Toward a Theology of Bumper Stickers or Away from Bumper Sticker Theology


I’ve always loved bumper stickers, especially ones that are sarcastic, satirical and of a political or religious nature. Some of my favorites:

join the armyfocus on your own damn familywho would jesus torture

And my all time favorite, though I could not find an image:


Up until recently I had a bumper sticker on my car that had words such as WAR, POVERTY, ABORTION, EUTHANASIA, CAPITAL PUNISHMENT all with red lines drawn through them.  The point of the bumper sticker was that one should be consistently pro-life, and not just anti-abortion.  Several weeks ago I was driving home and as I got into the turning lane to turn onto my street I noticed a red Subaru station wagon swerving across several lanes of traffic in order to pull up behind me.  He tailgated me to my house, then drove away slowly, giving me an angry look.  As he drove off I noticed that his Subaru (as all Subarus are) was covered in liberal bumper stickers, several of which seemed to have a generally atheist message. A block away he turned around and came back just in time to catch me walking to my front door.  He rolled down his window and yelled, “My father is dying in the hospital right now, and your bumper sticker makes me feel like shit.”  He was obviously crying as he drove off at high speed, running the stop sign near my house.  I didn’t even have a chance to finish dropping my jaw before he was completely gone. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about that encounter.  I can only guess why my bumper sticker offended him, but the most reasonable thing to believe is that he was faced with the decision of euthanizing his terminally ill father.   To anyone in that sort of situation I’m sure that my bumper sticker seemed coldly black and white (in actuality it is black and white only with those aforementioned red lines).  I realized that I had inadvertently fed that man’s personal narrative concerning Christians.  He officially believes me to be an uncaring, judgmental bastard.  What’s more, and of course this is all speculation, he might even categorize me as of the same ilk of those who shoot abortion doctors and blow up pharmacies for selling the morning after pill.  He gave me no chance to explain, or to ask questions, or to listen to his story, so why should he think otherwise? 

I also realized that he too was feeding my personal narrative: Here was an atheist sinner (since he was driving a Subaru he clearly condoned lesbianism to boot), about to commit murder, and was rudely confronting me on my doorstep because MY bumper sticker filled his heart with the conviction of the Holy Spirit. 

Then my heart was filled with the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  This was a man in pain, facing the enormous questions, responsibilities and emotions surrounding life and death, and I was using him to justify my own beliefs and opinions as they are inadequately expressed on a poorly applied 3×8 vinyl sticker.  I finally took to heart something that I’d heard a million times and is, frankly, so elementary that I’m a little embarrassed about it: Bumper stickers serve no function besides patting the back of those fellow drivers who agree with you, and pissing off those  fellow drivers who disagree with you.   Either way it serves a selfish purpose, and one that many times dehumanizes some very important issues.

That man’s story, and the overarching issues of what it means to be pro-life are both extremely complex.  The fact is, you simply can’t boil down all the complexities, the emotions, the politics, the morality and ethics of the pro-life debate into a bumper sticker; because for all of the polemics and sterile moralizing that goes on on either side of the pro-life debate (and other battlefields of the “culture wars”), at the end of the day we’re dealing with human beings, and in the process of defending our beliefs we sinfully ignore the humanity of others (which is ironic in my case since I am pro-life and talk about the sanctity of life and all that). 

Advertising moral claims on your car to people that you have a slim chance of developing a relationship with, of explaining yourself to, and especially of genuinely listening to their side of things is counter-productive at best.  We must acknowledge the image of Christ in our opponents and allies alike, and that’s really hard to do when the entire debate is fought with bumper stickers.      

So, I covered up my politically charged bumper sticker with another one.  It says:






  1. This is a great post. It’s a lot easier to tell someone to “take the high road” or “do the right thing” than it is to find out where someone is coming from. And it’s even harder to take “the high road” with them. Thanks for writing this.


  2. On my first ride, a beautiful red Dodge Intrepid, I had the back perfectly bumper sticker’ed with color coded Christian bands. Nothing political, just Switchfoot, Five Iron Frenzy and other freakin’ sweet bands.


