Friday, January 28, 2005

Skittles Theology

Okay, I'm probably opening up a can of worms here, but what the heck, it's my blog.

Recently on TV I've been seeing a lot of a particular ad for Skittles candies. It has three teenagers eating Skittles while sitting on a rainbow high in the air over farmland. One teen turns to the other two and says, "What if this rainbow doesn't really exist and it's just in our imagin—" Before he finishes his thought, a trap door opens in the rainbow beneath him and he plunges down while the other two look on and shrug, still eating their Skittles. The voice over says "Skittles. Believe the Rainbow. Taste the Rainbow."

Frankly, I find all the Skittles ads irritating, but this one actually disturbs me, despite the fact that gallows humor doesn't usually bother me much. I think I finally realized why. This Skittles commercial sums up a common view of Christian theology. Believe in Jesus and all is well. Question? Doubt? Struggle? Don't believe? Get hit by a bus while in the middle of these struggles, before you've discovered all the answers? You're summarily dropped. Amusing enough for a rainbow in a candy commercial, less so when you're talking about a loving and perfect God.

I had a similar reaction reading the first Left Behind book, which upset me so much I never bothered to read the rest. There was a scene toward the end of the book when one of the main characters, a reporter named Buck, was invited to a special meeting with the Anti-Christ. At the time, Buck had already been introduced to the other protagonists, new converts who had missed the Rapture but had come to be True Believers since then. (We know they're True Believers because they all said The Prayer. Conversion experiences have remarkably little variety in this book.) As Buck is about to go into the meeting, he is struggling with all they told him. Has there really been a Rapture? Should he Believe in Jesus? He goes into the bathroom and prays The Prayer. Now, he too is a True Believer! He walks into the meeting where the Anti-Christ pulls out a gun and shoots someone in the head. Buck, naturally, is appalled, but even worse is the reaction of everyone else in the room. They all remember the shooting as a suicide! Buck realizes that he was protected from the false memory of the event because of his conversion in the bathroom. Had he not converted on the spot, had he still been struggling with whether or not it was true, whether or not what had happened was really the Rapture, whether or not Jesus was the Christ, he would not have had God's protection.

This is a view of God that horrifies me. It reduces God to a deal-maker, someone who hands out rewards to the good pupils who get the right answers, while slapping with rulers those who don't understand, who don't have all the pieces, or whose life experiences don't match up with how others describe Christ. This doesn't paint a picture of a God of grace who saves us because we can't save ourselves. It paints the picture of a God who requires us to be right first. Where's the grace in that?

Now the Skittles ad is significantly less troubling because it is, after all, a television ad for candy while Left Behind is marketed as the Truth about God. However, the message is the same: get it right or you're damned. Personally, that just isn't the God whom I worship nor with whom I have a relationship. I don't think any of us could have a relationship with a God like that because it's impossible for finite humans to have even a flicker of a concept of what an infinite God is like, let alone believe in him so correctly that we can be "saved" by our own beliefs. Even as I type this, I imagine God's laughing his ass off at how simplistic I am and how wrong I've got it. But that's okay, because the God I worship doesn't expect me to get it right, to not question, to not doubt. He doesn't live in a box defined by a set of things we must believe or get right lest we fall through a trap door into the abyss. Rather, he's the God who blessed Jacob for wrestling with him then changed his name to Israel, "he struggles with God."

For me, belief and faith aren't Skittles Theology. I find God in the questions, not in the answers.


At 10:23 PM, Blogger catholic_girl said...

Thanks. That needed to be said. :)

At 10:24 PM, Blogger llama lady said...

Had to check this out as I am also a "bad" Methodist.

Although a careful reading of the social principles will show you that we really aren't bad people, we're just trying to comply with the instruction in the Gospel.

I had heard enough about the Left Behind series that I never even picked one up. My mother said one of her friends had recommended the series, and I asked her please to discuss the book with her local Methodist minister before committing to the series and the ideology espoused within. I never heard more about it. As a Methodist, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have heard the Book of Revelations referred to during a service. It is not the focus of the faith.

So hang in there, there are really a lot more of us than you may think. I worked as a volunteer on the Kerry campaign and nearly everyone I ran into who claimed a religious influence considered themselves a Methodist. There sure were a lot of us on that campaign, and probably in no small part because we've heard the tenets of the faith distorted so badly by the leadership of the country.

At 6:37 AM, Blogger Bad Methodist said...

Actually, with respect to most issues of theology, my blog title is a bit of a misnomer. I love the UM church and agree with it on many, many issues. If not, I'd be going to some other church. I think most Methodists definitely would agree that Left Behind is bad theology. I thought my pastor was going to have a fit when I mentioned the books to him. I was thinking of conservative Christians in general when I wrote this post, not United Methodists. I think if the church could get the politics of the IRD out and change the Discipline on the issues of homosexuality, I would be a good Methodist. :)


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