Thursday, April 7, 2011


I am intrigued by the church marquis. When I travel, I find myself rubbernecking to definite statements like “If you are looking for a good sign from God, you've just found it” or “The best vitamin for a Christian is B1” or “Come in. Our church is prayer conditioned” or “Get an afterlife” or “Don't put a question mark where God put a period.” I am sure psychology determines the content of what goes on a church sign. What I am not sure about is why people put much stock in them. They are, after all, witticisms. What if science labs had marquis with messages like "If you're too open-minded, your brains will fall out" or "Torture numbers, and they'll confess to anything" or "The farther the experiment is from theory, the closer it is to the Nobel Prize" or "Don’t think. Experiment." I wonder then how seriously science would be taken.

No, there is a sobriety and, forgive the pun, gravity to Newton’s Law Every body remains in a state of constant velocity unless acted upon by an external, unbalanced force. There is hardly anything funny about that at all except, say, when someone accidentally runs into a large, plate glass window. While I am not begrudging places of worship the poetic licensure to lure visitors through clever means, I am intrigued at how cynicism so easily morphs into belief and how very certain people are that marquis-sized bits of faith will change their lives.

Someone might object, but give me a minute to apply this kind of faith to some actual thing. Let’s apply the applicability of the marquis sign “Soul food served here”, no, no, let’s do “Prevent truth decay. Brush up on your Bible.” Let’s extract the essential meaning of the witticism to be “Read your Bible and you will stay on course.” Ok. How are we to validate the truthfulness of that statement? First, we would have to determine what “staying on course” means. Second, we would need to survey people who do and who do not read their Bibles. Thirdly, we would have to evaluate the quality of life each group displays in areas of “staying on course.” That means something. That is an evaluation.

George Barna, founder of the Barna Research Group, says of his polls “We rarely find substantial differences between the moral behavior of Christians and non-Christians.” His project director echoes the same by saying "We would love to be able to report that Christians are living very distinct lives and impacting the community, but ... in the area of divorce rates they continue to be the same." 

Now here is a conundrum. It is widely assumed amongst the Christian community that Christians are better off when it comes to marriage. After all, they have Christ. The same goes for Christian athletes. They have Christ. And Christian musicians and Christian entertainers and Christian waitresses and Christian lovers of chocolate all have Christ. So we would extrapolate that, Christ, being common to all of them, would make them better off in their particular ventures. If I am wrong, then stop reading.

David Popenoe who co-directs the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University says that Barna’s survey does not make sense. Because Christians naturally follow “Biblical models of the family”, the survey has to be wrong. In addition, Christians have a bond “the secular world doesn’t have.” I have not spoken to Mr. Popenoe, but I assume that he might hesitate to say that a salami sandwich eaten by a Christian is more nutritious than a salami sandwich eaten by a non-Christian. And do you know why? He would either see salami as a neutral item with no secular or sacred claim or he would see salami as a secular item with no sacred claim. If he took the third option and believed salami to have a sacred claim, then the salami would have to be made by a Christian, cut by a Christian, from the store of Christian or somehow substantially connected to a Christian. His argument about Barna’s findings, however, says nothing substantial or helpful about marriage or divorce because he is merely saying “I don’t believe that to be true, therefore, it is not true."

Tom Ellis, spokesman on this topic for the Southern Baptist Convention, believes the Barna poll to be inaccurate because he takes issue with whether or not the people polled were actually Christian. They might consider themselves to be Christian without jumping through the real hoop of actually becoming "saved." He says "We believe that there is something more to being a Christian...Just saying you are [a born-again] Christian is not going to guarantee that your marriage is going to stay together.” This argument is actually more reasonable than Popenoe’s, because Ellis asks for further evidence of the faith of those polled. I will paraphrase the antithesis of his statement to be “If you do more than say you are a Christian, it will guarantee that your marriage is going to stay together.” Now, all we need to do is to find out what more is. We know it is not merely saying because Mr. Ellis already told us that. If he could qualify more, then we might actually have a chance at re-polling the people who qualify to be in the survey. On the other hand, why should we poll them? We already know what Mr. Ellis’ findings will be: he will find all the real Christians polled to be married and not divorced.

Barna’s statistics show that Atheists and Agnostics have a lower divorce rate. Wow. Certain pollsters think that religion does not factor into divorce statistics at all. Of course, what they mean by “religion” is “an intellectual position.” I would like to suggest that they would not mind my definition of their definition of religion: “a set of beliefs with no bearing upon anything in this world largely because it is otherworldly- centered which means absolutely nothing at all to this world or the next, even to the people who hold such beliefs in this way.” 

