Nine (Final) Christian Cliches to Avoid

Read article one in the series here: Ten Cliches Christians Should Never Use

Read article two in the series here: Ten More Cliches Christians Should Avoid

Read Part Four here: Ten Antidotes to Christian Cliches


The response to this series of articles has been pretty overwhelming, and generally, very positive. For the handful of folks who label me an apostate, atheist, anti-Christian or what have you for stepping on some rhetorical toes, it’s fine if you feel the need to cast stones. But do bear in mind that, when you do, you are living into a stereotype of Christians as knee-jerk reactionary, judgmental people. Something to consider.

And for the hundreds who have written with thanks for helping them feel their pain, alienation, confusion or resistance is heard and understood, thank you.

In that spirit, I have compiled a third (and most likely, final) list of Cliches to avoid because, frankly, there were still so many worth noting that have yet to be addressed. Thanks to those who have submitted suggestions for additional lists. And because I’ve had some emails and comments asking for more clarity on what to do or say instead of leaning on these cliches, I’ll offer a closing piece for this series tomorrow about what I’d suggest Christians focus on instead of well-worn rhetorical scripts.

Enough prologue. Here are the final nine cliches to strike from the Christian lexicon if we’re interested in reaching people on a deeper, more personal level.

  1. Christianity is the only way to God/Heaven. You may believe this with your whole heart, and I’m sure you have the scriptures at the ready to support it. But consider the possibility that either those you’re speaking with think differently about this, or if they haven’t put much thought into it, that what you’re saying feels like an ultimatum or a threat.  Yes, there are texts to support a theology of exclusive salvation, but there also are some to support a more universalist notion of salvation (John 1:9 – “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”). And think about how such a statement might sound to someone who has lost a loved one who was not a Christian, at least by your standards of what that means. And theologically speaking, it opens up a whole Pandora’s Box in answering for the fate of all those who lived before Christ, who never hear about him, and so on.
  2. When God closes a door, He opens a window. Like some other cliches, this implies that, when something unexpected (and usually bad) happens to you, God did it to you. I know it’s well-meaning, but it’s not helpful in some cases. What about someone who feels like the door has closed on them, and there is no other hope in sight? That persona may benefit more from a compassionate ear, a loving heart and a simple “what can I do to help”” much more than some phrase that may or may not have any basis in reality.
  3. God helps those who help themselves. Let me be clear – THIS IS NOT IN SCRIPTURE. People treat it like it is, but it’s not. Benjamin Franklin penned this in the Farmers’ Almanac in 1757. Be very, very careful when quoting something you think is in the Bible. And even if it is, be very careful in how and why you quote it to/at people. People don’t need more reasons to resent or resist scripture; let’s not add things that aren’t even in there.
  4. Perhaps God is (causing something negative) to get your attention/It is God’s way of telling you it is time for (fill in the blank). To me, this comes off as speaking on behalf of God. It seems to me that the better thing to say, if anything is “Is there any good that can come of this?” or “What wisdom can we find in this experience?” but better than this is – as I’ve said before – being quiet, being present and being compassionately loving. Let God speak for God.
  5. There, but for the grace of God, go I. This suggests that the person who is the object of whatever misfortune you’re referring to is not the recipient of God’s grace. The thing is (at least as I understand it) grace isn’t grace if it’s selectively handed out like party favors. Relating to someone, and even sharing common experiences, or how you could see yourself in their similar situation is one thing. But making it sound like you’re not suffering because of God’s grace while they are is just unkind.
  6. If you just have enough faith (fill in the blank) will happen for you. Talk about setting God up! Who are we to speak to what God will or will not do in others’ lives? Sure, if you have a story of personal experience to share, ask for permission to share it. But be aware that someone in the midst of struggle may not be in a place to hear it. But fulfilling promises like this is above our human pay grade. As my dad used to say, don’t write checks your butt can’t cash.
  7. I don’t put God in a box. This actually is a favorite of many progressives. This comes off as pretty arrogant, in my opinion. You’re implying others put God in a box, and that your theological perspective is superior because you don’t. The problem is, anyone who believes in God puts God in a box. Yes, your box may be different than others’ boxes, but unless you share the “mind of God,” your understanding of God is some conscripted, dimly illuminated view of what God actually is, at best.
  8. (Insert name) is a good, God-fearing Christian. First off, the phrase “God-fearing” is a real turn-off to many Christians and non-Christians alike. Though some understand God as a thing to be feared, a lot of folks simply do not relate to that image of God. And if you happen to be using the word “fear” as a synonym for “respect,” consider the likelihood that your audience probably hears “fear” as “fear.”
  9. God is in control. This raises a very fundamental problem of Theodicy, which most Christians I’ve met who say this are not necessarily prepared to address. Theodicy is the dilemma between belief in an all-knowing, all-loving and all-powerful God with the existence of evil and/or suffering in the world. And the other problem is that, if you believe that human beings have free will (a central tenet of most Christian thought), it needs to be recognized that that, in itself, is a concession of control by God. And like other phrases I’ve mentioned about God’s role in daily life, be careful in tossing this one around. Telling someone who was raped, abused, tortured, neglected, etc. that God was in control during that experience likely is enough to incent that person to turn from the concept of God forever.

