"Why believe in a God? Just be good for goodness' sake." So reads the series of ads appearing on Washington D.C. buses, courtesy of the American Humanist Association.
I gotta give the AHA some props here. Running the campaign in November and December is good timing, as it's one of the two times of year that even the "Christmas and Easter" Christians turn their thoughts toward faith. And as a lover of puns, their take on "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" is witty.
But am I the only one who sees the irony here?
They're questioning belief in God...using not a religious symbol, but the very symbol most Christians associate with the commercialism, greed, and well...secularism...that has overtaken Christmas. They're using a secular symbol to represent a religious entity.
Yes, yes, I know that Saint Nicholas was a real person and so on and so forth. But the guy in the picture isn't dressed in the gear of a bishop. He's ready to hang out on some housetops with flying reindeer, or at least sit on a throne in your local mall.
Maybe I'm overthinking this, but in my humble opinion, by using the admittedly catchy double entendre of "be good for goodness' sake," they screwed up their message.
On top of that, their play on words is also taking advantage of some pretty bad theology. After all, they're implying that Christians don't just try to be and do good for the sake of being and doing good, but rather for some other reason. Maybe so God won't get mad at us ("us" being Christians). Or because the Bible says so and we're incapable of doing our own thinking on the subject. Or maybe because we need to live up to some sort of standard for salvation.
All of that, to be perfectly frank, is horse puckey.
Why do Christians try to be and do good? Precisely for the sake of being and doing good. Because Christ's death and resurrection has freed us from having to live up to any sort of standard, because we're free from needing to live for ourselves, we are empowered to live for others. That's the good news of the gospel--the good news isn't something that we have to wait for after we die (contrary to what many Christians would have you believe), the good news isn't that we no longer get to think for ourselves because the Bible does all our thinking for us (also contrary to what you'll hear from many Christians), the good news is that we have been freed from the power of sin, death, and all that seeks and serves to enslave.
We can live for the sake of our neighbor. Not out of fear, but out of love. That's a life worth living, and it unfortunately is what the AHA's ad campaign has distorted. I don't blame 'em. I honestly doubt it was through any malicious intent. The theology they're putting in our mouths is a theology that is often proclaimed, and loudly, wrong as it may be. It's just too bad that so many non-Christians have a distorted view of what Christian faith and life can be about.
We Christians need to re-frame the story we're telling. Because if we don't do it ourselves, others (like the AHA, or even other Christian groups) will do it for us. And we might not like the story they have to tell about us.