Thinking Anglicans

'There's probably no God'

An advertising campaign on buses declares ‘THERE’S PROBABLY NO GOD. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.’

The creator of the advert, Ariane Sherine, says it is a counter campaign to one run on buses in June 2008 which had Bible quotes on them such as ‘Jesus died for your sins’ and a URL for a web site which included statements saying that ‘All non Christians would burn in hell for eternity in a lake of fire’. So she decided to design an advert with a positive message which said the opposite.

It poses a serious question to Christians about the image of our faith which we wish to present to the world. We are familiar wayside pulpits; posters with bible quotations such as ‘The wages of sin is death’, and we have to ask ourselves whether people put out this kind of message just in order to feel smug, rather than to attract an outsider to a living faith in Jesus Christ.

Coincidentally, The Daily Mirror carried a story today about a priest who clearly was sensitive about the message which his church projected, and replaced a particularly gruesome crucifix with a cross.

He said ‘It was a scary image, particularly for children. Parents didn’t want to walk past it with their kids, because they found it so horrifying.’ The sculpture was a brilliant piece of work. When it was conceived in the 1960s the majority of young people in Britain would have attended Sunday School, and would have been able to place the image in context. There was in the thin figure with protruding rib cage, a disturbing reminder of the images of inmates of Belsen. People might have understood that this Jesus showed God identified with the worst suffering that humanity can inflict, and sharing in human pain. But a church which always proclaimed Good Friday and never Easter might be open to misunderstanding. Replacing the crucifix with a cross has been a move towards a message which many Christians would find more appropriate. Removing the crucifix and having nothing to replace it would certainly have conveyed the wrong message, and the newspaper article is unfair in declaring that it been ‘unceremoniously yanked’ from its place.

One of the early campaigns from the Churches Advertising Network was judged to be controversial because it went rather further in removing a crucifix. At the time the most common Christian advertising in the week leading up to Easter had been a small poster produced by the Knights of St. Columba with a silhouette of Christ on the Cross and the words ‘THIS IS HOLY WEEK’. The criticism was that the Network’s advert had ‘dropped the cross’ completely. Instead it declared ‘SURPRISE! said Jesus to his friends three days after they buried him…’ But the campaign was for Easter Day, and a number of those within the Christian Church who during Lent had complained about ‘dropping the cross’ actually admitted that when it came to writing the Easter sermon, the campaign was right on target.

However, the evidence for this final statement is somewhat anecdotal: very little research has been done about the image which Christianity presents to the world and the impression which it has on outsiders. This is worrying in a faith which has mission at its heart. We don’t have evidence about what actually keeps people out of church rather than welcoming them in. But the ‘THERE’S PROBABLY NO GOD’ advert should make us think about the way we appear to outsiders. The creator of the campaign was very clear about the way Christianity appeared to be presented to her, and she was clearly not alone. With no organisation, donations of more than £140,000 have made this as visible as the largest Christian campaigns, such as those which advertised the Billy Graham missions or the Alpha Course. It really has struck a chord with very many people who probably see religious people as killjoys, for this is what the advert says. The author goes further in seeing Christians as people who worry and threaten those who do not subscribe to their faith.

This presents us with a clear challenge to present a positive image of faith. It ought to be obvious. As the Westminster Confession states ‘Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever’. Real enjoyment is at the heart of faith.

But in our presentation of the gospel we easily slip into trying to motivate people out of fear rather than love. Some presentations of the gospel go so far as to portray the atonement as ‘cosmic child abuse’ to use Steve Chalk’s phrase. And to outsiders it must appear that we reserve a special hatred for religious believers whose faith is closest to our own, but who hold differences of opinion on matters which are not even touched on in the Creeds.

The advert is surely a wake up call to all religious believers. Our response might begin with a heartfelt cry, ‘There IS a God!’ for it is this realisation which frees us from worry and leads to real joy.

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choirboyfromhell
choirboyfromhell
12 years ago

You can thank all the fundamentalists and other extremists for getting a reactive ad like this. As I’ve said before, extremism will surely kill off Christianity in the long run.

