Can Life’s Problems Be Solved by Slogans?

By Eugene C. Scott

We are enamored with slogans. If it can’t be said in three to seven words, seems it ain’t worth saying. Take for example the saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” This saying is usually uttered during some disappointing or tragic event. But what does it mean? Are hard things easier if they have a reason?

Similar is “If God closes a door, God usually opens a window.” When I hear that phrase, I always check to see if I’m on the ground floor. Both phrases are rather deterministic, a kind of shrug of the shoulders at fate or God, whichever you happen to believe is master of the cosmos. It’s not as if either saying can change anything.

Another slogan that leaves me wanting is “Leave No Trace.” I understand the sentiment. I do! I am a conservationist. What the sloganeers are trying to communicate in a pithy, memorable way is not to pick flora, kill fauna, autograph trees, dig holes, throw rocks, toss trash, trash talk, cause erosion, burn down forests, start avalanches, or produce global warming while on an afternoon hike. These are good things not to do.

And placing all of the necessary restrictions on one sign would be ridiculous, unless you live in Boulder, CO where the above sentence qualifies as a slogan. But three words simply cannot adequately sum up the importance of good stewardship of our world, especially in the wild. Reducing the concept of conservation to a slogan may actually diminish the message. Another problem with the “Leave No Trace” slogan is it is impossible. Simply observing something may actually leave a trace.

The reality is, try as we might, life’s complexities can’t be summed up in a sound bite. And the more often we try to jam the mysteries of life into small spaces the more often we lose the gist of the problem we’re trying to capsulize and possibly the gist of life itself. When slogans don’t solve anything, people may simply despair trying.

For that matter the two phrases “Leave No Trace” and “Everything Happens for a Reason” contradict one another. Genetically and theologically we are built to leave a trace. Humans are consumed with finding a purpose in positive and negative events and also with leaving our mark on the world. Life would truly be meaningless if each of us left no trace.

Besides no saying can save the planet. Worse yet an easy slogan may even let us off hook for the hard, complicated, and sometimes, contradictory work God has for us in being stewards of this great planet. Further no slogan can explain the death of a child or onset of a disease. Nor can it deflect the pain.

What if what God has for us is not escaping from trouble through a small window but living in a world without doors or windows or walls that leaves us vulnerable to God’s very presence, completely understood or not? Biblical sufferer Job could have summed up his suffering by saying, “stuff happens.” Instead Job asked God hard questions and waited for even harder answers.

Neither of which could be reduced to a slogan.

Condensed life, like condensed milk, needs something added in order to make it palatable. In a culture where fast food is the norm we also want fast answers. But fast doesn’t always equal good. Life, with its recipe of trouble and triumph mixed with pain and promise, is too rich to be reduced to a slogan. In the end bumper sticker theology or philosophy fail us. God especially can’t be summed up in a slogan.

God told Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” At no time is the truth of that claim more obvious than when we are being insulted by the latest catch phrase or slogan reducing life’s mystery and problems to its least common denominator much less minimizing God’s grand creation to a sound bite.

Eugene is co-pastor of  The Neighborhood Church.

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8 responses to “Can Life’s Problems Be Solved by Slogans?

  1. Georgie-ann

    Proverbs, in the Bible, are a significant testimony to the normal inclination within us to come up with adages, wise sayings, and principles of wisdom and possibly some good, solid, commonsense about life. Sometimes God gets the credit, and sometimes He doesn’t. Usually older, seasoned individuals — (as in, “parents”) — are admonishing reckless youth, or “explaining away” and trying to reconcile troublesome and mysterious elements of life that really can’t be fully known or understood by our limited capacities. Our tendencies often run in this vein:

    Romans 1:21,22

    21 ” … and they … became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

    22 “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,”

    The truth of the matter is that we ARE limited in our abilities to fully comprehend — (and even less, control) — everything, and this makes us very uncomfortable! The telling “silence” that reveals our lack is compulsively filled with “noise” and “sound-bites” and “Confucius say” and “science proves” and “politically correct this” and “economic necessity that” and on and on. And of course, gossip and worse things, “pouring from the empty into the void.”

    In the “old days,” we would simply get tired of hearing ourselves talk, emotions would tire of running in circles, and eventually we could find a place of respite from demanding reasons and answers for everything, and if nothing else, would simply “go to sleep on it.” Perhaps this point of human release could become the segue to the advent of faith and spiritual consolations taking over, another dimension at work, healing us and reconciling the un-reconcilable in unspoken understandings.

