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Jesus loves Osama, an agnostic bishop and other ideas that stick
by Graeme J. Davidson,
24 February 2007

In their recent book, Made to Stick: Why some ideas survive and others die, Chip and Dan Heath explain the six key principles for stickiness: simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and story-telling. “Jesus loves Osama” has these ingredients.

...The sign “Jesus loves Osama” outside several Baptist churches in Sydney has caused a holy row across the ditch. Despite the bible quote in small print – “Jesus said: `Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’" – most thought that couldn’t include Osama Bin Laden.
...Prime Minister John Howard gave his own sermon on the topic. “Churches displaying such a message might have their priorities askew,” he told the media. “The prayer priority of the church on this occasion could have been elsewhere". Other leaders said it was insensitive to the victims of al Qaeda and that it was like saying Jesus loves Hitler or Pol Pot.
...There was a deluge of letters to editors and talkback shows were jammed with callers keen to share their theological expertise. An unprecedented quarter of a million Australians responded to a National Nine News poll, with over 80 percent agreeing with their Prime Minister.
...So, loving enemies is okay as long as they’re nice enemies. Even Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen thought the billboards “a bit misleading” and potentially offensive as they implied Jesus’ loving Osama meant Jesus approved of the al Qaeda leader, when that wasn’t so. The archbishop forgot to mention that Jesus chose as one of his disciples Simon the Zealot, a member of a first century terrorist organisation determined to oust the Romans from Judea by force.
...Most church billboards are like Teflon. What they say rarely sticks. Even signs like “Can’t sleep? Try our sermons”, “God allows U-turns” or “Atheists are beyond belief” produce a short-lived smile. So why did “Jesus loves Osama” succeed?
...In their recent book, Made to Stick: Why some ideas survive and others die, Chip and Dan Heath explain the six key principles for stickiness: simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and story-telling. “Jesus loves Osama” has these ingredients.
...Ideas don’t have to be true to stick. Seeing the Great Wall of China from space and getting razorblades in sweets at Halloween are nothing but urban myths, yet they’ve persisted for years.
...So what do we make of the comment by Bishop Richard Randerson, dean of Auckland’s Holy Trinity Cathedral, that he’s an agnostic? As a guest columnist for The New Zealand Herald, Randerson said there was no scientific proof one way or another of God’s existence, and “By that measure, I regard myself as an agnostic,”. He went on to say that seeking proof of the existence of God in scientific terms is a category mistake anyway – much of the bible deals in poetry and image, not science. He might have discussed historical evidence of God in the bible, but he didn’t. He didn’t need to add the bit about being an agnostic, but he did.
...When a bishop says something as simple, unexpected and concrete as that, which seems on the flip-side of what he stands for, it fits the criteria for chewing gum stickiness. In the same article, Randerson said that he felt uncomfortable leading Christian prayer in public “thus excluding people of other faiths”. Instead, he suggested inclusive prayers and “other writings of an aspirational nature” that reflect common Kiwi values. That’s like an ice-cream vendor saying he’s uncomfortable handing out his ice-cream in front of competitors.
...Randerson’s agnosticism sparked media comment, which upset his fellow Anglican bishops. So they fired a broadside at the messenger: “We regret the way in which the media and talkback hosts have caricatured Bishop Randerson as agnostic and unbeliever”. But didn’t Randerson write he was an agnostic? Yes. But he was only emphasising how we can’t prove God through science. Randerson later declared his belief that “God who, although a mystery, is fully revealed in the person of Jesus Christ". Still, the impression that sticks is of a devout Christian agnostic.
...Some ideas are like Velcro. They stick, but are easily undone. Take the church official who preaches the importance of being a “servant leader”. That’s a popular sticky slogan supported by the simple, concrete story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. But when the church leader never helps with the dishes at church functions, the Velcro comes unstuck.
...When it comes to religious ideas that stick like superglue, it’s hard to beat Karl Marx’s “Religion is the opium of the people”. Yet the bumper sticker, “Please Jesus, protect me from your followers” is likely to stick with many Christians and non-Christians alike.

 

 

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