The declarations that “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and get on with your life” have caused some fascinating debates, and I have been mulling over my response to it all for some time now. Here are my thoughts.
For starters, I think the adverts, backed by the British Humanist Association, are excellent – they’re amusing, quirky, and a neat pastiche of the “Jesus lives” adverts that churches often support or display.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Why should I as a Christian feel uncomfortable or threatened by the message? These adverts are not the first such proclamation, and we are used to hearing people knock religion and condemn God all the time. So when the message pops up on the side of a bus, it’s simply the medium that’s worthy of note rather than the message itself.
And in any case, the church should share the British Humanist Association’s desire that there should be a real, serious discussion about whether God exists or not; one that peels away the perceived privileges, structures and distraction of organised religion and get down to the real issues – like who we are, where we came from, and what the meaning of life is.
We have nothing to fear from such a debate. The more people see these adverts, the more we as Christians will be asked for our views, and the more we can talk about our faith to those who enquire.
Just a shame, then, that many Christians who have been invited to comment about the posters have put their feet in their mouths before they have barely opened them.
“People don’t like being preached at. Sometimes it does them good, but they still don’t like it.”
Meanwhile this article reports a Christian woman condemning the advert because:
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I don’t like it in my face.”
And then there’s the bizarre story of the Christian bus driver who refused to work on a bus carrying the advert. Even more bizarrely, his employers have acquiesed, despite the fact that it’s obvious to everyone that companies (let alone their employers) do not endorse the products their spaces advertise.
Such reactions don’t need a militant atheist to tell the kettle that the pot’s on line 1, or to observe that many people are sick of Christians who ram their messages down people’s throats and then are aghast when a contrary message is blandly stated in response.
Is the faith of some Christians so weak, so stagnant, so unstimulated that when the slightest challenge arises, they take instant offence and can’t see the opportunity it represents?
In this photo, a Christian Flickrite coins the throught-provoking phrase “devangelism”, which I feel neatly sums up exactly what’s wrong with a lot of Christian outreach – in your face, aggressive, critical and utterly out of sync with how people lead their lives and seek information.
When people prosthelytse in such a way but, as in the quotes above, condemn atheism for doing the same, it reeks of hypocrisy and spectacularly undermines those who are doing such good for the name of Jesus in this world.
As with much else in the world, it’s sadly the bad examples of Christianity that people remember and judge by.
How refreshing, therefore, to read that one Christian think-tank has seen the opportunity the the adverts represent, and have donated to the fund that is paying for them. I wonder if the British Humanist Association saw that one coming.
It is hard, but we as Christians must continue to strive to avoid hypocrisy, aggression or defensiveness. We must remember that when we speak out, people judge us, and judge our God through us. We must show that Christianity is not about shoving religion down people’s throats or about judgementalism and the imposition of values upon those who do not choose them. Rather, it’s about living and breathing the message of love contained in the Gospels – even when we’re not speaking.
As St Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times – if necessary, use words.”
In recent weeks, I’ve been having some fascinating discussions with a variety of atheist friends about religion, faith and God. One of the major points has been about proving the existence of God, which of course I am unable to do.
Many of these friends don’t feel satisfied with my argument that if God is the infinite, omniscient being that the Bible describes, and if we as humans have only limited knowledge of our universe, then its perfectly reasonable that God – and indeed many other things – may be beyond our comprehension and therefore unproveable.
This is why Christians have faith in him rather than simply a logical acknowledgement of him.
Mind you, a logical acknowledgement of God is all that Christian Voice seem to have – in the article about the ASA referral I referred to above, they claim:
“There is plenty of evidence for God, from people’s personal experience, to the complexity, interdependence, beauty and design of the natural world.”
That’s it? Some people have claimed they felt something, and there’s lots of pretty trees and flowers in the world… therefore God exists?
If that’s not a dangerous misrepresentation of Christianity, I don’t know what is.
The point is, even if I or Christian Voice were able to provide conclusive proof that God exists, it probably still wouldn’t be enough for many atheists. The Bible contains many examples of people who witnessed the power of God, or even met Jesus, but still refused to believe, because it didn’t suit their lifestyle or worldview or they couldn’t understand what they were experiencing.
If we claim to possess or rely on scientifically solid proof that there is a God, then we’ve missed the point.
So my message to Christians who are appauled and offended by these adverts is to get a grip.
Christianity is a faith, not a logic. That’s why we have nothing to fear from an advert on the side of a bus that tells us nothing we’ve not heard before, from a jibe which our God is bigger than and which we should rise above, from a slogan which is an invitation for us to set out our stall and answer the questions we will inevitably be asked.
Perhaps I should start an appeal for a similar message on the side of buses:
“It’s clearly just an advert. Now stop worrying and get on with your faith.“