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • Melody

    The fundies who labeled you an apostate or atheist (seriously?!?) just hate themselves, so they make themselves feel better by attacking you for exposing their pathetic natures. Truth hurts sometimes; they’re just butthurt. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to read it. They can go back to Rapture Ready or whatever their favorite liberal-bashing forums are.

  • Pianogal67

    I’m glad that you posted “there, but for the grace of God, go I” phrase. It has always irked me. To me it sounds like one is praying for themselves to keep them out of that poor, unfortunate soul’s situation. Shouldn’t you pray for them to help get them out of the situation?! (Yes, I did just quote Disney’s The Little Mermaid.)

    • j_anson

      Interesting. For me that was the one example here where I reacted with confusion. To me, that phrase has always suggested (even before I was a Christian, though I am one now) humility and luck: “I could just as easily be in that poor woman’s shoes if it weren’t for unaccountable and undeserved luck.” A way of acknowledging that the difference between you and a sufferer isn’t that you were better or smarter (an important acknowledgment in a time when more and more we seem to blame, say, the poor for being poor). But that may be because I grew up in a northern CA community that wasn’t very religious, and so don’t particularly associate the phrase’s use with people who actually have strong opinions about God’s grace and who gets it. When I heard it growing up, it would mostly have been from people who viewed it as a charming metaphorical turn of phrase.

      • katz

        I’ve personally never heard it in a truly circumstantial context (eg, “but for the grace of God that tornado could have hit my house”).  It’s always been in a context where there is some sort of immoral, or at least questionable, behavior, and therefore it always holds an undertone of “but for the grace of God, I could be that big of a screw-up.”

        • j_anson

          That’s fascinating to me, because I’ve heard it used (and used it) with exactly the opposite meaning! The example that springs to mind is that, where I went to college, there was a homeless woman who often solicited cash around the campus. The woman, as I learned at one point, had actually been an undergrad and a graduate student(!) at the college. But she’d (to make a long story very short and oversimplified) had some extremely bad luck and some very traumatic events, and she lacked a familial safety net, and so she’d ended up homeless with a serious psychiatric disorder. And I think I have actually used this very phrase about the situation (I’ve certainly thought it). For me, saying that was a way of acknowledging that she wasn’t homeless because of some moral failing, because she was lazy or stupid or something; she’d been dealt an extraordinarily bad hand in life and, but for the luck of being dealt a better hand – inexplicable and undeserved grace, for want of a better term – I could be in her shoes. (Obviously the broader take-away is that this is probably OFTEN true of people in really bad situations like homelessness, even though homelessness is often viewed as one of those “I could be that big of a screw-up” situations by, er, the kind of people inclined to make that kind of judgment.)

          To me that is actually the power of the idea of grace. It’s the flip-side of the “problem of evil” and in its way it’s just as problematic. It IS inexplicable and undeserved, and you  are making a mistake if you forget that and begin to think that it’s something you got because you were better in some way (general you, that is, not YOU you). Saying “there but for the grace of God go I” is a shorthand reminder to oneself about that. Just as we don’t always “deserve” the bad things that happen to us, we don’t always “deserve” the good things that happen.
          I should probably note that I’m not trying to convince anyone; I’m just fascinated that this phrase that never struck me as problematic has an apparently different valence to many. Knowing that, I’ll probably be more careful, at least, about using it in the future.

          • http://www.bipolarlessons.com/ Mary

            I agree with you. I have used this phrase myself after knowing people who have become homeless. I am disabled myself and could have ended up on the street. When I have said that I meant that I was no better than them, acknowledging that I have received a mercy that they also deserve. However, since I want to be sensitive to others, maybe I will stop saying it. Too bad it has been said by people with the wrong motives.

          • Regina

            I prefer There but for Fortune.

          • Kodie

             Knock on wood.

          • Mckenziered

             that is exactly what most people think that phrase means, j_anson (or at least a great many think that is what they are saying when they say that).  However, if you really think about it from the viewpoint of the one hearing you think or say that, well, that changes everything. Try it, you’ll maybe see what is meant above.  Using your own example of the shelterless woman near your college campus who you clearly had a measure of compassion for and seem to understand some of what got her where she was when you encountered her…for her God’s grace is equally evident to her, but perhaps not to you.  Perhaps God’s grace causes someone to stop and make eye contact and share of their abundance, or someone else to buy her something to eat, or someone else to offer shelter for the day or night, or someone else to connect her up to free psychiatric care, etc.  Perhaps you don’t need that kind of God’s grace but God’s grace is just as much available and out pouring in her life as it is in your life, just appearing differently.  It is still God’s grace and God’s grace does NOT discriminate…which that phrase “but for the grace of God, there go I,” implies, as if God’s grace prevents you from being where the other is.  God’s grace eventually may help all see that each “other” is actually them self and ultimately all is God.  Perhaps God’s grace can give you and all others who use that phrase (without thinking it through clearly and critically) the ability to see and hear how it really feels to hear someone say or think that. 

