Bumper-length ideas

This is a post from the old Koonj blog:

When we bought my Forester (here in Athens, GA), it had a bumper sticker that said: “ATHEISM IS ARROGANCE.”

I mean, you all know I’m not a fan of atheism. But I just wouldn’t want to be the one to say ATHEISM IS ARROGANCE IN ALL CASES.

I might say ATHEISM IS CONFUSION, or GOD KNOWS WHAT ATHEISM IS. Or maybe I THINK SOME ATHEISTS ARE UPSET WITH SORROW AND PAIN IN THE WORLD, or maybe ATHEISTS AREN’T NECESSARILY BAD PEOPLE, I JUST THINK THEY’RE WRONG.

Or maybe SOME ATHEISTS ARE ARROGANT; HELL, SOME BELIEVERS ARE PRETTY DARN ARROGANT TOO.

Or like, all of the above. That way I’d end up with a long bumper sticker that flaps in the wind.

Speaking of slogans, my favourites are Church marquees. This isn’t meant to be insulting, but “2 Planks 3 Nails 4 Given” is just a bit tacky. It’s a huge story, and the slogan is fairly reductive.

Last week–after a bout of hot weather – I saw a very traditional marquee that I wouldn’t see out in DC: “THINK IT’S HOT UP HERE? – GOD.” A marquee about Hellfire? How very Bible belt. Not in DC. There is no hell in DC. DC suffices in itself.

That’s the problem with bumper stickers and marquees: the thought must be just long enough to fit on a corner or the center of the bumper. Or a 2- or 3-line marquee at the most.

Grad school, – and religion, – and life have collectively made me uncomfortable with all bumper-length-thoughts that don’t have a couple of commas and maybe a semicolon in there. In fact a single sentence rarely suffices. Conditionals and buts and howevers are essential.

The world be far too gray for bold white print on a black background.

I remember, even in my early 20’s, being uncomfortable with the sticker “PROUD TO BE MUSLIM.” It was too tribalistic for me. PROUD just didn’t match MUSLIM. Unless you were a 13-year old in the diaspora, struggling with hostile anti-religious prejudice. But at some point, if you’re lucky, you grow up and move beyond PROUD to DEEPLY HAPPY.

Ah, the 1980s. I grew up in Pakistan, and was in elementary school when Zia came along. And then General Zia and the Islamists were saying, on every occasion, ISLAM IS THE SOLUTION. Or ISLAM IS A PANACEA FOR ALL HUMAN PROBLEMS. And our friends in the Arab world were saying AL-ISLAM HUWA AL-HAL.

Sure, it’s a solution and a blessing. But nothing is a solution to ALL human problems. Problems are essential to the human condition. Whoever claimed that people who started praying 5 times a day would get rid of the world’s economic and social problems automatically?

NIZAM-E-MUSTAFA WILL ELIMINATE THE AGE OF SORROW, they shouted. The Islamic “systems of life” will get rid of all problems. What “systems?” There are 200 interpretations of every thing. This is your relationship with God. It’s not a lab experiment. That’s what I thought the other day when I saw another church marquee: “PRAYER NUDGES THE HEART WHICH CHANGES YOUR CONDUCT.” It was such a concise, neat message that it didn’t even belong in a religious space. But a lot of religious discourse is just so sterile, so cleanly secular, so free of the presence of God, so imbued with the arrogance of human beings. Not that that particular marquee was “arrogant” in the traditional sense. But still, you get my drift. Arrogance belongs in more places than just atheism. And slogans conceal the complexities of atheism and religiosity.

Slogans are reductive. (There you are. Another slogan.)
I know people who get upset with a person who is unwilling to sign their name to a slogan. The problem is that the human condition, this universe of God’s, is far too complicated for slogans.
Also, to be honest, I just prefer not to have bumper stickers that say bad things about anyone, when I am driving while brown, with a baby on board.

I’d rather just have a sign that says “BABY ON BOARD.” Which to me, reads: “I’M TIRED AND I’VE GOT A LITTLE BABY. PLEASE BE NICE TO ME AND MY BABY. I COULD USE SOME COURTESY AND GENTLENESS.” Or it reads “PLEASE DON’T HONK AT ME FOR GOING SLOW, AND WHEN YOU CHANGE LANES, PLEASE DON’T TRY TO BE SNIPPY BY CUTTING IN A FEW INCHES IN FRONT OF ME BECAUSE THAT’S JUST DANGEROUS – NOT TO ME – TO MY BABY.” Or like, “LET ME IN WHEN I’M TRYING TO CHANGE LANES, FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE–WHAT KIND OF MONSTER WOULD BE MEAN TO A MOTHER & BABY?”
Instead of that plaintive message, I have a bumper sticker that says loudly “ATHEISM IS ARROGANCE.” Okay, here in GA, not so bad. It fits right in. But I’m not taking this sticker to DC or NY.

In general, I prefer not to have Upset or Peremptory or Categorical Bumper Stickers. You know, really loud things like “READ THE QURAN!” or “SUPPORT THE TROOPS” or “BRING THE TROOPS HOME.” Or “SOMEWHERE IN TEXAS A VILLAGE IS MISSING AN IDIOT.” NOT here in GA, no way.

Here, nothing more radical than “IMAGINE WHIRLED PEAS” or “RECYCLE.” Maybe “GIVE WILDLIFE A CHANCE.”

I’ll make my statements in the way I relate to folks. I’d like to be more than a signal to honk your horn. As it is,  I often  imagine the drivers behind me getting angry. When they sidle up close behind me, I imagine they’re getting impatient with my speed. When they start overtaking me, I hear them calling me a slowpoke.

In general, I’d prefer not to add a bumper sticker to the mix.

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4 thoughts on “Bumper-length ideas”

  1. Classic Koonj post !!

    Very well written..

    (My fav. bumper sticker: Be nice to your children – they will choose your nursing home)

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