Like all cultural products, the suddenly-controversial ads used in Tourism Victoria's current Daylesford promotion are open to various interpretations. However, they wouldn't work unless the main message was clear: Daylesford, a tourist centre in the Victorian countryside north-west of Melbourne, combines scenic beauty; fine restaurants where you can buy delicious food and excellent wine; the relaxation of the spa baths at Hepburn Springs; and generally a tranquil, yet sophisticated, ambience conducive to flirtation and romantic love. In asking you to "Lead a double life", the ads refer to Daylesford's combination of rustic charm and night-time sophistication, but they also invite you to enjoy the pleasures that the town and its surroundings can offer as a break from your ordinary workaday routine.
If you're a puritan or a prig, that message may be enough to upset you, as it's upset poor Morag Zwartz. (She must have a slow-burning fuse, though, as the ads in question have been running since last year with no controversy until now ... go figure.)
Contrary to Zwartz, I'm here to say that there's nothing wrong with that. These are all legitimate values. Sensual experience, sophistication, delicious food, flirtation, and romantic love are all part of a good life as judged by the standards of ordinary human flourishing. They are some of the things that can make life worth living when it otherwise seems like a grind (not the only things, of course - e.g., there's also art, science, and ordinary kinds of close, non-romantic friendship). If an advertising campaign tends to promote these worldly or pagan values, then as far as I'm concerned that's a good thing, and the campaign's creators needn't look constantly over their shoulder to see whether someone else who disagrees, perhaps some literal-minded, religiose prig, might be offended.
Obviously the "lead a double life" slogan and other aspects of the ads play off traditional ideas that these good things - delicious food and the rest - are to be deprecated, even treated as sinful. The contrast of the simply-dressed young woman walking barefoot along the country road with the same young woman enjoying the sensual pleasures of the evening creates a visual as well as verbal pun on the idea of leading a double life ... but of course, what is being marketed here is not literally deception (sexual or otherwise) but just ordinary things that most of us have reason to value: just the ordinary good things that we might happen to find in an attractive tourist destination.
Zwartz's angry rant in the National Times not only misses the ad campaign's cleverness and humour, and proposes, rather unreasonably to say the least, that the campaign be withdrawn with an apology. More than that, there's a strong note in her piece of tut-tutting disapproval of the values being promoted, which she reduces to greed and "lasciviousness". She concludes that the ad's message: fouls the concept of a civilised and decent society, and offends in the most egregious way one of its oldest religious communities.
Well, there you go. Right there you can see an an aspect of religion's dark side - the way it does dirt on ordinary human flourishing, on such things as flirting, romance, and fine cuisine. This is a nasty, censorious aspect of religion.
Which leads me to a more general point. So often, religion asserts that there is some kind of transcendent good beyond ordinary human flourishing - and that ordinary human flourishing, with all the worldly pleasures and satisfactions involved, is something to be deprecated. That wasn't the attitude of ancient pagan polytheism, but it is very much the traditional attitude of Christianity and other more modern religions.
In this sense, modern religions do, indeed, tend to "poison everything". All too often, they treat the ordinary goods that are available to human beings as if they were worthless or even wicked. When it does this, religion does dirt on ordinary human flourishing. At least we can thank Zwartz for providing us with a nice example.