  • http://twitter.com/josiahmonks Josiah Monks

    Looking forward to your piece tomorrow. I put a lot of effort into selecting words that will carry meaning with the listener, but sometimes it is difficult to find meaningful alternatives for  outdated or trite phrases I’ve been inundated with throughout my life.

  • Melody

    To be fair, though, I think “putting God in a box” applies to some of the cliches you mentioned. Saying there’s only one way to heaven, God didn’t make anyone gay, or the Bible is the handbook to life, is most definitely putting God in a box. Those are extremely narrow views that don’t allow for growth or learning. The people who hold those views want there to be an easy answer for everything and never question anything.

  • http://revericatcheson.blogspot.com/ Rev. Eric Atcheson

    All three lists of cliches were pretty great ones to avoid!

    Regarding the last one on this list…and the question of theodicy…the theodicy cliche I have really tried to avoid lately is “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.”  It also implies that God is “in control,” but that God is even more of a micro-manager!

    I don’t always know how God will act in my life next, so I have to try to be humble enough to not presume to know how God gives and takes in everyone else’s lives.

    • Slade

      But that is a cop-out; you are still saying god is in control and works the puppet strings.  Your provincial deity either is in control or he/she/it is not.  If free will is so central to the belief system, then how can you even utter hackneyed expressions like “god’s will be done”.  There’s no middle ground here – you have to chose sides.

    • Andrew Patton

      Except that one is in the Bible and was first spoken by a man who had lost pretty much everything, Job. “The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away, blessed be the Lord.”

  • untied_methodist

    All of these lists have been thought-provoking and useful for self-reflection.  I agree that we as Christians should avoid these cliches, but I think some of them–when extracted from their “triumphalist” context–can be helpful. For example:   “The Lord helps those who help themselves” (wasn’t it Poor Richard’s Almanac?) certainly isn’t biblical, but can often be true.  Which is better,  helping myself by eating healthily and keeping physically fit or praying fervently for the Lord to help me stay healthy?  (Not that this is an either/ or situation, but I think you get the point.)

    • katz

      As a personal exhortation to work harder, I suppose it’s fine, but it virtually always shows up in the context of people who are struggling, with the implication that God chose not to help them because they didn’t help themselves enough, and therefore it’s their own fault.

      • Kodie

         I always thought it was kind of a wink. God appears to have helped those who obviously did it all by themselves.

        It also keeps people from investigating whether they should help. It’s a judgment that someone is too lazy and wants everything done for them. I would like someone to say, it looks like you need some motivation or have hit a dead end, what can I do to help you? Is your housework overwhelming you? Let’s do this together. Having trouble finding work? Would you like some help with your résumé? Would you like to practice interviewing with me? Any other number of ways you could offer to be side-by-side with another person helping them help themselves. People don’t seem to mean it like that. You be solo, I’m out. God may or may not show up in my place. Physical (by which I mean practical) problems need to be solved by physical action, not magic.

        Rather than thoughtlessly remarking “god helps those who help themselves,” washing your hands of it, “well, I did it all by myself, and there’s no visible reason to me why you shouldn’t be able to either,” basically – you’re lazy and I’m not responsible for that, you made your own bed, now you have to lie in it, I think less of you and god does too. Life is overwhelming for a lot of people, and feeling as though god has it in for you, and people reminding you about it all the time doesn’t help. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gretchen-DeKok/100000174099947 Gretchen DeKok

        Or that they “just don’t/didn’t have enough ‘faith’”.

    • b_man

      2nd Thessalonians 3:10

  • http://twitter.com/andyswaff Andy

    I really enjoyed this series. Thank you.

  • LeechcraftMegilp
  • http://www.facebook.com/corey.furman Corey Furman

    Some of the ideas here, and in the comments… First of all, I get that people sometimes get hurt by what (well-meaning but misguided) Christians say, but I can see that sometimes people just don’t understand what the Christian is trying to say.

    For the hurts, I apologize.  Christians do sometimes get it wrong, and way wrong at that.

  • http://www.christianvagabond.com/ Christian Vagabond

    I get the desire to avoid cliches and not sound full of ourselves, but there are many many ways to communicate these ideas (many of which are theologically correct) that aren’t as gruff as present them. Plus in all of your articles you are using just two types of people as a reference points: the person who is hostile to Christians and the Christian who is culturally  put off by people talking about their faith. 

