God of the Facebook Meme

One woman’s ‘apologetic’ as to why she is raising her children without God has been making the internet rounds this week. Reading it made me want to respond in some way, without engaging the crazies in the comment thread (do not feed the trolls). But I also don’t want it to sound like I’m arguing with her—or with people who share her beliefs.

Because actually? I kind of agree with her.

At least, on some points. Despite my own faith and vocation, I absolutely ditto the sentiment that schools and/or government should not be in the business of teaching or imposing a certain faith, or language of faith. What we believe, after all, is a deeply personal thing. It cannot be easily manipulated or contrived.

Furthermore, I agree with her that many Christians live with a deep and abiding fear of atheists, and it makes us do crazy things. Hateful things. Distinctly un-Christlike things.

However, I feel like there is a  limited image of God at work in this piece. But it isn’t her fault. It is ours.

Like I said, my interest here is not in converting this author–or those who share her views–into a Christian. I know that Jesus said to ‘go and make disciples,’ and yes, I think he meant it. I think it would be swell to go out in the world, loving and serving people like Jesus did, calling for a repentance that rejects the ills of the world and turns people back to the way of the Holy. Sounds like a great gig. Sadly, a few Christians since Jesus’ time have taken ‘make disciples’ to mean rape, pillage, kill, shame, silence and inspire fear, so they kind of ruined for the rest of us. Our best bet, in our time and place, is to model Christ-like behavior as best we can, to preach good news, and to pray that people will glimpse the goodness of God when they are in our presence. We can hope that they might want to learn more about how our beliefs shape us into the kind and loving and intelligent people that we are.

Of course, we first have to BE kind, loving, and intelligent people.

What I’m getting around to is: I’m not arguing ‘against’ unbelief, so much as I am trying to shine a light on this conversation for fellow Christ-followers and say–this, right here, is what comes of bad theology; this is what happens when the popular gospel message is full of easy answers, fear of ‘other,’ and an image of God that has been reduced to a Hallmark card or a facebook meme. (btw, i finally learned how to say that word).
This is what comes of shredding apart the Bible and reducing it to a quippy one-liner that will win an ideological argument for us (again, usually on facebook). This limited, unfeeling, unjust, and kind of petty God is not one that I’ve ever met before. But it is the God who has been marketed for mass consumption. I’m not arguing with the author of that post because, really, she did not create this God–we did. And I don’t blame her for not wanting to know him.

Or rather, westernized Judeo-Christian heritage created this God, and we built institutions around Him (yes, this God is a him) and, well, here we all are. May God forgive us for trying to make it so easy.

There is a cost to cheap and easy religion. It feels good–like a new clothing purchase or a first drink or a fancy scented lotion–when you first try it on. Thing is, when life gets hard, it leaves us with utter emptiness. A godless void that cannot explain away the sick child, the impoverished country, the gun violence or the earthquake.

Trying to explain away the suffering of the world continues to be our problem. We say pithy things like ‘it was God’s will,’ or ‘everything happens for a reason,’ or ‘this is what happens when we legalize gay marriage/give women the right to vote/ let kids play soccer on Sundays.’ Saying these things might somehow make the speaker feel better in the moment. But ultimately, we are not doing God–or humankind–any favors when we condense our faith to a bumper sticker. People are leaving our churches in droves, and this is the image of God they take with them.
We can do better. We can learn to say things like “i don’t know,” or “i don’t have an easy answer for that,” or “it doesn’t make sense, but I promise…you are not alone in this.”

We can do better, folks. We can try harder, be louder, live larger and insist that being a person of faith does not mean checking your brain at the door, or holding onto archaic social systems, or learning to hate and fear those who walk another way. We cannot explain or reason God into being, any more than this writer can explain or reason God away. God is reason, and wonder; God is grace and compassion; God is science, and God is profoundly unknown; God is joy, and given the state of the world, God must be a little bit of heartbreak; God is justice, but not by any system that we know; God is in all, and with all; God just IS, and thanks be to God, nothing I say right–or write wrong–will change that.
If God does not look like the world that we know—or rather, if the world does not look quite like God—then all the more reason to go and try again.

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About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...

  • Anne Rogers

    You speak what I believe, but far more eloquently than I. Thank you.

  • Ann

    Thank you for putting my thoughts into your beautiful words! So well done.

  • Don Long

    Thanks Erin. It is great to see a reasonable thoughtful response to the referenced writing.

  • Molly

    I’ve been looking for this for a long time. And I didn’t know it until now. Thank you.


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