Thursday, August 8, 2013

16 Bumper Stickers That Made Me Think

I would be lying if I didn't say that I had a love-hate relationship with bumper stickers. On the one hand I despise the kind of shouting, self-serving, rhetorical non-sequiturs that are so frequently represented in them. On the other hand, I can never seem to resist reading them, even when I probably should be more focused on the task at hand. What is it that makes them so irresistible? Perhaps it is for the same reason that many individuals enjoy browsing random Facebook pages (a curiosity the other party seems all too willing to indulge). For me, the primary motivation for reading these messages is my curiosity about the opinions of others, combined with the pleasure that one derives from seeing those opinions expressed pithily. Thus, if I see a bumper sticker that piques my interest- I use it as an opportunity not only to consider why it has effectively communicated its message, but also how I might respond if I were in a conversation with that particular person. Just as the bumper sticker messages I have listed below are necessarily pithy and to the point, I too will try my best to do the same when explaining why each one both provided me amusement and an opportunity to think:

1. Darwin Loves You              

Obviously intended as a kind of ironic riposte to the "Jesus loves you" bumper sticker, there is another irony that this message brings with it. When I read it, I am not reminded of Darwin's love for me. To the contrary, I am reminded of the fact that neither Darwin nor evolution do love me (being that one is an abstract principle and the other is dead), which then reminds me of just how bleak and cold life would be if biology and Darwinian evolution were the only laws that governed the universe.

2. Much to the Terrorists' Surprise...

This one is funny first of all because the last thing that you would expect nuns to be doing is packing heat. But it is also funny and thought-provoking because it very cleverly points out the difference between the way Catholics view women and the way a Muslim terrorist would. For the Muslim terrorist there are indeed virgins in paradise awaiting them, but only for the sake of satisfying the "martyr's'" libidinous fantasy. As for the nuns in the above picture, they exist for their own sake and not like some sexual object to be used up by some blood thirsty terrorist who boasts a boundless sex drive.

3. The Truth Will Set You Free... But First It Will Piss You Off

When I first saw this bumper sticker I immediately appreciated the sentiment. The truth is a beautiful thing, but if it were as easy as all that we would all be enjoying heaven here on earth. Alas, such is not the case. The truth is oftentimes the most important things that we learn in life come to us not like a kiss on the cheek, but like a slap in the face. Remember, Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, while salvation came to us through a cross. All that said, when I first saw this quote, little did I know who was responsible for it. Needless to say, Gloria Steinem and I probably have a very different idea of what the truth is, though I am quite certain that were I presented with her "truth", and she mine, the adage would still apply. This just goes to show you the danger in bumper sticker theology and how these clever little aphorisms can be so easily co-opted (like some impressionistic painting) to suit our own ideology.

4. What If the Hokey Pokey is What It's All About?

Other than the phrase "question everything", this particular gem is most in keeping with a skeptic's view of the world. But considering just how heavy-handed most bumper stickers messages tend to be, this playful retort is nothing if not a refreshing way of saying "stop taking yourself so seriously for a moment." Anyhow, in spite of the glib way in which the question is posed, it is nevertheless a fair one to consider. And if one day you find yourself dancing the "hokey pokey", much like the gentleman in the above photo, you too may be in a bit of an existentialist crisis, wondering if life really does have any meaning, or if much to your horror, the hokey pokey is what it's all about.