    Lots of people find these cliches uplifting. “God is the only way to heaven,” has changed millions of lives, helped people get off drugs,and brought families back together. “God is in control” is a hopeful phrase that has helped families get through disasters and hard times. Even the people suffering through those distaters use that phrase to apply to their own lives. 

    In general I think these lists have been good for the most part, but your explanations add up to a culture where no one talks about what they believe unless they are formally and directly asked a question. No one says anything for fear of offending a person who believes something different. Not only does it stifle conversation and exchanging ideas and beliefs, it’s ultimately a recipe for killing off Christianity. The denominations that follow the “Keep it to yourself” model are declining in big numbers, while the “share your faith” denominations have seen a resurgence. That couldn’t happen unless some nonchristians found these cliches  to be truthful and persuasive.

    • Kodie

      No one says anything for fear of offending a person who believes something different.

      There’s a difference between censoring yourself and knowing your audience. Being socially aware and making mis-steps is something we all navigate, but if you are aware of what you say and how it sounds to another person, can you think of a better way to say it, or wait for a better time? To ignore the cautions and the reasons to be cautious is to force your point of view on others, to be a clod in life. If your intent is persuasion, then you are keeping score for yourself, plain and simple. You have played a pawn in a scheme to collect numbers for a place and a deity you cannot prove exist to justify churches and tithing. What you believe is your own business, and you may believe you are correct to believe it, essentially you believe everyone who needs to hear these things is incorrect.

      There’s a common theme in these lists and it is self-righteousness. I would say you don’t expect so much to have your rightness challenged, and when it sometimes is, you aren’t listening to the other point of view. You also aren’t proving you are right in any way, you are just saying things. If you aren’t listening, then why should anyone listen to you? Why should everyone validate your intentions as “right” because you believe them? Next time you feel “censored” not to say something you feel very urgent about, rather than “thoughtful” about the other person, realize that’s about you, your needs, your personal goals, and your self-righteousness. If there’s a Jesus to back you up, prove it. Otherwise, your religion that you want to wear openly is simply obnoxious at times, meaning you opt to be obnoxious on purpose.

  • Theophile

    Hi Christian,
     #3 God help’s those who help themselves, is one of the sayings that prodded me into Bible study. I had heard it applied to ripping people off one to many times. Thanks for pointing out it’s not in the Bible stated like that.
    #10 God is, in control, even when he takes His hedge down like with Job. 

  • John E. Smith

    Thanks again, Christian.

    The point I’m getting from all this is to avoid cliches and speak from a personal level about our faith, especially with others.

    Good stuff – really appreciate you doing this little series:)

    John

  • http://www.facebook.com/greg.garrett2 Greg Garrett

    Great lists, Christian. Thank you for sharing them so widely! I think it is important to note that all of us put God in a box. As Barbara Brown Taylor preached a few years ago, our theological thinking always puts God in a box. And then God reminds us we need a bigger box!

    Blessings on your work–

    Greg

  • http://twitter.com/ElizaAnderson1 Elizabeth Anderson

    I’ve never liked the phrase “God-fearing” anyway, because shouldn’t we be loving God? Even if “fearing” in this context is meant as “respecting,” I think “loving” is a lot better…I believe in a God I can love.

    • Jim

      To me, the phrase “God-fearing” has always implied that the entirety of Christianity is based on a fear of some supernatural punishment waiting to happen, sort of like a child doing as his parents say simply because he is afraid of getting smacked for disobedience.  That is what puts me off of Christianity; I would rather feel like I’m doing the right thing BECAUSE IT’S THE RIGHT THING rather than because of some eternal punishment.  If I’m going to “burn in hell” because of this, then so be it, but I am not a bad person.

      • Eric Mawhinney

         @315d765390521d77594dad9002df3eef:disqus  — You only have part of the meaning of the term God-fearing. While there’s certainly a possibility that an all-powerful God could do something to punish someone, the meaning behind the phrase has to do with the person having a full understanding of the breadth of God’s power.  Such power deserves a healthy respect. 

        My rough definition is “describing one who understands well who God is and has reverence for him.”

        But how do you know what the “right” thing is?  What makes someone a bad person? By what standard do you measure rightness or badness?

        • Kodie

           Hyperbole. Well, I think not to say “god-fearing” is to polish it up. I’m not sure I hate heavily implying what a person might have to fear from a terrifying god (as described in the bible or attributed to other disasters). But as if god punishes someone by burning down their house or crashing tsunamis on their village, something you can “fear” and “respect” the power of, and thus try to avoid by being “god-fearing.”

          Another implication is that people fear god so much, at least as described by many posters in this series of threads, that they simply must witness to people, win souls, and behave thoughtlessly and unkindly because that’s what Jesus told them to do; that not behaving this way would soften them with a focus on fellow earthlings, and indicate they’re not soldiers fit for heaven. So much so that they can’t be reasoned with or recognize the error of being “jerky” to people is god’s favorite.

