Christian pop culture has changed immensely since I was a fervent Christian. I had never heard of many things that are common with today’s Christians. I always feel a bit strange when I feel the need to criticize some harmless aspect of Christian culture. It is not up to me, a non-believer, to decide what is theologically correct and what is not. It is not up to me to decide if Christians are acting in an edifying manner. It should not concern me in the slightest if Christians want to ask themselves, “what would Jesus do?” If it helps them with their own moral reflection and contemplation, then I wish more power to them.
But sometimes I see something that seems so juvenile, so asinine, that it makes wonder what the Christian is actually imagining their god to be. It makes me wonder if they are actually doing any thinking or reflecting on their Faith at all. Check out the photo that I just took of Skyline Baptist Church's front marquee.
A couple of years ago, I asked a Christian work-mate of mine what she thought of Christians who attributed direct quotes to their god. The one I was specifically thinking of at the time was, “Meet me at my house before the big football game – God” or something like that. I told her that when I was a Christian, I would have considered putting words into the mouth of God to be the exclusive work of a prophet, and any so-called false prophets were to be punished with death by stoning. She replied, “Well, it sounds like something God would say. It is not inconsistent with the Bible.”
Still, I cannot help but think this demonstrates a few things about the Christian. First, obviously, I believe that it merely reflects the words of the person who installed the letters in the marquee. This is something that critics, or anybody outside the Christian religion can easily recognize. The believer’s thoughts and actions often become God’s thoughts and actions. But a Christian who places a direct quote onto a billboard and attributes it directly to God should make this projection obvious, even to a thinking Christian. Since the only criteria for a correct citation to God is anything that sounds like something he would say and is not inconsistent with the Bible, and since what sounds like a divine citation is purely up to personal interpretation, then anything goes. Any Christian can put pretty much any inspirational message that they imagine on the marquee and attribute it to God. By attributing quotes to God on marquees and billboards, the obvious projection of the believer’s words as God’s words is no longer implicit. The Christian is taking an explicit message that comes from their own imagination, and explicitly placing it as a quote from the Almighty. It is the blatant projection of the believer’s thoughts onto an invisible and impotent deity. It should be obvious to anybody who sees it from their car as they drive by.
Suppose for a second that when President Obama begins his campaign for reelection, a member of his campaign committee rents a billboard with the following message: “I have created 4 million jobs with the Recovery Act, and I promise to create more” – Barrack Obama. Now even the most morally upright Christian can see the problem with this. It may reflect reality. President Obama may have created this many jobs by signing the right bills into law. I am certain that no matter what, he will promise to create more jobs upon reelection. It is not inconsistent with any of his policies. It might even accurately reflect his thoughts and sound like something he would say on the campaign trail. But none of that matters, because he never actually said what his supporter attributed to him. He never said it. Here we have a quote, directly and explicitly attributed to the President of the United States, done in good faith with the intention of inspiring voters to support him. But none of that matters, because if this scenario did in fact ever occur, I imagine the small army of lawyers at the President’s disposal will threaten enough lawsuits, that the erroneous quote on the billboard will immediately vanish. The citation is simply wrong, and it will be removed because it can be used, not only for inspiration, but for mockery and ridicule by Republicans. They would immediately scream, “Obama never said any such thing – he is just trying to pad his own record!” But since he never put the billboard up in the first place, it might as well be slanderous.
We cannot falsely attribute sayings to any human authority, but for some reason, these Christians feel free to do so with their Ultimate Authority. And for the same reason, it makes God seem an object of ridicule to those of us outside the Christian Faith. From the looks of the marquee, Skyline Baptist Church must view their god as the Big Sentimental Softie in the sky. Such saccharine piety always made me nauseous as a Christian. If the Christian is doing anything that would make their god peer down through the clouds at them and smile in loving approval, then the Christian god is a doddering, old fool. When Christians describe their god to others, they are quick to point out that God is not an old man in the sky with robes and a beard who sits on a heavenly throne in the clouds. God is not like a person in the sky like the great medieval paintings often portray him. Yet these same Christians don’t seem to understand that these sentimental quotes turn their god into exactly that person! God is he who smiles down at his Faithful flock when they obey and do what pleases him. This type of deity must be attractive to those who want their God to be like the loving old grandparents who doted on them when they were children.
But I shouldn’t care. I am not a Christian. Why should I care? Really, I shouldn’t. I guess the fact that I was in that culture for so many years makes it all seem so surreal to me.