Ford Elms
Ford Elms
12 years ago

‘All non Christians would burn in hell for eternity in a lake of fire’. Given that this is what most people think Christians believe, why do we continue to allow the Gospel to be misrepresented in this fashion? Oh, right, because when a bishop refuses a conservative demand that he say this, they claim he is unorthodox, faithless, disobeying the Great Commission, and selling out to the world, bar the doors of their church against him, and when he disciplines them, claim they are being oppressed. They then go into schism and proclaim themselves further oppressed when they are prevented… Read more »

Cynthia Gilliatt
Cynthia Gilliatt
12 years ago

“Given that this is what most people think Christians believe …”

In the US, some of this is the fault of some of the press, who seek out strong quotations for their stories. Then there are people who run interview shows on TV and ask people like the late Jerry Falwell “What do Christians believe about homosexualtiy?” By and large, they don’t ask people like KJS, or Marin Marty.

Pluralist
12 years ago

The success of the secular bus campaign was the use of the word probably. If the Christian campaign stated: ‘There probably is a God, now go out and enjoy life’ it might be as well received.

However, I rather agree with the secular statement, and can regard it as Christian in some sense. Go out and (serve and) enjoy life.

JCF
JCF
12 years ago

Sigh: I’m getting nostalgic for the 60s again, when “GOD IS LOVE” was the simple, three-word Christian catch-phrase (a phrase more catching, IMO, “Jesus died for your sins”; not that I disagree w/ the latter)

Richard Ashby
Richard Ashby
12 years ago

Thanks pluralist, I wholeheartedly agree with both your comments. I find the bus-side message actually very comforting in its insistence on enjoying life without worrying about a vengeful god. ‘Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever’. I have to say that I find this statement as peculiar as many other Christian statements. I can’t really believe that God’s purpose in creating man was to have a ready made adulatory claque who’s only role was to offer him constant praise. After all, apart from anything else isn’t that what the hosts of heaven… Read more »

Fred Preuss
Fred Preuss
12 years ago

No, religion’s inherent inconsistencies will kill it off. Falwell’s just the most glaring example of religious foolishness. The idea that mainline protestantism’s rebirth is just around the corner, this time they’ll really be back, whistling in the dark has been around for over 30 years. It’s even more wrong now than it was when Marty was predicting the rebirth of the mainline in the late 1970s or when ‘De Colores’ was launched.

Rev L Roberts
Rev L Roberts
12 years ago

‘…success of the secular bus campaign was the use of the word probably. If the Christian campaign stated: ‘There probably is a God, now go out and enjoy life’ it might be as well received. However, I rather agree with the secular statement, and can regard it as Christian in some sense. Go out and (serve and) enjoy life.’ Posted by: Pluralist on Thursday, 8 January 2009 at 5:16pm GMT Hear, hear Pluralist ! Ordinary people in Britian do not believe an a lake (or anything else) of fire. Thank Goodness ! The Churches down the ages have made spiritual… Read more »

rick allen
12 years ago

Nietzsche must be turning in his grave. “Stop worrying and enjoy your life” indeed.

Father Ron Smith
12 years ago

‘THERE’S PROBABLY NO GOD. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.’ – Bus advertisement in the UK – I don’t, personally, see too much harm in the ad. At least, it might get people talking about the possibility of the existence of God. It is not an actual assertion that there is No God. It is merely positing what many people in the world of today are thinking. This is not new. It is merely bringing out into the open, by means of a paid advertisement, what is some people’s reaction to other, more offensive, remarks about what such a… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Christopher Shell
12 years ago

Hi Choirboy- The twentieth century has been rightly called the Christian century. Whether the oft-quoted stat that there were as many professing Christians in that century as in the nineteen previous centuries put together is accurate or not, the fact remains that Christian growth in Africa, SE Asia (and Pentecostal growth in Latin America) has recently been vast. If 2 billion people are connected with a faith or worldview, that people group (far from being in danger of dying out) is a world leader, perhaps a nonpareil among people groups. That much is obvious. Of course one could go into… Read more »

Rosemary Hannah
Rosemary Hannah
12 years ago

“I can’t really believe that God’s purpose in creating man was to have a ready made adulatory claque who’s only role was to offer him constant praise.”