        • http://www.bipolarlessons.com/ Mary

          I can’t answer for Jim but to me the answer is simple : I have a conscience given to me by God. I don’t need a book to tell me what is right or wrong because it is already inside me.  And God is inside me also. I know when I have wronged someone because I have empathy with them. If I need the fear of punishment from God to motivate me to do what is right, then there is something wrong with me. I would be a sociopath if all that motivated to be good was the fear of hell.

      • Andrew Patton

        That’s why the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, not the end of wisdom. Perfect love is the fulfillment of wisdom, and perfect love drives out all fear, but many, probably most, reject evil and choose good first out of fear of the consequences of evil and only later out of perfect love.

    • Kodie

       Euphemism. How do you explain things you’d rather ignore? When asked, a lot of Christians toss out “context” that mere atheists could never understand. Then our ex-Christian biblical scholars and theology grads and would-be ministers to school them that there is no relevant context for just the loving god without the fearsome god and the warped god who is fearsome because he loves you and is jealous for you to love him back by threatening you. You can run but you can’t hide.

  • Katiecrystal23

    When I say “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” I think it’s usually in response to the criticism of another lifestyle or in the context of a discussion about something like “good families” (because I hate it when people discuss “good Christian families” as if someone was a pedigreed animal for having come from a certain family…I guess I say it mostly to stress that any situation I’m not in, I *could* be in. And it’s generally in reference to something that those around me agree is not a good situation (i.e., being drunk in the gutter). Thoughts?

  • Geoff Mitchell

    When it comes to cliches I avoid them like the plague.  

    • JLDF

      HAHAHAHA!

  • Mary Ingmire

    #5 has been a pet peeve for years!  A “friend” told me I need to figure out what God wants me to learn from my diagnosis of a blood disorder (#4).  I smiled but really wanted to say, “And what did you find out that God wanted YOU to learn when God (although in this case I might have said “He”) killed your husband. 

    • wearylondoner

      A devout christian couple I know had a baby recently and posted a notice on Facebook thanking God for giving them a daughter. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them to ask why he caused the previous 3 miscarriages. I wouldn’t be so unkind as to.remind them , especially as it would no doubt elicit the cliche’d response rthat ‘God works in mysterious ways’

  • SteveD

    It seems to me that most of these (and previous) cliches are what we say when we or someone we care about has been gob-smacked by one of lifes tragedies. I remember a time early in our marriage when my wife had been diagnosed with cancer. Our minister came over to talk, but didn’t say much, and completely avoided the cliches. My dominant memory of that night is how he nearly rocked the legs of our rocking chair while he was listening to us and sharing our misery. That kinetic caring punctured deep into our misery and was more healing than any words could have been. It is one of my best memories of the church and what it means to be Christian.

    • Tony

       How is your wife now, Steve?

  • Alonso

    1- You say Jesus is not Lord. 
    2- You say there are other ways to be saved besides Jesus.  
    3- Those are the basis of Christianism.

    Therefore:
    You’re not Christian. Is not judgment, is just reality. You have to decide between believing in your own oppinions or believing God.  
    You still can, God will forgive you if you truly repent. 

    • http://www.bipolarlessons.com/ Mary

      How do you know that her opinions are not God’s opinions? Yes I know, the Bible. How do you know that everything in the Bible is right? You don’t. The circular rational that the Bible is God’s Word because the Bible says it is God’s Word makes no sense at all. There are spiritual people in all kinds of religions, not just Christianity. God doesn’t play favorites.

      Yes, I know that this is just my opinion, but your viewpoint is just an opinion also. You can’t claim that you have a direct line to God.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=71303210 Roy Rouell

    I have used several of these myself and have come to understand that they are not good. The closet I can say to any of these comments being true is that I try not to put God in a box but well I do. We always put God in a me shaped box to fill that “God Shaped hole” in our lives.  Another one, I love how we say that God is in control when we also say God gave us free will. Thank you for point these and the others out.

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com/ JoeyS

    “There, but for the grace of God, go I. This suggests that the person who is the object of whatever misfortune you’re referring to is not the recipient of God’s grace. The thing is (at least as I understand it) grace isn’t grace if it’s selectively handed out like party favors. Relating to someone, and even sharing common experiences, or how you could see yourself in their similar situation is one thing. But making it sound like you’re not suffering because of God’s grace while they are is just unkind.”
    I spoke at chapel at a local Christian University and this was the subject of my talk. 

  • Mckenziered

    YES!!!  And thank you for writing these down for all to read.  :)  Especially grateful for #5!  :)
    A former pastor changed it to:  “In the grace of God, there I must go.”

  • rjwalker

    This sure sounds exclusivist:

    John 14:6: “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. ”

    But think it through: it is a metaphor, not a factual, literal statement.  Thu, it is open to various interpretations, including the idea that “through me” could mean “by doing what I mentioned in Matthew 25:31-45 — the parable of the sheep and the goats — where what one believes has nothing to do with whether one makes the cut.