5. You Can No More Win a War Than You Can Win An Earthquake 

Sometimes war happens whether we want it to or not, but if someone is attacking you, I can hardly envision this phrase being of much use to you. Check that, it may be helpful if you are attempting to justify your motives for surrendering. But the real problem with such a statement at the level of analogy is that it is lacking the basic requirements to make it one. It is true that both wars and earthquakes are catastrophic, but that is precisely where the similarities end. What is lacking is any kind of subtle irony or deeper logical connection between the two ideas. Indeed, the analogy serves more as an assertion than as a way to compare two things. "War is always wrong and no good can result. Why? Because war is destructive and useless like a sinkhole." That explains why war is unpleasant, but it does not speak at all to the question of what you do when someone unjustly attacks you. By this logic, if someone is being threatened and/or attacked, the only thing you are permitted to do is to tell the wicked party to cease and desist. Do you really want to imply that defending the defenseless is as futile as an "earthquake"? If that is the case, then chivalry is truly dead. "Sorry you're getting raped, but at least I've committed myself to peace at all costs!" A real analogy on this subject might go something like this; "You can no more win a war than you can win a car accident." Or my personal favorite; "You can no more win a war than you can win an argument with your wife... and still win an argument with your wife." At least in these examples you have two people colliding in such a way that one may technically "win", though not without enduring a major loss.                

6. Ironic Evolutionary Man

Presented as a parody of the logically sleek and appealing image of the evolution of man, in this version you have man breaking out of his prison of flawless logic. But that's precisely why the image is so thought provoking. In spite of science's attempt to reduce man to little more than a function of natural selection and random mutation, he really does "break out" of the chart. Among ways in which he does so? Well, simply observe the humor displayed on this bumper sticker and then you will immediately see the disparity between the man with the gun and everyone else who follows him. Incidentally there is another amusing example of this meme wherein the guy turns around and says "stop following me, I'm a creationist". On one side of the spectrum you have people that deny that man is anything more a glorified monkey, and on the other you have those who want to completely deny the evidence for evolution.

7. Science Flies You to the Moon and Religion Flies You into Buildings

Just because I disagree with a conclusion does not necessarily mean that I do not think it presents a good rhetorical challenge. In this instance we have a very pithy way of presenting an idea that on the surface seems rather difficult to refute. After all, in the name of religion, terrorists did fly a plane into the towers in New York City. And in the name of science and cosmic curiosity man did fly to the moon and explore space. However, selectively picking out one shining moment for one set of ideas, while intentionally selecting the worst moment for another, is not proof, but rather cherry picking. For example, let's present it the other way around; "Science invented the atomic bomb (insert mushroom cloud), while religion invented the hospital (insert nun caring for a patient). See how it works? The other bit of intellectual dishonesty here is to present a Muslim terrorist as somehow indicative of the goals and spirit of all religion. Would it be fair for me to single out Josef Mengele, the famous Nazi geneticist, and use him as a panacea for all scientists? "Religion will get you into heaven, science will get you into a concentration camp." Catchy isn't it? The bottom line is- either one can be potentially destructive. What determines the outcome is the particular philosophy of the "pilot" and what he believes that things like planes and people are to be used for.

8. Guess Which One of These Is Not Protected?          

There are quite a few pro-life and pro-choice bumper stickers out there that simply preach to the choir. On the pro-life side of things you have; "abortion is murder". Well, that's certainly not changing any one's mind. On the pro-choice side of things you have; "Keep your rosaries off my ovaries". I haven't even met you yet and already you are completely hostile to me. All the same, it is possible to say something challenging without coming across as confrontational. For example, the above bumper sticker with the accompanying phrase; "which one of these is not protected?" is very effective. Anytime something is posed in the form of a question it tends to be far more intellectually engaging. And even when the conclusion is pretty clear (like it is here), due to the fact that there is some element of a riddle, most will at least appreciate the artistry, even if they reject the evidence. What makes it so satisfying from my point of view is the fact that it points out the blatant concern we demonstrate for sub-human creatures, while deftly exposing the aloofness we demonstrate towards our own.

9. Karma Happens

Recently I was driving down the road a few miles from my house and I saw a car stopped in the middle of the intersection who had just gotten into a fender bender. As I passed the car on the back of the bumper I read; "Karma Happens". Indeed! Of all the bumper stickers about karma, I thought that this was perhaps the only one that got it right. Karma is simply the law of physics as it applies to human activity. Every cause has an effect. What comes around goes around. Justice. Indiscriminate. Cold. Exacting. Impersonal. The cross without the resurrection. What is completely lacking from the principle of karma is anything resembling forgiveness, grace, and mercy. It is true there is such a thing as good karma, but even that has very little to do with being good for goodness sake. What is most ridiculous of all is the fact that if you were to ask a devout Hindu whether or not they thought karma was cool, they would look at you like you had two heads. After all, those who believe in the idea of an impersonal justice do not regard it as something to celebrate, but rather something to transcend. So the question is why do we Westerners prefer karma to the idea of grace and mercy?