Nor me neither, but I can easily believe in a God who wants a loving relationship with all people, which I take it ‘enjoy him forever’ really means. ‘Glorify’? It as a Johannine code-word, as those drafting the Westminster confession would have known. It means, in John, to show the nature of love through self giving.

counterlight
12 years ago

The subway preachers here in New York treat straphangers to ferocious sermons with no escape until the train stops. They are not people I identify with at all. That, plus the hegemony of conservative “turn or burn” evangelical Christianity in this country for the last 30 years have only accelerated the trend toward secularism in the USA. I think a lot of people see Christianity these days as a kind of divine protection racket; tell us you’re with us and THIS won’t happen to you. For all the “All Jesus All the Time!” rhetoric of the past few decades, people… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Pat O'Neill
12 years ago

Christopher Shell:

It doesn’t bother you that the more educated and informed a population is the less likely it is to be Christian? That all the growth in Christianity is in areas of the world mired in poverty and illiteracy?

I know it doesn’t bother you that the version of Christianity growing in those places is one that is centered in fundamentalism and adherence to law, as opposed to love and charity, so I won’t even go there.

Ford ELms
Ford ELms
12 years ago

“Could extremism bring an end to the church?”

I don’t think God would let anything, even fundamentalists and extremists, bring an end to the Church. They might, however, bring an end to the world. They certainly have, and will continue to, bring and end to people’s lives.

choirboyfromhell
choirboyfromhell
12 years ago

“The twentieth century has been rightly called the Christian century.” -Who said this? Quotes please. “Whether the oft-quoted stat that there were as many professing Christians in that century as in the nineteen previous centuries put together is accurate or not, the fact remains that Christian growth in Africa, SE Asia (and Pentecostal growth in Latin America)” -Robbing sheep from the Roman Church in the last example doesn’t count as growth. “..has recently been vast. If 2 billion people are connected with a faith or worldview, that people group (far from being in danger of dying out) is a world… Read more »

Joan of Quark
Joan of Quark
12 years ago

Christopher Shell said, “Whether the oft-quoted stat that there were as many professing Christians in that century as in the nineteen previous centuries put together is accurate or not”

Given that population growth has been exponential, this would be extraordinarily unsurprising. It could also be said of tall people, blondes, etc. etc.

Ford Elms
Ford Elms
12 years ago

“the more all-out Christians”

And what could be more “all out Christian” than seeking to jail the people one judges to be sinful and undeserving of Christian love, than slandering and denying the faith of all those who do not agree with this position, and with fostering a persecution complex? And, “apathetic, cultural Christians?” I’m with choirboy on this one.

“people would – dishonestly – be motivated more by considerations other than truth.”

Indeed! Most conservatives, especially when it comes to the “gay issue”, certainly seem motivated more by considerations other than truth.

rick allen
12 years ago

“It doesn’t bother you that the more educated and informed a population is the less likely it is to be Christian? That all the growth in Christianity is in areas of the world mired in poverty and illiteracy?” The question’s not directed to me, and I’m not sure if the correlation is as clean as suggested, but the question deserve some kind of answer. It certainly shouldn’t bother us, I think, if Christianity is embraced by the poor, who are indeed less well educated. “Good news to the poor” was one of the first ways that Jesus characterized his message,… Read more »

counterlight
12 years ago

I should also add that I have to explain what Protestant Christianity is to room-fulls of Protestant Christian students who’ve never heard the term.

