Thursday Throwback: COEXIST

No one asked for it, but today I’m reprinting something from my old blog.  It has special meaning for me, because it marks the day that an entire branch of my extended family stopped speaking to me.


In the “I’m Too Late For a Dentist Appointment To Key Your Car Right Now, But I’ll Get You Later” department, we have this bumper sticker:

which has been cropping up all over our area.

I live near a college town, which makes me, by definition, fatter, slower, less hip, and more endarkened than 60% of the population. Bumper stickers abound: mostly of the “I heart peace/let’s behead Bush” variety.

The cars so intelligently adorned seem to congregate outside a store called “The Hemporium.” I always enjoy passing by this place, because it has a huge banner over the door, proclaiming: “Come in and educate yourself!” irresistibly bringing to mind the Lilo and Stitch alien Pleakley,

an Earth enthusiast who devotes himself to the preservation of the mosquito food chain.

Anyway, as a claustrophobic, misanthropic, misogynistic, pediphobic, clutter-hating mother of twenty-seven who lives in a self-storage unit, I’m all for coexisting. I’ve even been known to . . . are you ready for this? . . . tolerate people who aren’t exactly like me. Mainly because everyone I know has managed, through twelve step programs and extensive plastic surgery, to avoid being exactly like me.

If by “coexist” you mean “don’t kill people who don’t agree with you,” I am all for that (although I’m not sure who worries that this message is going unheard in rural Southern New Hampshire). Or if there are people who do need to hear this message . . . you really think a bumper sticker will change their minds? Do me a favor and go nag yourselves, if you know what I mean.

I guess it wouldn’t be so grating if it just spelled out its little one-word sermon in regular letters, although I realize the message would lost some of its putative punch that way. I see what they’re trying to do by using symbols as letters: they’re trying to say that all of these ideas–Christianity, Judaism, Peace (which is separate from Christianity, dontcha know), Yin Yangitude, etc.– all fit together into one large, overarching shelter called “coexistence.”

It’s terribly fashionable to take important, very specific ideas and paste them into a collage demonstrating Everythingness. They’re trying to say, “Can’t we all just get along?” without sounding like a punchline.

Well, this is worse than using a picture of child’s face as a mouse pad, which is unseemly. This is worse than using the American flag as boxer shorts or dish towels, which is disrespectful. By using meaningful symbols as mere letters in a word, this bumper sticker subsumes the significant and specific into a suffocating mass of indiscriminate acceptance.

Don’t use the cross as a T, okay? And don’t use the star of David as an X. They’re not, like, logos for “Jesus Brand” and “Judaism, Inc.” Don’t tell me “it’s just a design” or “we were going for the visual impact — don’t read too much into it.” You should be glad someone’s paying attention to your message.

I don’t think it’s blasphemous; I just think it’s dangerously careless. Are you sure you want to just swallow down that soup without checking out the ingredients first? A few of those symbols look awfully prickly.

And fish that cross out for me! I need it.


  1. I’ve never been able to clearly articulate why I feel such seething irritation after seeing one of these smug bumper stickers.

    But you seemed to have found the words, exactly.

    I may have to print this one out, carry it with me, and use it in my attempt to channel that famed tolerance, the next time I’m encouraged to COEXIST by the young, well educated driver in front of me.

  2. This was my favorite blog post from your old blog! I think of it whenever I see that bumper sticker, whenever I pull out my wedding gift patriotic dish towels (which, I always sooth myself by noting they aren’t ACTUAL flags but are just cheesy designs with lots of random stripes and stars), and whenever I see instructions for edible rosaries and Marian grottos made out of rice crispie treats.

    • I know that it’s _intended_ as a message of peace and understanding, but it’s a poorly-conveyed message. Let’s look at the reactions it’s likely to elicit:

      For people like me, it promotes irritation.

      For people who truly don’t believe in living in peace with people they don’t agree with, I imagine it promotes anger.

      For people who see the bumper sticker and like it. . . well, you tell me. Did you go away feeling more peaceful and understanding? Did your heart swell up and make you more willing to embrace the next unpleasant, baffling person you met? Or did it just make you go, “Hey, yeah, we SHOULD all coexist?”

      It’s not a message of peace and understanding. It’s a message of smugness and self-congratulation.