What the researchers seem to be saying is that the things that cause the ruin of a marriage are real things that create weight that if stronger than the marriage will crush it. Similarly, the things that contribute to the survival of marriage are things which actually convert to strength within the marriage so that the marriage is able to withstand those real things that would otherwise crush it.

But that goes for all marriages. There is no special force-field for just Christians or any other sect or group. I am surprised at the kinds of blanket statements I receive from people who are quick to disavow the authenticity of someone's faith because they now fall on the "other" side of their special category. As time goes on, the "special" group gets smaller and smaller.

The same kind of rain falls on just and unjust alike. Real things like finances and education and habits and relatives and work. We are not talking about whether or not you are preterist or an Arminian or a fundamentalist in a theological position you hold only in your head to pull out for leisurely jousts when you have nothing better to do. 

I am surprised at how many of my religious friends who wrestle with marriage problems will tell me things are better just because they are reading the Bible together or just because they are going to church more frequently or just because they are listening to Christian worship music. I really am. I don’t know how to react to these sorts of people. They stand there waiting for me to say something affirmative and all I can come up with is “God answers kneemail.”


  1. Great article, Robbie. Good food for thought. I love the punch line.

    I don't know why you'd be surprised at "religious" friends who feel they are "fixing" their marriage by doing "religious" activity. Too often, "religious" or not, people's response to a problem is to "do something".

    The reality is our problems will not be "solved at the same level of thinking as created them." Hence, the need for internal, fundamental change - shifts in thinking. And, thus an evolution of our being not doing.

  2. Wow, Robbie, you hit the nail on the head. We get a little glitzy, crappy costume jewelry on in Jesus name and then we think we are gonna' be good and everything we touch or partake in (marriage) is gonna' turn into a gold nugget. Baloney. There is a law of sowing and reaping and the benefits fall on anyone who decides to make good choices. If anyone pursues mutual love and respect in a marriage is probably going to have a pretty good marriage. Christian or not and yes, I have seen non-Christians have much better marriages than so-called "Christians". Truly sad, but sadly true. Keep writing my friend, this IS good.

  3. Oh, and btw, I hate, loathe, despise and abominate those blasted, stupid church signs, which in this town are EVERYWHERE with dumb sayings and retarded, tiny-brained thoughts on them. Sorry...had to say that!

  4. @Christopher. I could not have said it more succinctly (which is why I didn't): "The reality is our problems will not be 'solved at the same level of thinking as created them.' Hence, the need for internal, fundamental change - shifts in thinking. And, thus an evolution of our being not doing."

    @Question Everything. Hahaha, your great city sports the silliest of marquis messages. I will always remember a church on the corner of Airport and Davis Highway that had a banner out front that said "AN ALIVE CHURCH." The front door and windows of the church had been boarded up, probably because the church had gone bankrupt or something. I was wondering when someone would have the conscience to take it down.

  5. The end made me laugh heartily. Thank you.

    I have long had a dark fantasy where I roam the country in a black overcoat hiding a shotgun and in the dead of night blast the church marquees to smithereens.

    Your observations are spot on. I would totally expect that the stats show Christians have more divorce. Being spiritual warfare targets, having poor assumptions, and offering weak solutions are the differences that make that inevitable. Unless we start changing the latter 2 it will remain so.

  6. It'sfunnmy Robby. I want to say, "but surely the presence of the Holy Spirit, reliance on God's Word and His guidance, these all make a difference." But in the end I am still a christian who got divorced.
    And the signs that bug me the most are the ones that quote God, "Don't make me come down there." I keep waiting for large fireballs to strike the sign.

  7. @Dennas. What a wonderful graphic novel that would make! You could call it Marquis

    @Easton Sorry, my friend. I remember the first time a friend's parents divorced. He told me that his parents divorced because someone broke the toilet. I believed every word of it. It always comes down to some "earthy" thing.

  8. Praying together is nice. I prefer the exploration of depravity. And maybe this is prayer?

    Maya Angelo quotes a philosopher and says, "Nothing human is alien to me." Exploring ones imperfections is a beautiful thing, when one realizes that...This I see in you, is also in me.

  9. Ach, Kristen, Maya's quote has been my motto for years: "Nil humanun alienum a me puto."


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