Last week, a friend of mine posted on Facebook about a particularly nasty sign outside a church here in Auckland. I asked her more about it and she told me that it was outside Greyfriars Church, which is on Mt Eden Road, and that she walked past it every day and would agree to taking a photo to send me.
Here’s the photo she took:
Or, as I might paraphrase it, “if you’re not one of us your life is pointless”. Gee, thanks Greyfriars Church, I sure feel welcome now. As another commenter on Facebook said:
Might as well said “Life without god is like a blunt pencil, easily fixed with a sharp blade.”
This is the kind of negative message I both love and hate to see being displayed by a church. This sort of thing excites me because I can see how it could be effective in driving people away from the church and generating negative publicity for it by bringing its bigotry to centre stage, but at the same time seeing such anti-atheist prejudice in my own city saddens me.
The underlying philosophy of messages like this is that human life has a global purpose, and that purpose was given to us by the Christian god. Following on from that, you can reach 2 conclusions:
- In order to fulfill one’s purpose in life, one must dedicate their life to “God’s plan”.
- To distance oneself from God is to distance one’s life from purpose.
This message is basically conveying the second conclusion here. It’s similar to the tactic of threatening people with hell, but a bit less extreme. I imagine those who wrote the text on the sign thought it would sound more like an offer, as in “join us and we can help you find purpose”, but to me it reads more like “never forget you are less than we are”.
I understand that the concept of “God’s plan”, associated with this idea of a universal purpose, is generally considered a comforting idea among Christians. The justification for this, as I understand it, is that the concept of always having a guiding hand over their lives lessens the bad things in life by making them a necessary part of this plan.
However, as I see it, the main function of this concept is one of disempowerment. They are told that their lives belong to another. They are told both that they have free will and that the right thing to do is to renounce their freedom that they might better serve as the hand and the mouth of their god. In particular, this is the core of evangelism.
The concept of a divine purpose to life in general is usually seen as comforting because it is compared with a life with no purpose, as demonstrated by this sign. Of course, one need only look at the world to realise how massively false this is. There are millions of people living lives without any gods who are driven and passionate and, yes, purposeful. The difference is that we are not passively accepting another’s cause for our lives, but determining our own purposes.
This is the truly empowering idea. Your purpose is your own. It comes from within you and from all around you, and it is whatever you want it to be. It never has to be set in stone, and it never has to change, but it depends on you, and while people may be able to take freedom from you, they cannot take your purpose unless you let them. It saddens me greatly to see so many allow churches to take their own purposes away and replace them with the empty plan of an absentee god.