10. Abstinence Makes the Church Grow Fondlers

When I see a message like this I cannot help but to think that (rhetorically speaking) it must be quite effective, especially for those who have only a superficial understanding of what the Church teaches on chastity. And the reason it is so effective is two-fold. First, it is an alliterative play on the old expression; "absence makes the heart grow fonder". Secondly, it is effective because it uses that play on words to offer a clever and quick explanation for why priests molest children. There is no denying the cleverness of the initial alliteration- the only question is whether or not the second part is fundamentally true. Obviously there is no denying the fact that priests have abused children. Sadly, statistics show that they have done so at the same rate as the rest of general society, though it should be noted that the highest rate of abuse occurs in the home. That said, it is nevertheless unacceptable that these men have behaved in such an abominable manner. Catholics expect their priests to be holy, and apparently so does the guy who created this bumper sticker. Why else would he go out of his way to demonize all priests for sexual abuse, while ignoring the fact that this is obviously a larger problem in our society today? In any case, if we were to honestly follow his logic (i.e. argue that abstinence makes you want to molest children), then we would have to assume that anyone who is not presently involved in a sexual relationship is under suspicion for child abuse. Yet if we accept this premise, then how does one explain the large number of instances of child abuse perpetrated by those who are already married and/or already in some sort of adult sexual relationship?      

11. Thank God I'm an Atheist!

The author G.K. Chesterton once mused that the most lonely moment for an atheist must be when he realizes that he is truly thankful, but has no one to thank. In the same way this bumper sticker slogan bespeaks this natural inclination to give thanks. Indeed, so powerful is this instinct, that at times we might even find ourselves grateful to God for not having to to believe in Him at all. But isn't this a contradiction? Perhaps. Yet what it rightly acknowledges is the fact that whether we choose to give glory to God or not, he is nevertheless the source of our freedom to do so. On the other hand, this apparent distaste for the divine, may have less to do with God, and everything to do with many of his followers. Or as Gandhi so aptly put it; "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike Christ." The truth is such atheists may just hate religion altogether, and if my view of it were based on the picture above, I too might be on their side.    

12. "God is Dead"  -Nietzsche       "Nietzsche is Dead" - God

Leaving aside the original context of this infamous "God is dead" quote, we will instead go with what is generally meant when it is employed; namely that religion has lost. In response to those sentiments, we have the above bumper sticker. And however unfair this rhetorical jab may seem, it does serve as a powerful reminder that God is God and we are not. But more importantly, it speaks to the resiliency of the Christian faith, and in particular the resiliency of the Catholic Church; "At least five times, with the Arian and the Albigensian, with the Humanist Skeptic, after Voltaire and after Darwin, the Faith has to all appearances has gone to the dogs. In each of the five cases it was the dog that died." (G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man) One may sit around and dispute the existence of God all day, but the resiliency of His Church is historically irrefutable.  

13. If There's One Thing I Can't Stand, it's Intolerance.

Once upon a time in a magical fairyland there was a place where people imagined that tolerance meant that you could live in a world where everyone did whatever they wanted and everyone lived happily ever after. Needless to say, unless you are in complete denial, you realize that that particular fantasy world never actually existed. Ironically, it is those who started the rumor, and who claim to be the most "open-minded", are the least tolerant in all the kingdom. You would think with all of the rainbows and "mean people suck" bumper stickers they would at least try to hold themselves to a higher standard. Alas, they were not able to keep up the sunny facade. Now the smiley face has a self-inflicted bullet hole in its head, the prancing unicorns release only poisonous glitter from their respective horns, and the leprechauns shout magical expletives from the end of the rainbow. When people believe in things, no matter what they believe, those beliefs ultimately have an effect on the rest of society. Call it karma if you like. The only real question is not whether our actions actually effect others, but rather who's philosophy allows for the most wiggle room for those with whom they disagree.