    • The Other Weirdo

       Why is that a metaphor? What surrounding text suggests that it is not a statement intended to be taken literally? The Bible is pretty good at identifying when Jesus speaks in parables, but I don’t remember that particular line to be surrounded by that particular disclaimer.

  • Amy Durfee West

    Thank you for this list, and I’m looking forward to reading the others. However regarding #7, I don’t understand what you mean by “conscripted.” I agree with the thrust of the comment, but that detail has me stumped. 

  • Wordphoole

    This final set
    should have been 10, rather than 9.

    “I/We will
    be praying for you.”

    Went through a
    situation in recent months, wherein I was told this about 4 times per day. At
    some point I wanted to respond with; “Gee whiz, that’s awfully good of
    you, but how ’bout you either get up and help us keep this community together,
    or just say you don’t want to be bothered by caring and walk away?”

    I understand
    that praying for folks to get through what they’re going through is not a bad
    thing, but keep it to yourself, please. 
    Telling someone that you’re going to pray for them, unless they’ve asked
    you to, is a bit like showing off and a bit like avoidance of having to
    actually do anything helpful.  Besides, I
    sorta suspect that about 99% of the time, saying it is a substitute for
    actually doing it.

    • Sarah

      That might be how you feel, but many people are comforted by the idea that people are praying for them, and thinking for them. Maybe it wasn’t what you needed to hear in that situation, but in many situations i’ve found it helpful. For people who believe in the power of prayer – it is very comforting.

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com Ric

    Wooteth, my brother. Wooteth.

  • Jrbarrett888

    We were called to evangelise all people as Christians and as Christians we know that Christ IS the ONLY PATH. Its simple and sad how selfish Christianity has become instead of it being selfLESS as it should be and was. EVANGELISE NOT SECULARISE

    • Slade

      Not helpful springs to mind.

    • The Other Weirdo

       As a mass, Christianity has never been selfLESS or helpful. Individuals may have been, as individuals are wont to be, but not as a mass.

    • SDM

      You “know” so such thing. No matter how fervently you believe something, you do not “know” it. I’ll also point out that the first sentence is directly contradicted by the second. Claiming to be the ONLY PATH is anything but selfless. It’s about as self-absorbed as one can get.

      Which is exactly what the Abrahamic religions are: Intensely self-absorbed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gerard.t.lynch Gerard Thomas Lynch

    “But do bear in mind that, when you do, you are living into a stereotype of Christians as knee-jerk reactionary, judgmental people. Something to consider.”
    Like your articles, in complete agreement, but this statement is pure, uadulterated, fully distilled poop. Talk about reactionary, judgmental, and knee-jerk: no comments against you come close to this, your own on high verdict of how what you wrote SHOULD be viewed and all dissenters are merely stereotypical nimcompoops.

    What’s the word? Bathos? Hard to say, but a definite disappointment.

    Not knowing your motive before, I allowed it was to stir the pot to urge Christians to actually enter into genuine relationships with others instead of sharing beliefs with others as a crusade. Jesus made those kind of stark, breath-taking statements to wake us up. My bad in this was to find some satisfaction in those comments that reflected a density of indoctrination. No joy. No spirit of inquiry. Just judgment. Forgive me.

    I only became aware of my fault with the unfortunate comment mentioned above: pure vanity.

    No kindness. No gentleness. No mercy. No compassion…just a big, fat “I” of the author, and I fell for it. Truly sad.

    However, I am in total agreement about the (last) cliches; five of them are speical peeves of mine. It is not the unthinking quality of adherring or promoting these ideas which is bothersome but the distant state of heart to Christ’s message that appears to so fully embrace such notions. Such a state does not call for derision, as when I chortle to myself, but utmost compassion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gerard.t.lynch Gerard Thomas Lynch

    My special peeve, as you also nted: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” From the very moment I first heard that, I thought of it as one of the ugliest statements I have ever heard. Nothing has changed in that regard for fifty years.

  • Em

    One that always bugs me, that I don’t recall seeing on your lists, is anything along the lines of “Have you heard of Jesus?”  I go to Baylor and have experienced this several times.  Do people really think that you can go to the largest Baptist university in the world and not have heard of Jesus?  

    • http://www.bipolarlessons.com/ Mary

      Nobody in this country has not heard of Jesus, which is why we don’t want to hear it all the time.

    • Kodie

      Why does anyone need a person to tell them about Jesus? If he wanted to, he could spontaneously make you hear about him without input from another human being, and then tell you what he really wants, not just what someone else interprets.

    • http://twitter.com/PrJoolie Julie Winklepleck

      Back when I was smoking, people would say, Do you know that’s bad for you? No. I grew up under a rock, I have no idea that smoking causes lung cancer. You clearly understand nothing about addiction. Sheesh.