Pat O'Neill
Pat O'Neill
12 years ago

Rick:

My problem isn’t that Christianity is attractive to the poor; my problem is that it isn’t attractive to the educated. At least, not as it’s currently being presented to them.

drdanfee
drdanfee
12 years ago

In USA the functional questions mostly involve whether there is a strictly penal deity alive and well, as the most stereotyped conservative believers preach. Or, whether there is another – some say, larger – deity alive and well whose essential height and depth are best imaged by real love in all its vexed embodiments and manifestations in global human life. Some would add in there, animal life, too. Especially given our ongoing global crisis of sustainability. Funny how nicely those strict penal theologies still nail Jesus to the same cross we humans (temple, state, rabble rousing crowd?) used the first… Read more »

orfanum
orfanum
12 years ago

I have only limited experience of this but in the one Asian nation I can reasonably claim any close knowledge of (South Korea), where fundamentalist Christianity has been on a growth spurt in recent decades, I would say that this phenomenon of itself very highly inflected by culture, and driven to a very large extent, not particularly by knowledge of the truth of Christianity or the Bible, but by such things for example as the remnants of Japanese colonial hegemony (a very hierarchical system that will not allow of questioning and which fuels orthodoxy), the Korean diaspora (the missionizing element),… Read more »

An ordinary atheist
An ordinary atheist
12 years ago

Interesting that most Christians in this forum are reacting to the second, less important, part of the message on the bus: that religious propaganda often carries threatening overtones… rather than the first: there’s no god. (The ‘probably’ just refers to the remote possibility of there being one — about as remote as the possibility that this mouse attached to my computer is a real mouse that assumes the look of a computer mouse only when I walk into the room!) Shouldn’t you all be considering how much of your lives you’ve wasted (or may have wasted, if you prefer) believing… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Christopher Shell
12 years ago

It is good that Orfanum raises the South Korea question. South Korea and Singapore are good examples of nations both very Christian and very intelligent. Choirboy’s point on RCs/Pentecostals in Latin America: yes, this did not increase the number of self-identified Christians, but it did increase the number of Christians who were Christians in some more meaningful sense than simply ‘inheriting’ the title ‘Christian’. It increased the number of enthusiastic Christians and thereby decreased the chances of your prophecy on the death of the church coming to pass. Counterlight, I amn delighted that many ‘protestants’ do not understand the word… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Christopher Shell
12 years ago

Joan of Quark’s point is good and true, but I was thinking more in terms of overall proportion of world citizens who were Christian in 2000 as oppposed to 1900 – see Peter Brierley’s Atlas of World Christianity (essentially a book of graphs and stats). The quotation ‘Christian Century’ may or may not be found in that book – should we google it? – but the book demonstrates that it is a phrase that can be used without inaccuracy. The ‘less educated’ point made by Pat I am not sure about. I heve already mentioned SKorea and Singapore, but also… Read more »

Erika Baker
Erika Baker
12 years ago

“Shouldn’t you all be considering how much of your lives you’ve wasted (or may have wasted, if you prefer) believing in something that doesn’t exist?”

What makes you think that a life of faith is wasted?
Or do you think we believe in this spoil sport God who forces us all to live terrible goody goody lives when we’d actually much rather go out and be naughty?

The reason no-one has asked your question is because it is completely irrelevant and merely betrays a complete lack of understanding what faith is about.

Pat O'Neill
Pat O'Neill
12 years ago

“It increased the number of enthusiastic Christians and thereby decreased the chances of your prophecy on the death of the church coming to pass.”

The makes the presumption that those who in Latin America who were Roman Catholic by birth were not “enthusiastic”. What evidence is there that this is the case?

choirboyfromhell
choirboyfromhell
12 years ago

C. Shell: “You speak of this particular waste as universal whereas in fact it is only anglican.” That is not true in the U.S., as many fundamentalist churches have disproportionately used us gays and lesbians as scapegoats, and have actively worked towards legislation to not only bar my kin from codifying our relationships, to fighting against the introduction of discrimination laws protecting us. Perhaps if more fundamentalists saw signs like this on buses (they all drive SUV’s over here and probably have never been on a public transit bus, LOL), then they would know the sting of exclusion, and would… Read more »

counterlight
12 years ago

“Shouldn’t you all be considering how much of your lives you’ve wasted (or may have wasted, if you prefer) believing in something that doesn’t exist?”

Strident absolutist religious fundamentalism creates a strident absolutist secularism.

Why am I not surprised. Tis but the other side of the same coin.

Rev L Roberts
Rev L Roberts
12 years ago

I appreciate an ordinary atheist for writng with concern.

