Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Bumper Stickers and Christian Fish

Attending a Christian university, I see more than my fair share of Christian bumper stickers and icthus emblems (so-called Jesus fish, Christian fish, IXOYE fish, etc.). A fairly small sampling of stickers appear again and again:

The "Not of this World®" Stickers

The "Godz Gurl," "God's Girl," "Godz Girl," and "God's Gurl" variety

The similar "Daughter of the King" and "I am a Princess because my Daddy is the King" kinds

The "We kicked God out of our schools, so of course we have school shootings" kind

The "Darwin is Dead" and "Nietzsche is Dead" variety

The "Jesus is my Co-Pilot"

The "Know Jesus, Know Heaven... No Jesus, No Heaven"

The "In case of rapture... car's yours!"

The "Don't be fooled by the car, my treasure's in Heaven."

The "Got Jesus?" and "Got Jesus? It's Hell without Him."

The "My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter"

The "Real Men Fight on their Knees" and "Real Men Love Jesus"

The Calvin and Hobbes knockoff praying before the cross

Let me begin by saying that I do not think there is anything inherently wrong with having such a bumper sticker or fish on your car, but I would like to point to a few inconsistencies and problems that can arise from these stickers. Not of this World commendably makes some of the most stylish Christian stickers around, but it is somewhat troubling that every sticker has a visible "®" symbol. The message comes across as conflicted when you are publicizing just how not of this world you are while also notifying everyone that this logo is registered and protected according to corporate law. Also, some people may find it hypocritical when they see the NOTW sticker on your new BMW, no matter how little your possessions actually matter to you.
The "Don't be fooled by the car, my treasure's in Heaven" sticker can be fairly humorous if your car is unlikely to be mistaken as an earthly treasure. If you have this on your Mercedes, you may have the same problem as mentioned above with regard to NOTW.
The "We kicked God out of our schools, so of course we have school shootings" is troublesome for several reasons. First of all, if by removing organized institutional prayer and Bible reading from American classrooms we think we kicked God out of the classroom, we have a very weak and shallow faith in God. The Creator of the universe does not need the compulsory prayer of a nonChristian teacher to enter a building. Furthermore, suggesting to the general public that something as tragic as school shootings is God's revenge for kicking Him out does not do justice to Christ. You might mean something far more nuanced than that, for example, that by removing compulsory Scriptural education students no longer have the moral base to prevent them from committing heinous acts of violence, but the bumper sticker is not exactly a medium capable of conveying nuance.
The stickers threatening Hell make sense in a way, and yet we should ask ourselves whether or not they are at all effective? Warning your friend with tears that he needs to know God's grace is one thing; damning strangers while cutting them off is another.
Aside from specific bumper sticker messages, Christians should reconsider their bumper stickers for two reasons. The first is derived from a recent study conducted by social psychologist William Szlemko of Colorado State University, which found that drivers with any bumper stickers at all, no matter their content, are more likely than those without to drive aggressively and exhibit road rage. By personalizing a car with stickers, a driver unwittingly indicates that he thinks of the car as his territory. This generally means that the driver is more territorial altogether, and is more likely to feel that the road is his and that his rights are infringed upon by other drivers. This means that even your "Pray for Peace" sticker indicates to others that you are more likely to drive with aggression.
The second and most compelling reason to reconsider your bumper sticker has to do with the nature of driving itself. If you are a kind and considerate driver, the kind of driver we all wish people knew was a Christian, almost every act of generosity on the road will be for the benefit of those in front of you. If you allow a car to merge ahead of you in your lane or to pull out of a driveway, they will end up in front of you. If you stop to let a pedestrian cross the street, they are in front of you. If you refuse to tailgate a slow driver, they will never see you rear bumper. Those driving behind you, however, will be the recipients of every one of your inconsiderate actions. If you hit the brakes suddenly, drive poorly while on the phone, cut somebody off, have a delayed reaction at a green light because you were not paying attention, or take to long to make a turn, the person behind you will be affected. Even if you are incredibly considerate, the very nature of driving will require you to do some things that will upset those behind you. Some of your considerate acts may even offend those to your rear: allowing a car to merge or a pedestrian to cross a street requires you to slow down or stop, which halts those following you; refusing to tailgate a slow driver causes you to look like the slow driver.
Undoubtedly, individuals have different motives for placing a Christian bumper sticker on their cars, and many of those motives are likely fantastic. I simply ask that we not feel pressured to buy into this trend and give each potential sticker a bit more reflection before applying it to our cars. They really aren't that easy to take off.