For the Narcissist Lover in You…

Bumper Sticker People (or “Facebook Makes a Lazy Zealot”)

I don’t know which is more irritating: my religious friends who wear their beliefs like they’re a designer label (and in some cases that’s a literal thing) or my political friends who reduce their core philosophies to smarmy smart-ass one-liners.  Bumper-sticker-philosophy takes many forms: Facebook posts, online comments-section trolls, tee shirt slogans, and the good old-fashioned literal bumper stickers plastered all over a car’s ass-end like a gaggle of street preachers spit-screaming on a corner.   If you are one of these people, let me begin by saying, with all due respect, that you are, quite likely, an obnoxious, hypocritical buffoon (no offense).

I’ve always been annoyed by bumper-sticker-people and I think I have finally figured out why.  The following are the four reasons why bumper-sticker-people are a ketchup stain on the white pants of society.

#4 They are Lazy.

The Bumper-Sticker-Person (hereafter referred to not-so-affectionately as the BSP) assumes that changing the world is actually sooper-dooper easy.  They would never admit it, but apparently they think that Jesus, for example, was a chump.  Same for Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and all those other people who attempted to change the world by actually caring for individual human beings, one by one by one.  Chumps and rubes, all of ’em.  Jesus, for example, was constantly annoying his closest followers by insisting on the messy business of getting down among the people, talking to them, hanging out with them where they were, getting to know even the hookers and the tax collectors (and what a scandal that was with the Bumper Sticker People of the day).  His disciples basically said, “dude, just call down fire from the sky and let God sort ’em all out”, but Jesus insisted that if the world was going to change, it was going to change one heart at a time.

A lot o religious types can’t bother with this, though.  It’s too time consuming (and might actually require them to know people who don’t believe what they do).  Instead, they post Bible verses on Facebook.  Or lyrics from some cheesy Christian song.  Or smarmy text-graphic quotes from Joel Osteen.  I know what they would say to this, of course– I grew up in the church, after all.  They’d say “God’s word doesn’t return void” (for those who don’t speak Christianese, that’s a reference that basically says the words of the Bible have their own power to change people).  That may be true, but the Bible also says that if you blather on without any real love, you’re just making a bunch of obnoxious noise.  How much personal love does it take to stick a God-blurb on your FB status?  I think that gets measured in what is technically known as “good intentions”, which, on the scale of actual effectiveness, rings up a big fat zero.  It doesn’t work, and it’s laaaaaa-zy.

“I changed the world with FB and still had time to leave a dead mouse in the devil’s shoe.”

Of course, this isn’t just true for the religious BSP.  Whether it is a political philosophy, a social issue, or a charitable cause, reducing one’s beliefs to a smarmy one-liner and foisting it on the world is just plain wimpy.  In terms of positively affecting the world, the lazy BSP is approximately as effective as a speed bump in front of a hurricane.  The absolute only thing it accomplishes is making the BSP feel one notch more self righteous.  Oh, and it annoys the people they are ostensibly trying to reach.  Way to go, BSP!  Also:

#3 They are insulting.

The BSP thinks he or she is so enlightened, so cosmically gifted with insight, that centuries of intense debate can be thrust aside with a single well-chosen zinger.  Never mind that the BSP is rarely quoting themselves– they have simply found a pre-packaged statement that agrees with what they already sorta think– they insist that they’re impersonal little phrase or diatribe can nullify even the most intelligent and reasoned argument.  And they somehow manage to believe that this is not insulting.  It does not occur to the BSP that minds far, far more intelligent than them have been evaluating their philosophy, both positively and negatively, for decades and perhaps centuries.  It further does not occur to them that, were they ever to engage with someone who truly understood the argument, the BSP would most likely end up displaying how woefully little they actually know about the topic.

Issues are complicated.  They deserve to be debated in detail, with respect for the fact that there are (usually) intelligent, reasonable people on all sides.  This does not mean that everyone is somehow right.  I know that’s an exceptionally popular postmodern philosophy, but it makes as much sense as saying it makes no diff whether you sprinkle salt or arsenic on your chowder.  Everyone wants a postmodern architect; nobody wants a postmodern engineer.  Some things really must be either right or wrong, not both/and.  If you disagree, apply that attitude to something you feel really strongly about– say, climate change.  Are you content to believe that those on the other side are just as right as you are?  If not, congrats, you have a functioning brain, and that brain of yours knows that issues are complicated because they are important, and have potentially serious consequences.  The BSP insists otherwise, substituting serious debate for condescending, one-sided sound-bytes.

