Best of JCM: I HATE Cutesy Christian Slogans
I used to get on atheists for trying to make their cases with bumper stickers. Christians, we must be held accountable for that, too. I can’t stand platitudes like “Heaven gained another angel” when someone dies.
Not that long ago, I was driving by a local church and the marquee, appallingly, told passers-by to pray for whatever they wanted, and God would provide it for them. It said this in a cutsey, easy-to-remember slogan. Ironically, I can’t remember the slogan. I had meant not only to blog about it, but to send the pastor a protest letter explaining why that was a bad slogan, and why such propaganda may draw people in for the short term but is very damaging for the long term.
The primary reason for this is simple: what is the pastor of that church going to tell someone who didn’t get what they prayed for? The congregant was “lured” into this church with the promise that God affirmatively answers all prayers, which any student of Bible and/or common sense can tell you is not the case. Any answer given by the pastor is damaging at this point.
If the pastor fesses up to the truth, which is that God will occasionally say “No,” given that God is an agent with a plan of his own that comes before the individual desires of his worshipers rather than an impersonal, wish-granting force, then it appears as though the church is using half-truths to fill pews and get tithe money for its own ends.
If the pastor says that the congregant doesn’t have enough faith in God, that raises the question of how much faith one really needs to receive effective answers to prayer. The congregant immediately concludes he doesn’t have enough faith, wonders what he can do to get more faith, and feels like a failure as a Christian. All the congregant needs to do now is pick up a copy of The God Delusion and guess what happens next.
But I never got around to either the post or the letter. What reminded me is a blog postfrom No Forbidden Questions about a Christian meme that has been making its way around the e-mail circuit, which is pictured to the right. As with all cutesy Christian slogans, I hate this graphic. It only tells a half-truth.
NFQ says this makes it seem as though unbelievers experience these things regularly, while believers are immune to it. Or, as commenter Andrew puts it, “The grass is always browner on the other side of our beliefs.”
NFQ thinks (probably correctly) this meme insinuates, “Believe in God, and all of your problems will go away!” Well, that’s never immediately true. Or, as NFQ bluntly puts it:
There are several levels on which this repulses me. The first is its basic message, that the life of an atheist is full of constant strife. If you believed this little meme, you’d think that atheists cry, fight, and break things (?) all the time. It’s just not true. There are plenty of atheists out there (myself included) living happy, peaceful, pleasant lives. I suppose in the mind of a religious person, every day is “Sinday” for me, because it’s a sin not to share their religious beliefs. But it’s quite possible, and very common, to be morally good without God — and it’s insulting for religious people to insist otherwise.
I agree in spirit with his sentiment, but I have already outlined why I disagree with the prospect that atheists can be moral without God. I also disagree with the description of an atheist’s life as “happy,” but that’s for another time (and before I get into that, everyone should read Mortimer J. Adler’s Ten Philosophical Mistakes, paying close attention to the chapter on happiness versus contentment).
NFQ goes on, “Secondly, it’s just laughable to imply that religious people, who are presumably ‘with God,’ don’t do or experience the things in this list.” He’s right. Religious people do experience all of those things, and struggle daily with all of those things. If not, Paul could scarcely have written Romans 7:15-20.
Instead of parading real-life examples of the religious doing all of the things in the graphic before us, NFQ instead takes a peek at what the Bible has to say about all of those things.
Sin: He’s mostly correct:
Christianity teaches that sin is something to be avoided, but it also teaches that everyone sins. The Old Testament is chock-full of rules for (and apparent records of) making sacrifices to atone for sins. The New Testament teaches that being baptized in Jesus’ name is how one gets forgiven for sins. In both cases, God-following people still do clearly sin. Indeed, some Christians maintain that Jesus was the only sinless person, and even he didn’t stone the adulteress when he proclaimed that “any one … who is without sin” could do it.
Let’s start with the notion that baptism is how we’re forgiven for sins. Emphatically, NO. The whole reason for the sacrifices was to prefigure the one sacrifice that ended the sacrificial system once and for all: the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Baptism is a symbolic rebirth; an outward show of an inner cleansing of sin. That cleansing was already accomplished by Christ and we don’t need to do anything to add to it.