    Nowadays, however, with the “joy” of electronics helping us out, we never have to experience that point of silence, of “no human answers,” of desperate unknowing. We don’t have a chance to make any “leaps of faith” into another realm of consolation and sublime transcendence.

    Nope. The sound-bites are simply now running on a perpetually recurring electronic loop, repeated endlessly with variations by talking-heads, who abhor a sound vacuum and probably end up speaking before they think most of the time. And the fools who aren’t the ones speaking, are the fools who are the ones listening to all the televised babble.

    Lord have mercy. It would almost be comical, if it weren’t so pathetic, pretentious and often ridiculous. “Misguided” is too kind of a description for much of what is being thrown around as legitimate grist for the mental mill. “Good luck with that,” as they say.

    “As for me and my house,” I would prefer to follow God’s Word and serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15, paraphrased)

    • Georgie-ann

      In a nutshell: humans “coming to the end of themselves,” experiencing powerlessness, in times gone by, was a fairly common and normally shared experience, and not even particularly traumatic as a concept. The modern posturing of “science” and the “power of the (supposedly rational) human mind” might be as absurdly arrogant(?) as those who were attempting to build that tower to reach the sky in the Old Testament.

      Genesis 11:1-9 [The Tower of Babel]

      1 “Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. 3 Then they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. 4 And they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.’
      5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. 6 And the LORD said, ‘Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. 7 Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ 8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. 9 Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.”

      I think that we have to assume that there was an “influence” going on in these thoughts and plans that was not pleasing to the Lord. Pride, the influence and original sin of satan, was at work, as it also obviously is today. “There is nothing new under the sun.”

      Ecclesiastes 1:9 “That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun.”

      I think I have mentioned this somewhere before, but as a well-trained academic “coming to the Lord” in early adulthood, I was able to make a lot of observations and comparisons between the two lifestyles and thought styles. My conclusion was that “efficiency was very often the enemy of spirituality.” And it still is!

    • Georgie:

      Do you think there is a difference between an adage and a slogan? For me an adage contains some general truth, though it may not apply to every and all situations it addresses. For example the Proverb “Raise a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it” is generally true but some well raised children do go astray.

      Slogans, however, seem to be verbal bandages that don’t even fit over the wound. They just make the utterer feel better temporarily. They contain little or no truth. Everything doesn’t happen for a reason.

      Thanks for reading and I hope your summer is going well. Eugene

      • Georgie-ann

        Dear Eugene, I think that everything can be misused and misapplied, and often is. And I think that you are quite correct about sloganizing and sound-bites in the minds and mouths of moderns.

        The thing that disturbs me the most about the modern generations, is that much of the “stuff” that has formed the foundation of what they are going to be calling “life” has been things that were “made up,” absolute fictions created as fantasy scenarios, designed for tv and entertainment purposes. Glamor, “happy endings,” exaggerated characters, idols, have established a “new fantasy normal,” which basically is not normal at all. But with so many having shared these viewing experiences “in common” with each other, they will be able to identify and copy such patterns in groups, as if they contain some validity.

        It becomes imitation of imitations. Derivative lives based on things that are not even real to begin with. The mind is commenting on comments about comments on other comments, opinions of opinions of fantasies. Where is the REAL bottom line? Where is some REAL substance, some REAL truth? Everything becomes some sort of act that is being “put on.” And then we believe our pretense.

        The problem is that a fantasy pretense, an imitated style, lacks strength for the long haul. There will inevitably be internal contradictions, because deep inside us, there are layers that can only function and manifest in real honest-to-goodness truth — truth of who we are, how things really work, how God has designed and created things to be.

        “All that glitters is not gold.” To the uninitiated, unwise, gullible, inexperienced, naive, trusting “babe in the woods,” all kinds of suggestions may sound “just great” and be very convincing and alluring, but many will prove out not to be. Fine words in the mouth of an honorable person may be extremely valuable, and provide excellent guidance. The very same words in the mouth of a scoundrel and seducer may (mis)lead into danger and destruction.

        We need much more than mental cleverness playing upon mental cleverness, sound-bite upon sound-bite, — the m.o. of many a popular “discussion” program, — to be able to evaluate fundamental worth of any position.