This is most hilariously displayed in online comments sections.  There, the insults go from implied to gleefully overt, as if the writer seriously believes that misspelled hate-speech and generalized diatribes about the rank stupidity of anyone who disagrees with them are the best methods of converting the masses.  This, I might be so bold as to suggest, is particularly true of more liberal-minded people, but I am willing to give them a pass on it.  After all, they have been seamlessly culture-trained to believe that their philosophy (liberal politics, atheism, veganism, climate change, indie singer-songwriter music) is the only intelligent and rational option.  They have so absorbed this cultural meme that they sincerely believe that anyone who disagrees with them is a brainless mini-Hitler.

In fact, this is such a powerful prejudice that it is now absolutely forbidden to seriously investigate any opposing argument.  If you fall into this philosophical category, ask yourself this: what books have you read from an opposing viewpoint (and don’t pretend they don’t exist, otherwise you’re just proving my point)?  Can you quote the argument of anyone who believes differently without adopting a mocking tone of voice?  Are you proud of not having any friends who are Republican/religious/country-music-fans/etc?  Ask yourself these questions seriously, and then ask yourself this: since when is making a decision about an important life-decision based on willful ignorance of the opposing side a reasonable, intelligent thing?

Pictured: probably not a Ditto-head.

If you did actually ask yourself those questions, congrats again: you probably aren’t a BSP.  The BSP is not self-aware enough to question themselves.  They hide behind their collection of canned insults and smug zingers because they are too small to engage in actual debate.  Which brings us to:

#2 They don’t work.

Here’s some homework for you: go find a person who has altered a fundamental worldview because of some canned blurb they saw posted on Facebook.  Got them?  No you don’t, because such a person does not exist.  Try to imagine it for yourself: you are driving along and you see a pithy bumper sticker espousing a worldview you don’t adhere to.  Does it make you question what you believe?  Does it enlighten you to the validity of an opposing argument?  If it does, then you are far, far more open-minded than most people– or you don’t believe anything particularly strongly.

“I’ve been drive-by enlightened!!”

People simply do not form their opinions by absorbing cheap, impersonal slogans.  It does not happen.  Whether it is an evangelistic little Facebook post or a political tee shirt slogan, words divorced from relationship are meaningless at best and wildly counterproductive at worst.  But that’s OK, because of the last and number one most annoying thing about Bumper Sticker People:

#1 They Aren’t Intended to Work.

With few (generally clueless and socially inept) exceptions, the BSP does not engage in simplified arguments and drive-by FB evangelism for the purposes of winning anyone to the cause.  They tell themselves they have the purest of motives and that they are fighting the Good Fight, but deep down they know that they’re just jabbing at people, stirring up the opposition, and even actively repelling people who might have listened to a reasonable debate.  The BSP’s real motivation is to proclaim membership in an exclusive club of true believers– to rally those who share the same belief and repel those who don’t.  The goal (or, at best, the unintentional end result) of the BSP is to eventually surround themselves with a seamless bubble of people who agree with them utterly, and to ultimately insulate themselves from any challenge whatsoever.  The real aim is not unification and debate, but active division and close-mindedness.

I don’t mean to imply that the BSP is stupid.

If you are of the liberal persuasion, assume this is the obligatory picture of Sarah Palin.

I simply observe that the BSP, if allowed to persistently reduce their beliefs to insulting oversimplifications and disengage from all reasonable debate, will inevitably experience complete intellectual atrophy and become a functional idiot (I suppose that is the same as being stupid, actually).  They convince no one, and they ruin even their own convictions by refusing to have them sharpened by any intellectual challenge.

If you really want to change the world, you’re just going to have to do it the hard way– by developing relationships with people who are different from you, respecting the complexity of the issues, and being willing to engage in honest debate.  If your philosophies aren’t worth that kind of investment, then they certainly aren’t important enough to warrant a cheap slogan or anonymous diatribe.

Put THAT on your Facebook.

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8 responses

  1. David Michael Lee

    I believe that you are saying that I am the “ketchup stain on the white pants of society.”
    Great line… valid and true… I am just glad you did not reduce me to a “steaming pile of excrement on the sidewalk of society.” That being said… I have been told that my writings are nothing more than “meaningless drivel” I guess I will take those words as compliments now.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:18 am

  2. David, at least in your case I know you have the best intentions. I just seriously doubt the effectiveness of it. But you would surely know better about that, in your experience, than I.

    March 12, 2012 at 2:11 am

  3. David Michael Lee

    Effectiveness? I don’t know how to address that…

    Intentions….