14. Environmentalism: The Crazy Idea that We Should Clean Up After Ourselves

Whenever students clean up after themselves in the lunch room I often say in jest (but only partly so) that if only each individual would clean up after themselves, world peace might be attainable. Setting aside the whole obnoxious debate about global warming, the above message is a practical and reasonable way of putting this lunchroom philosophy into a mature context. I/we should clean up after ourselves, whether it means not cluttering up the landscape with garbage, or not becoming something of a consumption hog. If we pollute a river for some reason, then we should clean it up. If the air is becoming too disgusting to breathe, then we must necessarily change our behavior. Period. Attempting to turn the thermostat up or down on the earth's temperature is something beyond my pay grade (and by the way who decides what the temperature should be, I'm sure the dinosaurs have very different opinion of what it should be). What I can do however is to demonstrate enough gratitude and regard for the goods of the earth to avoid contributing further to monumental mess that some have made of it.

15. Be Kind to Animals or I'll Kill You

Probably meant as a satire of PETA or those highly sympathetic to it, this bumper sticker paints a portrait of an individual utterly devoid of compassion for human beings. As a matter of fact, these individuals, seem to care so much about the animal kingdom that they actually become utterly misanthropic (i.e. human haters). Such individuals will often boast about their decision to forego child-bearing, while simultaneously looking askance at anyone who chooses to "litter" the world with a big family. What is scariest about this bumper sticker is the fact that I am not a 100% sure that it is meant to be a joke. Indeed, for all I know it is the bumper sticker of an activist. This should tell you just how strange and absurd things are getting, when you can't even make fun of somebody's position because they have already made the joke for you.  

16. If We Can't Marry Then You Can't Divorce

There are many reasons to disagree with advocates of same-sex marriage, but this indictment of Christians who at once condemn same-sex marriage for Biblical reasons, and then turn around and treat divorce as if it were perfectly acceptable in the eyes of God is not one of them. This may not be an argument for same-sex marriage, but it sure is a scathing commentary on the hypocrisy of heterosexuals who should take the mote out of their own eye before they go about telling others how to do the same.

A few bonus examples that didn't necessarily make me think- but they did make me laugh:


  1. Brilliant!

    But the "hokey-pokey" may be what it's all about, if it's true that "hokey-pokey" is an attempt to ridicule the Catholic belief in transubstantiation! In Latin: "hoc est enim...." becomes "hokey-pokey."

  2. Freddy,

    I have heard this before, but I have also read that it may not be its origin, so I decided not to go there. Of course, "hocus pocus" defintely is a mockery. At any rate, if the former is the orgin what a hall of mirrors that would present. Irony of ironies, the hokey pokey is what it's all about, but from the jaundiced view of the cynic it's still mocked by him!

  3. Those bumper stickers maybe funny but still it's indeed meaningful. Thanks for sharing this one!

  4. The one that gets me is the "Coexist" sticker with all of the different religious symbols... When I taught I always warned my students to be aware that the culture would try to brainwash them with "rat poison" statements. (Rats will not touch pure poison. Rat poison manufacturers mix the poison with 95% food to get them to eat it). This "Coexist" mindset is classic Decon! "All roads lead to God! There are many different roads to salvation". The implication is that one religious system is as good as another.
    Here is the food... "All roads lead to God"... Yup! They are right! The Christian, Muhammadan, Buddhist, Atheist & worshipers of the Great Pumpkin will all "get" to God.
    " And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" Hebrews 9:27 KJV
    The Rat Poison... when man faces judgement who will pay for his sins?
    Here the Christian can't "co-exist". (The Muhammadan does not either, but that is a different issue). If I see one of these stickers, I figure the owner is either a non believer, or so shallow in their faith as to have NO idea of what Christ or the Holy Mother Church teaches.

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  8. I'd love to buy number 8 as a bumper sticker. Where did you find it???

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