Heard It All Before

4 cliches we could do without

By Norris Burkes
April 2022

People in my line of work get used to reruns. That’s not to say I’ve heard it all before, but stuff has a way of repeating itself when you’ve been a chaplain for a few decades.

Another thing I get accustomed to: clichés, especially those derived from biblical passages. Some I love. Others, not so much. Here’s a list of several unhealthy clichés:

1. “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

Try something for me, will you? Repeat the phrase aloud as if it’s being said about you.

Do you hear how the words create an Us vs. Them dynamic? The speaker becomes the righteous person looking down at the poor miserable “sinner.”

“Hate” is the word that gives me the most trouble. Even if God hates, and I know some believe he does, he certainly didn’t delegate that job to us. The cliché seems roughly 10 percent love and 90 percent hate. Yet we haven’t a clue why it doesn’t work.

How about we replace this one with the truism, “God loves you.” Has a certain biblical ring to it, right?

2. “God told me.”

This one claims to have God in your pocket. Back when I was in clergy school, a few of my fellow ministerial students told their girlfriends, “God told me we should get married.” Even then I could hear the ulterior motives.

My wife, Becky, told one of her early suitors, “Let’s just wait until God tells me too.” God stayed quiet.

We needn’t make up what God tells us to do when we have 66 biblical books presenting some good decisions.

3. “Christianity isn’t a religion; it’s a relationship.”

I applaud the second half of this cliché, but the first half of the saying is intellectually false.

You can’t say Christianity isn’t a religion. But if you say Christianity is “a unique religion,” you are in good company with Boston University professor Stephen Prothero. In his book “God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter,” he dismisses a related cliché often voiced by people opposed to religion. Namely, that all religions are the same.

Prothero shows how each belief, including Christianity, meets the criteria of a religion. The difference he sees is each religion is vastly different with opposing goals. For instance, Christians uniquely focus on eternal life, sin and salvation. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Confucians either don’t believe in sin or don’t concentrate on it.

Honestly, the untruth has undertones of: “My religion is the only true one.” And if you insert John 14:6 and proclaim Jesus is the only way to know God, then you might as well add the conversation-stopper that all those who follow other religions are going to hell.

4. “Let’s agree to disagree.”

This one is often used in discussions of religion and politics. Unfortunately, it’s a cliché many of us use to grab the last word of any discussion.

It’s definitely the cliché I would be tempted to use if I ever meet Jeff Myers of the conservative Colorado Christian University. His bio tells me there is some doctrine we don’t share. Yet I was able to find inspiration for this column in his blog.

“Clichés produce shame, not change,” he writes. “They seem powerful at first because people ooh and ahh and applaud when they hear them.”

Those who disagree are left feeling unspiritual. How long will it take us to realize that such shame-inducing tactics are counterproductive?

I could go on, but that’s enough for today. Don’t hesitate to email if you’ve got any clichés you’d like to discuss. I really mean it, no cliché.

Norris Burkes can be reached at comment@thechaplain.net. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento. Burkes is available for public speaking at civic organizations, places of worship, veterans groups and more. For details and fees, visit thechaplain.net.

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