God's Not Dead, but We Must Keep Him Alive?
The movie "God's Not Dead" was released on DVD about a month ago. I still haven't seen the film, but I'm familiar with the premise and plot of the picture. I've also heard that, at the end of the movie, the credits actually instruct the viewer to text everyone they know with the message "God's Not Dead". This is not only an attempt to embolden viewers about sharing their faith– it's also a way of heightening the profile of the movie. It's a shameless bit of... *ahem*... cross-promotion.
When I first saw the trailer for this film, I found myself thinking about Tinkerbell Effect, named after the fairy character from the story Peter Pan. In the play, and in several further adaptations, Tinkerbell is saved from a near-death experience because the audience claps loudly to revive her– their faith in her existence literally keeps her alive.
Are we treating God like tinkerbell?
The most zealous fundamentalists, of all faith perspectives, believe their views on God are right and true. They are the first to profess that God exists whether or not anyone believes in Him– and yet, they speak out in culture as though they are insecure about Him.
Christians are particularly sensitive to this, for a few specific reasons:
We believe we are required to convince others of God's existence
We confuse faith with "mental certainty" or "agreement"
Certain scriptures are interpreted to reinforce the tinkerbell effect
The simplest and clearest example of all these forces working together is found in one of the promotional images for the film spreading around Facebook.
And there are other examples here, in case you haven't been on Facebook in a few minutes.
My favourite form of this kind of stuff went all the way to print. In a tragically funny bit of irony, a Christian group tried to make an ad about ignoring Jesus (probably targeted towards the Millennial Generation). Unfortunately, they mixed up who was sending and who was receiving the texts:
I'm sure you've seen many of these sorts of things before. Oftentimes images like this will be shared with a little guilt-trip instructional: "Share this if you aren't ashamed of Jesus!" or "It's time to share our faith, if you're brave!"
I don't doubt the people who spread these sorts of things have the best intentions. I'm just concerned that some of the reasons we communicate like this are harmful to the message we carry.
I used to get chain emails to my hotmail account, back when MSN Messenger was the highest form of social media available for all the awkward teenagers. They would often use the same sort of tactics to increase their shareability: "Pass this email along or your mom will get cancer!" Really, what kind of hope do we have if we have to be guilt-tripped into giving it away? If the good news has to be coaxed out of us through guilt and shame, and it doesn't immediately encourage the hearer, can we really call it "good news"?
Can the truth rise to the surface? Or do we have to clap and cheer to keep it alive?
I support and respect people's desire to share their faith with others, and although Facebook is more impersonal than we sometimes realize, I am not opposed to faith-based images or encouraging phrases. I just think guilt and shame are poor motivators, and sometimes our "faith-based initiatives" are actually just "insecurity-based initiatives".
Authentic faith doesn't first engage in an argument. Authentic faith invites others to the same lookout, confident they will enjoy the same view!
A superior reality will always transcend a lesser one. There may be genuine conflict and contradiction in culture as we share our perspective on God and His reality, but we don't have to put on our boxing gloves and pick a fight. My Dad often says, "If they can be argued into your view, they can be argued out of it." I suppose a modern update of the same maxim could read, "If they're convinced by a Facebook meme, they'll change their minds when they see different one."
And one final thing...
If you refuse to share a Christian meme, Jesus won't disown you before His Father in heaven.
Just so you know.