quod pro nobis traditum est

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

On bumper stickers

Last summer when my family and I were on vacation a van passed us. This particular van had bumper stickers plastered all over the back end, bumper, doors and windows. It was quite noticeable.

When you are driving on an interstate somewhere in between the midwest and the rocky mountain west you need this type of van to drive by. Your eyes light up and you are illuminated by the wisdom shared that may or may not make sense. This helps in a few ways. The colorful plastering of stickers stands out noticeably against the plains and the pavement. Secondly, there is just enough wisdom and foolishness summarized in pithy phrases for you to think on and help you make it a few miles longer. And thirdly, the fact that someone did this to their own vehicle also helps wake another driver from slumber. So, in one sense, this type of van has the same effect on a driver as a good cup of coffee.

It is ironic that a van of this sort passed us by since, earlier in the vacation, we visited a store in Durango, Colorado, with bumper stickers all over the wall (for sale, of course). This scene of a wall full of bumper stickers was just enough for us to take out our camera and take a picture. Some of the bumper stickers reflected well the philosophy of the locals. (Although I have lived in the midwest for most of the last thirty years, I confess to being a native of Colorado.)

How can a blog that comments on matters of church and liturgy digress in such a fashion? In brief, because of bumper stickers and specifically, because of two bumper stickers which I see on a regular basis on this side of town (maybe they are all over town): "Coexist," a plea for religious tolerance and "Who would Jesus bomb?" or its variant "What would Jesus bomb?"

Apart from the question of whether or not one puts a bumper sticker on their car, or whether or not the message is worth repeating, bumper stickers do have the advantage of getting people's attention. These two bumper stickers have my attention. Also, they are not too far removed from the subject matter of this blog. Both, in their own way, address religious questions.

The "coexist" bumper sticker has many variants but mainly it provides symbols of many of the major religions using the shapes of the letters. Some variants may use the "e" to symbolize science or as a symbol of gender. Whatever the variant renderings the message is clear. All of these religions and or "-isms" are equal and we all need to get along.

The second bumper sticker is a different take on the evangelical bumper sticker of a few years ago, "What would Jesus do?" Now it is rendered as "Who would Jesus bomb?" or "What would Jesus bomb?" Here is a clear anti-war message with attendant anti-religious and specifically, anti-Christian, sentiment. While no one in the United States questions someone's right to promote peace, this bumper sticker takes it a step further.

I was not taken in by the "What would Jesus do?" craze of a few years ago. It is not a fitting summary of divine revelation. Nor, in my opinion, does Jesus belong on someone's bumper. The new message on the second bumper sticker puts all the onus of war on Jesus. While it argues for peace, much like the first bumper sticker, it fails on the question of religious co-existence for war is clearly associated with Jesus and not Mohammed, Buddha, Moses, Confucius or any other religious figure. So this bumper sticker is "tolerant" yet not tolerant at the same time. It pushes for peace but clearly at the expense of Jesus' name. One may assume that it is Jesus' fault that we at war in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere.

There is the whole question of Church and State. Naturally, my concern here is more religious or spiritual. There is a time for war and a time for peace. However, Jesus' message of peace has to do with a kingdom not of this world. Therefore, He clearly does not fit into the message of this bumper sticker. Yet, maybe in a way He does. Earlier I mentioned that the bumper sticker places the onus of war on Jesus. War has existed as long as sin. Jesus took upon Himself the onus of the world's sin to His death on the cross. At the foot of the cross the enemy's head was crushed. Through Christ there is peace with God.

One is free to agree and disagree with the messages of bumper stickers. That is part of their appeal. It is not necessary for religions to be equal for people to live together in peace. If we all believed in every religion we would all believe in nothing, for truth would not be allowed. Neither does disagreement always equate with war. With religious freedom people live peaceably with neighbors who believe in different religions. I clearly disagree with the message of these bumper stickers. Yet I have one good thing to say about them. They help keep drivers awake, much like a good cup of coffee.


Spencer Bradford said...

You unnecessarily misconstrue and condemn the "Who Would Jesus Bomb?" message as being anti-Christian. In fact, as an Anabaptist Christian who has worn this message on buttons, I can tell you that for many who display this message, it is an affirmation of the Lordship of Jesus that frames a condemnation of warmaking. It is meant to confront the human sin of war with the unqualified grace, welcome and love of Jesus for all people, whatever their nationality. It affirms Jesus would not justify the deaths of innocent victims as human sacrifices to national military goals, and that Jesus would desire testimony to and conversion of the violent and malicious (like pre-conversion Paul) rather than their destruction. Jesus would not bomb anyone, and so Jesus' followers should not.

Of course, not all who display that message do so with this intent, but to project the worst intention on others betrays the dictum of Ignatius to assume the most charitable understanding of others.

I and others who display this message do so as expression of reverence and discipleship to the Jesus who calls us to love our enemies and to overcome evil with good. Aerial bombing of civilian populations was universally condemned, within and without the church, until World War II. That it became acceptable as a tactic, and even a core strategy of every government that possesses air military or missiles (including the U.S., e.g. mutual assured destruction), is a grievous moral and historical victory for Hitler over Christian values, by governments following his example.

Please reconsider the motive and intent you impute on the message "Who Would Jesus Bomb?". Consider that its provocation comes not from derision of Christians, but devotion to Jesus.

Blessings and Peace,
Spencer Bradford

Fr. Timothy D. May said...

Thank you for these comments. The bumper sticker is clear in its support of peace. However, I did not realize that it may be a sticker that may be of Christian origin or usage. While it may be understood that Jesus would be in support of peace it may also be understood negatively by association that Jesus might have a choice in who is bombed. This is the downfall of bumper stickers. They do not provide footnotes to further clarify the message or its intent. So, I appreciate your view on this. In context of my post which includes the message of the other bumper sticker my thoughts wandered over to why the use of Jesus' name on this bumper sticker is even necessary, considering its possible negative connotations. My first thought on seeing the bumper sticker was that it was sending a social or political message and, considering Jesus' kingdom not being of this world, it does not seem fitting that He would be reduced to a social or political message and someone's bumper when He promises to be with those who receive His Word and the Blessed Sacrament, around the pulpit and the altar.