instead of hair trigger response. Each time a firestorm over a whole lot of nothing like the Doritos campaign erupts, credibility erodes. However well-intentioned those who rose up against the ad were, the only thing that emanated from their cries was fear and that is not a place from which evangelization can come forth.