However, for me, it is about the imagination, the inner life, the poetic as well as to do with action.

I believe in Pegotty too–and some are sure she lived. But she did and does.

Also there are different forms of Christian engagment, including nonealism and non-theistic expressions of religion, also leading to enrichment of the inner life, and of the outer, in various forms of social engagment and projects, often.

Hope of interest.

orfanum
orfanum
12 years ago

Ordinary atheist: Even if our lives were based on a fiction, as long as the fiction were operative to the good, that would be sufficient for me. We live by many fictions – though I am not suggesting that some fictions are more equal than others – and I have tried out a good amount of them: Marxist, Secularist, Buddhist, Vegan, Pacifist, etc., etc. What simply is the result of the lived narrative? “This is our story” is one of the best lines I hear in going to church. You have your story too: go with it, and go in… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
12 years ago

“Shouldn’t you all be considering how much of your lives you’ve wasted (or may have wasted, if you prefer) believing in something that doesn’t exist?” – An ordinary atheist – One might answer you by saying, “What you’ve never experienced, you may never miss”. Those of us who have a lively faith – in anything or anyone – obviously have a reason for this faith. Don’t knock it. It may be that one day you, yourself, may find someone, or some ideal, that you have come to cherish. Then you may find a differecne in the way you spend your… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Christopher Shell
12 years ago

Hi Pat- Three reasons: (1) To be pentecostal/charismatic is to partake in what Knox and others classified as ‘enthusiasm’. Of course he used it in a technical sense, but there is a clear overlap between technical and nontechnical senses. (2) The traffic is largely from RC to Pentecostal – I have not heard of much traffic to speak of in the other direction. Those who know both from the inside are the people best placed (ie better placed than us) to say which they prefer. (3) RCs are in the nature of things more likely to be second-hand, nominal or… Read more »

Ford Elms
Ford Elms
12 years ago

“To be pentecostal/charismatic is to partake in what Knox and others classified as ‘enthusiasm’.” It is also to reject “dispassion”, which, up till the advent of such “enthusiastic” worship, was considered a Christian virtue. Still is in Traditional Christianity. Giving in to the Passions is an easy way to be led astray. “The traffic is largely from RC to Pentecostal” Which, to me, proves the point. I believe ecstatic experiences are part of what it is to be human, and as expressed in Pentecostalism, they have the same nature as those similar extatic states experienced by those who practice Voodoo.… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Pat O'Neill
12 years ago

What Ford said.

And, further, I think such “enthusiasm” often results in a (or from, it goes both ways) a lack of rationalism. And, as reason is one of the most important things that sets Anglicanism apart from Christian denominations, I have difficulty seeing how this evangelical/Pentecostal form of worship is in any way Anglican.

Erika Baker
Erika Baker
12 years ago

Pat
Your faith never has moments of closeness without rationalism??
How astonishing!
Or is it not rather a question of balance?

Pat O'Neill
Pat O'Neill
12 years ago

Erika:

It is, indeed, a question of balance…and I observe nothing “balanced” in most evangelical worship. It impresses me, mostly, as the giving way of human reason to pure emotion.

Father Ron Smith
12 years ago

“I have difficulty seeing how this evangelical/Pentecostal form of worship is in any way Anglican.” – Pat O’Neill – au contraire, mon ami! I believe that the wave of Pentecostalism that entered the Churches – Anglican and Roman Catholic among them – in the 1960’s – 1970’s was a breath of fresh air, in its renewal of the understanding of the place of the Holy Spirit in both theology and praxis. Worship, for instance, became much more lively and one might say even exciting, because of the realisation that the Spirit of God was raising up charisms and ministries among… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Pat O'Neill
12 years ago

Father Ron:

I quite agree regarding the Spirit still speaking to us today…although I think if we go about shouting and waving our hands in paroxysms of allegedly charismatic fervor, we are unlikely to hear Its voice–because we are drowning it out with our own.