  • Riopaddler

    What I love about this list (and the other ones, too) is that the explanations emphasize the importance of relationship. Sensitivity toward the recipient is encouraged. Hard to relate when there is no relationship. ;-)

  • Mark Thrice

    Re: Point 1… ALL beliefs make claims to absolute truth… even post-modernists claim that it’s absolutely true that there is no absolute truth.

    Why are Christians the only ones told to water theirs down?  Who calls for Hindus to deny their absolute belief in  reincarnation and karma?  Do we tell atheists that they should say they believe in demigods?  I say let each man state plainly what he believes, and then we can have a civil discussion about our differences. We get nowhere by claiming that all men have the truth. There are things that I believe that I’m probably wrong about, but I’ll never know that unless I’m challenged by someone with the truth!

    >>And think about how such a statement might sound to someone who has lost a loved one who was not a Christian, at least by your standards of what that means.

    If Jesus is the only way to get to God, then to deny that truth to your friend at a time like this might spare their feelings at the expense of their soul!

    Jesus left no doubt about how He felt about the issue.  “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  If any man comes to the Father, he must come through Me.”  That pretty well trumps the obliquely-universalist verse you used to justify a scriptural universalism.  Jesus is the light of all, but not all walk in the light.

    • http://www.bipolarlessons.com/ Mary

      For the most part Hindus and athiests are not trying to force their beliefs on others. I have never had a Buddhist or a Hindu or a representative of any other religion try to convert me. I can make my own choices and if I am interested in someone’s religion I will ask them about it. Or I can read a book or try a church service. What I don’t need is someone ramming it down my throat! I am sure that Christians would get upset if for instance Muslims tried to convert them! It is just common courtesy to leave people alone and not bug them.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gretchen-DeKok/100000174099947 Gretchen DeKok

      Mark, Christians are NOT “told to water theirs down”, only just to quit shoving it down people’s throats, which fundies DO do.

  • Esther McLauchlan

    I found these lists very interesting. I am an Australian Catholic, I was brought up with Christians of many different denominations and I can honestly say I have heard maybe a third of these sayings in actual conversation, I have seen them in books, TV and on the internet though. Maybe it is a cultural thing, but these aren’t things that come into general conversation.

    I have never been invited to another person’s Church for a regular Sunday service – weddings, baptisms, funerals – yes but a regular service? no. I have heard, and only once or twice, from certain of the more Evangelical Christians I know – “If you are interested in coming just let me know”

    I have never heard a priest or a minister say “Will all our visitors please stand?” I do hear “We welcome all the visitors amongst us today” but never have I heard them singled out.

    As for: “The Lord never gives someone more than they can handle” the closest I have heard to this one is “Sometimes God gives us burdens that are too heavy to carry alone. That is why we are a community.  He and the Church are here to help, just ask” I could go on but I have found it an interesting insight into the differences in our societies.

    • http://www.bipolarlessons.com/ Mary

      I think there is more compassion in the things that you have heard. Offering to be there for others is more in line with what Jesus taught and it is the best witness. Thank you for posting that wisdom.

  • Sharp

    While I get the gist of these lists and agree in principle with most of it, there’s a nagging feeling that it mostly boils down to “Never mention God. Shut up, hold their hand, affirm whatever they think. And, again, shut up.”

    • Mehgan

      I think it’s more of a “Come up with something original so that maybe the person you’re talking to won’t blow you off as a mindless parrot.”

    • Kodie

       Condescension is really hard to pull off in a sensitive situation. If the first thing you think is “this person needs Jesus and I’m going to tell them,” you’re doing that for your own ego. Technically speaking, you are supplying them with a third-party helpline. When you are there, be there. When you want god to do the work for you instead, you suck at being a person.

  • http://twitter.com/Jenk3 Jen K

    “When God closes a door, He opens a window.” 

    The movie “Saved” follows this with “Yes, so we’ll have something to jump out of…”

  • John Small Berries

    Regarding #3, Benjamin Franklin was merely Christianizing the moral of Aesop’s tale of “Hercules and the Waggoner“: The gods help them that help themselves.

  • Tony

    Regarding ‘There, but for the grace of God, go I’, I think it means more like God has been gracious to me personally in sparing me from that, whatever it is – thank you God that that hasn’t happened to me. Not that the other person is not in receipt of God’s grace in general, but just that for whatever reason the grace hasn’t extended to that particular problem. At least that’s how I’d use it, if at all.

  • Megamagnet

    “Only GOD knows!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1110368167 Dallas A Powell Jr

    Bumper-sticker faith isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

  • steve

    Is it possible to refer to someone as judgemental without being the same?

  • SDM

    You might want to add “I’ll pray for you”. It’s condescending, insulting, and is pretty much guaranteed to draw a line between the speaker and the listener. It kind of implies that there is something so terribly wrong with them that it will take an Act of God to “fix” them. In my experience, it’s often used as a kind of “F-you” when some self-righteous believer runs across someone with whom they disagree.

