One of the nearby churches has this as the title of the next sermon: If God is your co-pilot, guess who’s in the wrong seat. Amusing as it is, there’s something at the root of this statement that I find disturbing.

I’ve never liked the co-pilot analogy. My reaction upon seeing a bumpersticker with “God is my co-pilot” for the first time was: Dear Lord, how arrogant. It could be read a couple of different ways. The first: “God is my co-pilot…because I am just that awesome,” is not just egotistical and arrogant, but bears hints of a slightly delusional nature that the world must conform to the driver’s wishes. A second way the bumpersticker can be read: “God is my co-pilot…because he is my shield and my sword.” Really? So you’re using the divine presence as a tool to intimidate? Again, this is an arrogant and slightly delusional view point. The third way it could be read: “God is my co-pilot…he tells me where to go.” Of the three immediate ways I read it, this is the most disturbing to me.

Before I say why it’s the most disturbing, let me define some of my terms:
Egotistical: an exaggerated sense of self-worth
Arrogant: exaggerating or disposed to exagerate one’s own worth or importance often by an overbearing manner; showing an offensive attitude of superiority
Delusional: a persistent false psychotic (i.e. loss of touch with reality) belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary

Breaking it down, the bumpersticker smacks of an inflated sense of the person’s importance and the idea that rubbing it in people’s faces is a good idea. As for the slightly delusional aspect: most people would say that making a statement does not necessarily make it a fact, yet that’s what this bumpersticker is doing. It is stating that God is manifested in the seat next to the person driving the vehicle.

I understand what they’re trying to say, but I had to think for a bit before coming to the conclusion that no, the driver of that car didn’t necessarily believe he or she was superior to everyone else on the road. What I think the bumpersticker is saying is God is an integral part of the driver’s life. Only “God is an integral part of my life” is not a catchy phrase.

So why is that third interpretation so disturbing to me? Because it sounds like the most reasonable interpretation, and is thus more likely to be true. The implications of the statement, though, is that the person driving isn’t thinking. Driving jokes aside, by “not thinking”, I mean that the driver relies on someone else to provide the answers. And that, to me, is very disturbing. It is disturbing in the sense that by relying on someone else to provide the answers, the driver may lose, or have lost, their ability to think critically about their own fundamental beliefs. (An ironic situation, because they rely on OTHERS to do that in order to bring in “converts”.)

Looking back at that sermon title (“If God is your co-pilot, guess who’s in the wrong seat.”) it seems to be the next step on that third interpretation. That is to say, if the third interpretation is more true than I could wish, this seems to escalate the message. Now instead of “God tells me what to do,” the sense is “God is driving and I have no choice.” Doubtless, some would say that’s exactly how it should be. Me, I question that answer. It seems counter to one of the central concepts believers often espouse: choice of whether to follow or not (granted not following has its…disadvantages, but the choice is there).

Personally, I’ve always liked the imagery of “Footprints in the Sand” by Mary Stevenson. God as Companion. And not in an enclosed, man-made vehicle, but in a wide open vista. As with any companion, you can wander away, you can wander back, you can talk, you can be silent. A companion shares the ordeal and helps you through, provides opportunities or a supportive hand. And if necessary, will carry you when you can’t make it on your own.

Who wants a “God is my Companion” bumpersticker?

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