Ford Elms
Ford Elms
12 years ago

“one of the most important things that sets Anglicanism apart from Christian denominations,”

I think perhaps you left the word “other” out of this, maybe? It made for a good chuckle this morning!;-)

Erika Baker
Erika Baker
12 years ago

Pat “although I think if we go about shouting and waving our hands in paroxysms of allegedly charismatic fervor, we are unlikely to hear Its voice–because we are drowning it out with our own.” YOU would be unlikely to hear its voice. I, too, would probably find it difficult but not impossible. Others would very clearly hear his voice. The Spirit moves each one of us in the way we can best perceive him. There is no one pattern fits all. Thank God for all the different traditions! How limiting it would be if we all had to respond to… Read more »

Ford Elms
Ford Elms
12 years ago

“Just because some went too far in appropriating the charisms associated with Spirit-filled ministries, morphing eventually into breakaway sects from the mainline Churches, is no reason to dismiss the validity of the power of the Holy Spirit at work in both mission and ministry today.” In a way, I agree with your assessment of the need to appreciate the Power of the Spirit. I would argue, though, that if the “revival” of these charisms led to the kind of fractiousness, and at times out and out evil on the part of thsoe carrying out these practices, perhaps they are not… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Pat O'Neill
12 years ago

Ford:

Yes, indeed, I did mean “OTHER Christian denominations”…the result of editing on the fly.

And, further, I agree entirely with your response to Father Ron.

Erika:

I understand your thoughts…but I find it (at the very least) amusing that the kind of physical activity that was once considered evidence of demonic possession is now thought (by some) to be evidence of the Holy Spirit.

H. E. Baber
12 years ago

I’d never have become a Christian if I’d had much experience with the church on the ground–not because of punitive puritanism or scary crucifixes but because from the whole thing looks so dull, pointless and banal. What is going on anyway? A bunch of people dressing up, friendly greetings at the door, a ceremony much like a school assembly with music and a talk on how nice it is to be nice. What, I’d have though, is the point of belonging to this boring civic organization with a bunch of people I don’t find particularly interesting or congenial, who organize… Read more »

choirboyfromhell
choirboyfromhell
12 years ago

Well yes Erika, I guess I should agree, however one of the unspoken requirements for Episcopalian worship was anything as long as it was in good taste…

And don’t think that Cathedral worship styles lack any emotion. I’ve wept uncontrollably at many an evensong, as well as seen many tears from others, even a canon or two.

Father Ron Smith
12 years ago

“I find it difficult to believe that what I see as hysteria is actually from the Spirit when those who practice that hysteria seem to think it entirely Christian to use any means necessary: trickery, threat, anger, judgementalism, and on and on, to coerce people into their particular belief system. If that is the fruits of the Spirit, I want nothing to do with the Spirit.” – Ford Elms – To Ford, and others who question the propriety or even the validity of pentecostalism evident in some churches; I do agree that there are instances of over-enthusiasm – in both… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Pat O'Neill
12 years ago

H.E. Baber:

I guess you see what you want to see. When I look at the same gathering you describe so negatively I see a diverse group of people (at least in MY parish)–young, middle-aged, old, black, white, Asian, male, female–acting together to worship a loving God. I see them learning–through the readings and sermons; I see them celebrating–through songs and greetings; I see them remembering–through calls to prayer for the sick and the dead.

Oh–and I don’t see them particularly “dressed up,” except on special occasions. God doesn’t much care what we wear, does he?

Erika Baker
Erika Baker
12 years ago

Choirboyfromhell “And don’t think that Cathedral worship styles lack any emotion. I’ve wept uncontrollably at many an evensong, as well as seen many tears from others, even a canon or two.” That’s my point. We all respond very deeply and sometimes deeply emotionally, when we are moved by the Spirit. Some of us do it silently in a rather refined setting, others do it very visibly in a very busy setting. The difference is merely temperatmental. Pat If we only go by what “is considered” to have a particular meaning by those who do not experience it, we might still… Read more »

Erika Baker
Erika Baker
12 years ago

Fr Ron
“One problem that still persists, is when a newly converted person insists that everyone has to
speak in ‘tongues’ before being acknowledged by them as a ‘true Christian’.”

You mean something like fundagelicals insisting that you have to say particular words in order to take the Lord Jesus into your life and be saved?

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