  3. James,

    This article reminded me of when I took my family back to see Grandma over Thanksgiving. We took a side trip thru the Smoky Mountains and it was in GWB’s third year. We ran low on gas and had to stop in the middle of this valley which seemed to frozen in time to 1935. Grizzly Adams came out to pump the gas then he stopped and saw our license plate (Texas) and stopped pumping and looked at me and stated very gruffly “Bush people!!!”.

    Waiting for further clairification which wasn’t fort coming I thought about my response.

    Not thinking that perhaps a car plate would indicate ones choice of political candidate I didn’t know how to answer.

    It would seem that he was upset, so my answer should be no because I needed gas. However he could be Republican and me & my family may end up getting buck shot. So I chose to say that yes we were Bush people even through we didn’t want us to go to Iraq.
    He grunted pleasantly and continued to pump the gas.


  4. James,
    The problem is that you just haven’t learned how to deal with drive-by crazy people. You needed to raise your fist in the air, stick out your chest, and shout some profanity at the guy. That should prevent most cray people from coming back to harrass you. This tactic should have been easy since he was already running away in fear of your overwhelming machismo. After all, a Honda Civic is about 318 more macho points than a Subaru. Of course, a Dodge Ram 4×4 is about 1703 more macho points than a Honda Civic, but it takes a while to work up to such an incredibly large amount of machismo.

    Since you have given in to this guy by removing your bumper sticker, that will deduct about 379 macho points from you making the crazy man feel like he has the current advantage in machismo. That means the guy may come back to harrass you some more. You could raise the macho level of your car by about 417 points if you put a gun rack in the rear window of your Honda Civic. If you added a Winchester lever action 30-30 it would add another 1739 macho points bringing you up slightly higher than a Dodge Ram 4×4. That might be enough to discourage the guy from bothering you anymore. If you added a double barrel shot gun to the gun rack in the back window of your Honda Civic it would add an infinite number of macho points and the guy will never come back… uhm… well… unless he decides to steal your gun.

    Nah… he won’t do that! He drives a Subaru!


  5. @ James
    That was a very touching confession. Thank you.
    The abrupt humor at the end cracked me up !
    Similarly, I wrote a little post apologizing for my Jesus Poster in college. Well, similar in that it accomplished far worse than I imagined. I have thought of putting pro-darwin stickers on my car and stopped myself for just the reasons your mentioned.

    Now, acknowledging the wonder theme of your post, let me just ask one side question: I am for self-euthanasia, not for other-euthanasia. Do you make that distinction?


  6. Sabio,

    Thank you. I could and should probably make a similar confession/apology to yours to some people.

    Euthanasia is a hard subject for me. Of all the things that that bumper sticker I mentioned in the post stood for, euthanasia was the one I that I was the most unsure about. There are so many possible circumstances that it makes it hard to give black and white answers. What exactly do you mean by self-euthanasia?


  7. Hey James:
    by “Self-euthanasia” I mean taking my own life painlessly. “Other-euthanasia” means someone else takes my life for me.
    The situation is complicated by the personal vs. legislative component too.
    You could feel it is wrong to take your own life, for instance, but not feel it should be made a law that others can’t take their own lives.
    Again, great post !!


  8. James,
    Testicles on your car probably will not add any male macho points. It might impress some women (not necessarily a good impression), but most guys usually are not impressed by such things.

    For the record, there are two kinds of macho. One is the kind of macho that dominates your male opponents, like your massive biceps, huge fists, piercing mad-dog eyes, and a Dodge Ram 4×4. Each of these can add between -10 to +2000 male macho points.

    The other is the kind of macho that impresses the ladies. Female macho points is the kind of stuff that the male gender ain’t never really figgered out. But by trail and error I reckon we have found some things that ain’t gonna impress the ladies so good. The ladies don’t seem to be too impressed by gun racks, shot guns, cigars, or the “Mighty Boot” melee attack.

    Most guys ain’t so impressed by the male sexual stuff like truck testicles… uhm… unless the guy is gay… hmm… wait a minute! Them truck testicles might actually work because… afterall, the guy does drive a Subaru.


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