  • Kris Overtoom

    I have a couple of questions and a comment:

    Cliche #1: Would you agree that Jesus is the only way to heaven/God rather than Christianity?

    Cliche #5: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” This is a phrase I use to remind myself to not get too cocky whenever I see someone in the media who just become tabloid fodder or experienced a tragic end, especially if I am working myself into self-righteous indignation. I have never used it because I thought that the person was beyond grace. It also allows me to acknowledge that I have done some pretty stupid things as a Christian and still need that grace that God offers. Keeping yourself humble is a good thing, right?

    Cliche #9: Maybe I am being nitpicky and if I am forgive me, but doesn’t the title “Almighty” generally mean the same thing as “being in control?” That is how God refers to himself a LOT in the Bible, if you believe that God is the ghostwriter of the Bible. I have realized that God being sovereign and allowing free-will seem to be contradictory and mutually exclusive states of being, but then again, so is the concept of God being one God in three persons and God showing mercy and judgement. However, He manages to make those things work in a way that I don’t begin to comprehend. There are certainly better things to say when comforting someone who has been abused/raped/molested or, as you say, just mourning with them. I have also known several people who derive great comfort from this statement because it relieves them of the need to be in control.

    Cliches, in general, I think are used when we don’t know what to say but feel the need to say something. Better to be thought a fool and be silent than to say something and remove all doubt (probably NOT in the Bible, but a good cliche, eh?)

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.ashe.752 Robert Ashe

    You’re awesome, Christian. Thanks for the beautiful wisdom contained in your explanations.

  • Dave Burke

    ‘God helps those who help themselves’ originated in ancient Greece, being expressed in different forms by a variety of writers, including Aesop. The actual phrase itself was coined by Englishman Algernon Sidney in the 17th Century. About 80 years later, Franklin copied it into his almanac.

  • Brandy

    Wow… just… wow. I don’t even know what to say to this except there seems to be a lot of angry people on this site. I’m clearly in the wrong place, since I’m not mad, just sad, anxious, suicidal… you know…

  • Dave

    number 5 above
    There, but for the grace of God, go I. This suggests that the person who is the object of whatever misfortune you’re referring to is not the recipient of God’s grace. The thing is (at least as I understand it) grace isn’t grace if it’s selectively handed out like party favors. Relating to someone, and even sharing common experiences, or how you could see yourself in their similar situation is one thing. But making it sound like you’re not suffering because of God’s grace while they are is just unkind, THIS is totally of base when we say this to anyone it is because THEY have judged someone or their situation for instance if someone says “oh look at that, another beggar on the street, why can’t they just get a job” then would be a time that I would say “if not for the Grace of God so go I” meaning it could happen to anyone including the person saying the hurtful thing and we should just be kind and understanding.

  • rynoth25

    Just found this series and all I can say is thank you! I have felt from my own interactions that Christians put faith above people. That earthly problems, fears, and tragedies were meaningless because, “there’s an afterlife if you just open your heart to Jesus.” And from my experience it does trivialize your pain and paint a picture of a God who doesn’t care. I’m glad there is a Christian out there who understands how insufferable these lines can be to people like me.

  • legendinmyownmind

    First off….I am a christian. Second, I also hate these self-righteous ass-holes and their tired cliches. Kinda like living here in Arizona in the 110 degree heat and some non-local says, “Duh, yeah but it’s a dry heat”. The cliche that just makes me want to go on a bitch-slap rampage on these retards is when a self-protestand protestant pope with no education, knowledge of church history, or knowledge of the original languages says, “Well when I was in cemetary…oops, I mean seminary….aaaaaaaaahhhhh ha ha ha ha ha!” Get it? ‘Cause cemetary sounds like seminary and cemetaries are full of dead people and seminaries are lifeless because they don’t have the ‘Holy Ghost and you can’t be a preacher without the Holy Ghost and you have to be ‘annoited by the Holy Ghost and if you’re not you’re lifeless and powerless against the ravages of ‘sin’ (read sex) and since cemetary kinda sounds like seminary and a cemetary has dead people in it that’s what makes it sooooooo funny, even after it’s been said for trillionth time. I swear, I’m gonna smack the next ‘Man of Gwawd who says that assinine quip in my presence. Oh but where are my manners? I almost forgot to ask…..Werkin’ hard er hardly werkin? Ha ha ha ha ha snort ha ha ha ha! I slay me sometimes.

  • James Warble

    In response particularly to 1, 4, 5, 8, & 9:

    Yeah, maybe you’re right. I suppose if we want to get spiritually cozy with the world, we’re better off not talking about God at all and just be there. After all, he who is the way, the truth, and the life doesn’t want anyone to feel put off by him, right? Jesus was a master of avoiding offense and making everyone feel just fine about their own sensibilities. Let’s just be present with our own love. God’s love just rubs people wrong.


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