“You can’t make me” is the rallying cry of the toddler.
Oddly enough, it has also become the rallying cry of many in our culture.
It is never the cry of a responsible, fully mature accountable person.
And certainly never the tone or expression of an adult.
It is the cry of someone who knows that they don’t have reason, will, strength, power or even ‘right’ on their side.
It is the last resort of the toddler –and too often it seems – the first argument of many Christians in our contradictory times.
When I was young, a common image of an atheist was of a lonely, strident, desperate figure shaking his fist at God with a tagline something like “You can’t make me believe in you”.
This figure was almost always portrayed in silhouette to emphasize the dark, bitter, alienated loneliness inherent in forsaking – and being forsaken by – God.
But in what has become an almost scripted contrariness seemingly required for our times, this has become something like a pledge of “non-allegiance”.
People who call themselves ‘conservatives’ seem convinced that their ultimate right is, not to actually conserve, respect, honor and protect laws, rules and political representatives but to mock, challenge and disrespect them often and loudly.
The irony of the “You can’t make me” philosophy is that, even though it is not anchored in maturity, civility or even common sense, it is technically ‘true’.
It is rare indeed that a boss, parent, police officer or politician, or even God, could ‘make’ us do something.
It is a central premise of perhaps every deistic religion than God can allow, bless, curse, judge or even condemn us, but He cannot ‘make’ us do anything.
If there is a God worth believing in, a key characteristic of such a God is that He stands well out of reach of human control – we cannot ‘make’ God do anything.
And in Christian theology (and perhaps Judaism and Islam as well) God’s love, wisdom and compassion are so far beyond ours that we, not God, should be malleable, willing and even eager adapters.
God’s grace, if it is anything, is the polar opposite of the insular insolence of “You can’t make me”.
Historians and philosophers, and perhaps most of all, theologians, will marvel at our absorption of rebellion and rudeness as the calling card of ‘the faithful’.
Their hatred and distrust of ‘the government’ is based less on in depth knowledge and analysis or on ‘over-reach’- or Constitutional trepidations than it is on carefully nurtured and passionately inflamed, almost hyper-realistic, intoxicating paranoid fantasies.
In some ways, I am almost jealous of the ecstatic states they whip themselves into.
But I know, and have seen too often, the raging hangover of disappointment and betrayal that leaves them clinging ever more fiercely, like an abused or rejected lover, to those who would betray them again and again.
How is it that we have so thoroughly forgotten how important it is, as Stephen Covey put it, to seek first to understand and then to be understood, or as St. Francis put it, to preach the Gospel at all times, and only when necessary, use words.
The raging tantrum vocabulary of a toddler will rarely, if ever, be the vehicle of any ‘good news’ and certainly not the hallmark of a disciple of any faith.