I agree that God-following people still sin. Unfortunately, needs of the flesh don’t just go away. Salvation is accomplished, but sanctification is cooperative between man and God, and ongoing. Many Christians don’t bother with that process, believing their ticket is punched and they’re going to heaven. But the existence of bad Christians isn’t an argument against the truth of Christianity any more than the existence of bad atheists is an argument in favor of religion.
I don’t know what pointing out the fact that Jesus forgave the adulteress versus stoning her himself is supposed to prove. So let’s move on.
Mourn/Tears: The number of occurances of words is somehow indicative of. . . what, exactly? The book of Esther contains no mention of God. So I guess that means it isn’t canonical?
Really, people who follow the Christian God never mourn? Here are 137 occurrences of the word “mourn” in the NIV, but my favorite is Joel 2:12 which says, “‘Even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’” This God character has specifically asked his followers to mourn, here and elsewhere in the Bible.
Of course followers of God mourn. Joel 2:12 isn’t a command to mourn, though. It’s a command to repent truly and purely, and doing so is usually accompanied with an outpouring of emotion. Even tears!
Waste: NFQ quips:
Maybe this is supposed to refer to recycling; I don’t really know. There are a lot of different senses in which the term “waste” could be used. The God of the Bible is certainly responsible for, or at least responsible for advocating and/or allowing, many instances of laying waste and a fair amount of wasting away. Come to think of it, that is also pretty wasteful.
Wow. That’s not at all what the graphic is suggesting. The graphic is suggesting a wasted life, wasted by chasing earthly goods instead of chasing heavenly things. Because most atheists are methodological naturalists and thus believe that the material world is all there is. There are no heavenly goods to chase, so the pursuit of material goods becomes the focus. And that, to the Christian, is a waste.
Thirst: I’m not even going to quote the whole passage relating to thirst, just the first sentence: “I’m going to assume this refers to literal thirstiness for water.” You assume incorrectly, therefore the remaining description is faulty and needs no consideration.
What this refers to is a symbolic thirst for reconciliation with God. This is the thirst that Jesus meant when he told the woman at the well (see Jn 4:1-26) that he could give her living water so that she never thirsted again.
The graphic is implying that atheists thirst in this way. Of course, the average atheist would disagree with me because all atheists are so enlightened and thus free from all of this religious nonsense. Right?
Fight: NFQ rhetorically asks, “Do I even have to write this out? Seriously.” Nope, and neither will I.
Shatter: NFQ has no idea what this means. I’m not sure I do either.
There are studies that say religious people suffer far fewer episodes of depression and are generally more content with life than non-believers. I’m not surprised that NFQ doesn’t thinkthat would be the case, but all the studies I’ve seen point to that. There’s no mixed results there. I could be wrong, and anyone is welcome to correct me.
Does it point to the truth of Christianity? I suppose that depends on the metaphysics involved. By any definition of metaphysics, we should be able to agree that real human needs are things that actually exist. I need oxygen to survive, and it exists. I need water to survive, and it exists. I need food to make energy, and lo–food exists!
Much business research into employee motivation says that employees are happiest and most fulfilled when they know that the job they do, no matter how undervalued or unimportant, is part of something much bigger and more important. Their job is one cog in a vast machine that turns for the greater good of something. Managers are encouraged to share the big picture with even the lowest level employees, so that they can understand that they make a difference, no matter how small.
To be in motion for the greater good of something, there has to be something for which we are in motion. That we have a need to be working for something implies the existence of that something. Like any other need (food, water, oxygen), it really exists. Otherwise, we might desire it or think it would be sorta cool. But since we need it, it must exist.
Reasonable Faith touches on this idea in the chapter “The Absurdity of Life Without God.” Life has no meaning if it is only the random interaction of particles set in motion at the Big Bang. Perhaps C.S. Lewis said it the best:
If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.
I’m not even touching the complaint that the days of the week are named for pagan deities, because it’s stupid and out of place.
I do agree with NFQ’s summation:
My point is, this cutesy little saying is either a terrible argument for Christianity, or not an argument at all. If you see this meme trundling around on the internet, please do us all a favor and squash it.
It’s not an argument. It’s a cutesy saying that ought to be squashed. As should all cutesy sayings. They are usually inherently unsound theologically. As James White is often fond of saying, “What you win them with is what you win them to.” We, as Christians, should win people to the truth that makes us free. These hokey sayings offer false promises of hope, and when the Christian faces the first sign of strife, he leaves because the hokey saying that won him over promised an easy life.
That lie needs to be squashed.