When I was a kid, I collected comic books, strictly Marvel. Back when Nick Fury was a white guy and the Hulk could talk. Simpler times. I had a whole raft of the comics I’d buy every month. Take any one of them and flip over the cover, and you’d see the same thing every time: a full-page ad so crammed with gizmos and wonders that surely any red-blooded boy would be compelled to take a hammer to his piggy bank.
I’ll admit, I was tempted. The one I really wanted was the X-Ray Specs. Just think. But that would mean I couldn’t buy all my comics that month. You could see the bind I was in. Also featured:
- You Can Have a HE-MAN Voice!—Brought to you by the good folks at the Perfect Voice Institute Chicago, Ill.
- 1001 insults and putdowns for all occasions
- Hercules Wrist Band—Double Strap for the “he-man” look. Get two—one for each arm
- Sea Monkeys—“So eager to please, they can even be trained!”
- The Hypno-Coin—“Brought to you by the good people at Hypnotic Aids Supply Co. of New York, NY.”
I asked my buddy Mark, who also collected comics as a kid—and who, in fact, is a professional cartoonist—if he remembered those ads, and he did. In fact, he actually bought one of the products, forking over $6.95 for the Polaris Nuclear Sub. I instantly remembered it. In the ad, the picture shows two boys inside the sub, one driving and one using the periscope. The picture even showed the sub firing a missile. (See image below.) Turns out, all Mark bought were blueprints for how to make the sub out of cardboard and a piece of aluminum foil to be used as the reflective device in the periscope. Mark informs me the missile was nowhere to be found. He checked twice.
They could get away with this stuff because truth-in-advertising laws hadn’t been invented yet. Nowadays, advertisers have to be craftier. They don’t come right out and tell you they can grant you the power to look under women’s clothes. They just allude. If you want to conclude that drinking a certain beer will automatically lead to partying with hot bikini babes, that’s on you.
I bring this up because I recently read the book A Personal God: Can You Really Know the One Who Made the Universe? by Christianity Today senior writer Tim Stafford. Here’s my book report. Well, not really a book report.
It was more of a product brochure.
The message (come on) of the book: You can have a personal relationship with God, if you follow my religion—that religion being Evangelical Christianity.
“If God wanted to hide from us, we would play hide and seek for the rest of our lives,” Stafford writes. “But He chooses to open up to each of us.”
Here’s the personal relationship you’ll get if you “open up” to Stafford’s God/adopt his religion:
Pray—“God works wonders. Prayer lets us participate in these and draws us into a closer relationship with Him,” Stafford writes.
But wait, there’s more:
Read the Bible—“The Bible is at the heart of God’s speaking,” Stafford writes—but only if you have the Holy Spirit living inside of you. “When we read words of encouragement and comfort in the Bible, we hear them as encouragement and comfort directed from God to us—personally.”
Go to church—“When the Bible refers to the church as ‘Christ’s body,’ it means that He lives in and through His followers. Watch these people, and you will gain a greater feeling for Jesus.” As you “work in the family business” with your brothers and sisters in the Lord, God will rub off on you, Stafford says.
Worship—“You love God and you tell Him so. He does the same to you. That’s how it is in close personal relationships.”
That’s it? That’s all he’s got? That’s a personal relationship?
Now, in fairness, every so often Stafford qualifies his hyperbole. For example: “Here and now we are not going to get all the intimacy we seek. We won’t see God face-to-face.”
That was his Surgeon’s General Warning—in small print on the side of the package where no one looks.
But then . . . “If Jesus is right and God really does welcome our addressing Him as ‘Father,’ we have come upon a most stunning fact: We can relate to God as members of the family. The door is open to the most profoundly personal relationship—that of a child to a parent.”
He can’t help himself. Stafford’s trying to convert the reader. He’s pitching his product. He’s doing what a salesman I knew once called “feature puking”—just spewing out all the benefits of his product.
It’s true. Evangelicals really do think they have something that other religions don’t. They “have God,” and the other religions are just fooling themselves.
Actually, it’s not just Christians. True believers from all religions look down their noses at other believers as “have-nots”—pretenders. The most skeptical person in the world is a fundamentalist who is reading someone else’s holy book. Suddenly, they can smell subterfuge a mile away.
Does Stafford really believe that Jews don’t think God speaks to them through the Hebrew scriptures? Does he really think that the example of love and selflessness shown by the average Christian in a church is different from the example of love and selflessness shown in the average mosque or Mormon meeting house? Does he think Hindus aren’t in love with God?
Yes, he does believe that.
Stafford’s not being insincere and when he talks about his products—as if converting to Christianity would impart you the power to see under women’s clothes. (I think that’s Scientology.) What I’m saying is that his product’s benefits are nothing special.
That is, he’s pitching a commodity.
Tim, not only is your religion no more effective and valid than any other religious person’s religion, you’re not even any better off than unbelievers.
We all have same experience. It’s called life.
When God gives true believers what they pray for, He’s good. Praise God! And when he doesn’t, He’s wise. There must be a reason my child died from cancer.
That’s just life. Sometimes it goes your way. Sometimes it doesn’t. Religious people just overlay the whole concept of God on the common experience of day-to-day existence.
- The true believers say God tells them what to do with their lives. The nonreligious just call that intuition and synchronicity.
- True believers take their cares to God in prayer. Nonreligious folks just talk to their bar buddies. (At least they talk back.)
- True believers are inspired by the Bible—mainly because they were told it’s special, not because of any merit inherent in the text. The nonreligious can gain insights from just about any book.
You can get everything out of just living life on your own that believers get from their so-called relationship with God. Believers just attribute those benefits to “having God in your life.” Take heart. You don’t need God in your life.
You see, turns out, the X-Ray Specs were just polarized glasses. And the Sea Monkeys? They were just frozen krill that would resuscitate in lukewarm water.
Everyone, religious and nonreligious, is just doing the best they can. If anyone has a leg up on anyone else, it’s just because of genetics and/or upbringing, not because of what religion they chose. Or had chosen for them. No one has a Hypno Coin they can whip out of their pocket. Alas. And nobody—nobody—has a personal relationship with The One Who Made the Universe.