    I know that a post on FB will not start the revolution of society towards Christ. That has never been my goal. My goal is somewhat more personal. I want to step out from behind the curtain that we as believers have. Like the Wizard of Oz , we stand and pull levers and blow smoke and act as if we are doing the great commission by just showing up at church a few Sunday’s a month and singing a few worship songs and dropping a dime in the plate as it is passed. Where is the commitment in that? I have learned that I can live just fine under a system that requires no accountability to anyone in my faith. The end result is just that… I could show up at church now and then and go through the motions… then on Monday to Saturday, no one would have to know that I was a believer or not. The sad truth is that when you really take a hard look at why we are still here after our salvation you will find that in the end it is about the great commission and the sharing our faith. What are we truly doing? … what are you truly doing to share your faith?

    If you can be the witness that God wants you to be, I am sure FB is not the platform that God would want everyone to use. For me it is about making myself accountable to God and to those who might read what I post. We do have a responsibility to post things that would not harm the cause of Christ…

    All I can say is that since I took a more open response about my faith on FB it has allowed me to be held accountable to my employees and co-workers. I was always held accountable by my family and my true friends, but I could hide my faith and beliefs from those I most needed to be a witness to. I stopped all political talk and focused on what I knew… my relationship with Jesus Christ. So in essence… I post, if for no other reason, to keep myself in check and accountable to my faith.

    March 12, 2012 at 4:37 am

    • Understood. I think.

      My perspective on this comes from working almost exclusively with people who are not only unaffected by drive-by Christian one-liners, but who are actively repelled by them (or worse, amused by them). They do not perceive such bumper stickers and FB comments as meaningful expressions of faith, but as the drone of mindless religious zombies. I really don’t like saying that (I know a lot of Christians like yourself who are not at all stupid) but the perception is very, very strong. While I respect being willing to be mocked for the faith, I also question whether it is wise to invite it. Jesus himself said, when discussing the great commission, that believers should be as gentle as doves, but as wise as serpents.

      Still, where you live things are surely much different than they are here. The city is cynical, and I work in a very, very cynical industry. For me, relationships are the only meaningful way to influence anyone, in any way. And I’m nowhere NEAR as wise as a serpent. Those things are way smart.

      March 12, 2012 at 4:20 pm

  4. I have no bumper stickers on my car (though I do confess to a Jesus tag on the front–not in an attempt to change the world, but merely to let others know where I stand). I’ve always said you can judge a person’s intelligence by his/her bumper stickers, though. I also confess to sticking a church bumper sticker on the car of someone else, covering up a particularly objectionable one in an attempt to protect young and innocent eyes. On that occasion, I was so offended that it was either cover up the sticker, or rip off the bumper. Truth compels me to admit, my first inclination was to rip off the bumper, or at least spray paint it.

    March 12, 2012 at 5:10 am

    • The concept of guerrilla-bumper stickering other people’s cars deserves serious consideration, Zixi. I, for one, love your attitude.

      March 12, 2012 at 5:31 am

  5. I think alot of the criticism of social network editorializing has been vastly overstated and based on false assumptions. like for example assuming that people expect that sharing ideologically-driven images and one-liners on Facebook will somehow change the world. How many people who share this stuff actually believe that? None. Just like the group you addressed, they don’t exist.

    More often than not people who throw out opinions on Facebook and elsewhere are just working out ideas in their own minds. People used to do this on physical notepads but now it’s become the norm for the same thing to be shared with the world instead. What’s changed is only how public stuff is … not what’s actually there. This kinda stuff has been there all along

    March 15, 2012 at 12:24 am

  6. You do recall that my number one most annoying thing about BSP is that they do not intend for it to actually work, yes? Rather, it is merely meant to rally like-minded people, because it is so much more comforting to be surrounded by agreement than to be challenged.

    In the spirit of that, though, thanks for challenging me! Seriously.

    I don’t quite see how your defense is, er, a defense. If I understand what you are saying, FB one-line-philosophizing and bumper sticker ideology is simply the individual “working out” their own thoughts and beliefs, albeit intentionally publicly.

    And how, exactly, is this a good thing? I tend to think that it would benefit the thinker much more to wait until they’ve fully formed their opinions in the privacy of their own head or perhaps a journal before spewing it around for everyone else to have to consider and respond to. Good grief, if I shared every half-formed, half-baked idea I had, I would sound like a much, MUCH bigger maniacal blowhard than I already do.

    If what you are saying is true, Nerd42, I find it, frankly, even less tolerable. For heaven’s sake, people, keep your thoughts in your heads until they are coherent and defensible in public debate.

    Or, at the very least, if you can’t figure out what you believe without writing it down, take Nerd’s advice and get a frikkin’ notepad.

    March 15, 2012 at 12:44 am

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