        To me, the most dangerous people (and “messages”) are the truly limited ones who don’t know how really limited they actually are. Their ability to believe fantasy constructs, wishful thinking, grandiose illusions, etc., becomes a basic ability to believe in lies, their own and others’. Nothing is more dangerous, deceptive and misleading than this — a liar who “really believes” his lies.

        I think all wisdom is general, in principle and tendency to happen, in the way you describe “adage.” We will usually be better off when co-operating with God’s wisdom as “good advice,” but life itself can present a lot of variables, very little being “iron-clad” guarantees.

        Slogans, on the other hand, may or may not contain some truth, and could be being used as outright propaganda and manipulation, or a short-cut for real thinking. Some of them might be handy, fortuitous concepts. But relying on a “sloganized” style of quick pushy “answers,” that avoid deeper and more significant considerations, and respect for other positions, is a “thinking style” that is not only often inconsiderate, presumptuous and rude, but it is not really even thinking.

  2. Georgie-ann

    If “efficiency” is a mentally contrived and orchestrated goal/formula whereby we make ever-increasing efforts to cram more stuff, events, actions, decisions, into a certain length of time, while simultaneously limiting or reducing energy and material and reflective thought investments involved, — finding, or engineering, or simply grabbing at establishing, the shortest short-cut from point A to point B, — don’t “slogans” seem to fit into this description?

    I think I’m beginning to feel “cheated” by being “sloganized.” If “fast food” is of lower quality than carefully and thoughtfully prepared food, might this not also be true of thoughts and concepts? Reflex instincts may be quite amazing in an emergency, or a momentary sports challenge, but I certainly would expect better and more wholesome personal consideration from any type of customer service representative attending to my needs, than their quickest way to dismiss me and my problems from their super-efficient and self-serving (or boss-serving) orbit.

    I’m sure God would feel the same way, and also be unable to give us His best, if He is consistently treated with “a lick and a promise” — “Catcha later, God! I’m busy right now!”

    The modern “theme song.”

  3. Georgie-ann

    One reason I have become “a practicing Catholic” in my old age, is that deciding to attend the daily Mass (beginning years ago), made it more simple to find/make that consistent regular allotment of “time for God” in daily life. Otherwise, there “is always something” that comes up to interfere with just the simple decision to give God time and attention. Believe me, I DO know that very well! Distractions abound! Best to just “get away from it all” for a few special moments.

    I decided to attend the evening Mass (about 30 minutes long) with my children, as a consistent way to wind down the activity of the day, giving God thanks for everything. And I’ve never been sorry. In fact, it was easy enough to do. Life arranged itself around this little island of commitment, in some ways like a mini-vacation, and we were very blessed in many ways because of it.

    “You can’t outgive God” is a good saying, and God has been so faithful to give back to us of Himself and with blessings, both earthly and spiritual. Allowing that time to become an anchor around which other things could (and did) grow, was probably one of the best choices I ever made in my life — a little extra time spent there in prayer or fellowship now and then, expanded our spiritual horizons and connections gradually and in a very nourishing way.

    Praise be to the Risen Lord!

    • Georgie:

      Beautiful line: “Life arranged itself around this little island of commitment.” That is a good, almost poetic definition of Sabbath. Thanks, Eugene

      • Georgie-ann

        I am “all for” finding the easy (easiest!) way to do things, or to help them happen,…and this arrangement “worked” very well for me with the children. Thanks for reading & responding. Finding a way to “put God first” will probably reap very surprising dividends!

        Deuteronomy 28:13 “And the LORD will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not be beneath, if you heed the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and are careful to observe them.”

        & I’ll never forget how good the pizza slices tasted (warm, slurpy and so yummy) that we would often pick up right after the mass! (NY pizza is “world famous” btw! My sons always make a bee-line to a pizza place when they come back East!)

        God is so good in so many ways!

        Our neighbors at the time, the farm caretakers with whom we shared a two-family house, were Seventh Day Adventists, and very devoted Sabbath keepers. We all “had our own ways” and were very respectful of each other. I never ever cooked bacon while we lived there, (even though I love it), because they didn’t eat pork and the smell was very disturbing to them. All I remember of that little “sacrifice” was that we did it for love of them, and that the love was a blessing, much more special than some bacon we might have eaten and forgotten.

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