      • I had one on my recently-deceased car. I was elated to find the sticker at the farmer’s market and put it on my car immediately after seeing it around town for years.

        When I see other people with it on their car I feel a sense of, “Hey, there goes one less asshole!” It’s a feeling of camaraderie and fellowship in a world where newspapers, magazines, and TVs are filled with hate, hate, hate, and more hate.

        It’s like a teeny, tiny, little sticky oasis on a bumper. YMMV.

    • A car with a co-exist sticker tried to run me over today…in a crosswalk. In front of a school. It seemed he was on a Very Important Phone-call and couldn’t put his cellphone down long enough to drive. His ‘coexist’ sticker did not seem to make him a better person, less of an asshole, a better citizen, a kinder human. “Coexist” folks are just as prone to anti-social behavior as the rest of the world, it would seem.

  3. “…it marks the day that an entire branch of my extended family stopped speaking to me.”

    You too? I think that Facebook did that for me.

    What do you think of the “Wag More Bark Less” bumper sticker? I find it annoying in about the same way.

    • Meh, the “wag more bark less” doesn’t get under my skin. It’s a good enough message, and might even remind me to watch my mouth, which is something I can never hear too often. I am generally against preaching with one’s bumper, though – too likely to bite you on the butt on a bad day, and then your message, no matter how good in itself, is ruined.

  4. I’ve always had mixed feelings about that bumper sticker. People that I know who have them tend to be kind and generous people with no particular religious conviction. Pro-choice, Obama-loving, etc. (I’ve also seen them with the pentagram symbol–the one with the circle around it–can’t remember which letter that was. THAT’S the one I have to supress a desire to rip off of cars.)

  5. I also have seen that bumper sticker (mostly in the university town nearby) (and let’s be honest, “don’t kill people who don’t agree with you” is a message we could use a little more of in rural Oklahoma) (seriously) and I have been a little _meh_ over it.

    But speaking of messages spewed forth from cars, what really does send me into a sneaky hate spiral is the Jesus fish on cars blowin’ my doors off as they pass me on the highway. “Look kids! Hypocrisy in motion!” Provoketh me to anger. Muchly.

    • Megan, that’s another reason I don’t have bumper stickers on my car! I know that if I had something about how much I love my kids or something, sooner or later I’ll be stuck in traffic and someone will catch me screaming at them. Much better to be a plain old jerk – no need to add “hypocrite” to the list.

      • I think this bumper is not limited to college towns, I have long seen it where I live in nowhere, rural, Crackerville Florida on varieties of vehicles (of whom the drivers I cannot help but take a peek.) My own personal reaction being to allow my son to display his giant anarchy sticker prominently in the middle of our bumper. I noticed that is left off the coexist sticker (prejudice?) I also believe we can coexist without degrading sacred symbols to meaninglessness. Don’t know why that act made me feel better, but I loved the feeling of contradiction it created on my fairly new Honda Odyssey with window stickers supporting state troopers, The U.S. Water Polo Association, and the local Christian music station. So I respect you all for not preaching from the front of the car line, but I just cannot pass up an opportunity for irony. And sorry, dear blogger, “they” will think you are a hypocrite no matter what.

        As a side note, I do approve of the bumper sticker: “Lord, help me be the person my dog thinks I am.”

  6. Okay, I can say that I’m irritated because — just to make a comment here, my email is “required.” We all have the unalienable right to like or not like anything or anyone and say so.

    I happen to like the bumper sticker. The first time I spotted it I thought, “THAT expresses exactly how I feel. Exactly how I SHOULD feel as a Christian who is truly trying to follow Christ’s example.” I am Catholic. I am Christian. Most people do not put those two words together and for years (decades) I can see why. Many Catholic Christians, and those who profess to be Christian, talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. We preach peace and love and understanding and acceptance, but our behaviors and attitudes give us away.

    We love you and accept you if you do EXACTLY what I want you to do. We are, in essence, standing on the opposite corner of those “other” Christians who say that if we don’t practice our faith EXACTLY as they do, then we will not be SAVED; we’ll miss the Rapture Bus.

    Arrogance and smugness are the cornerstones of many Christians’ faith. They can repeat Scripture verbatim, however, they fail to actually LIVE it. God’s Word is to be lived, not just read.

    I would suppose that those who hate the bumper sticker are all for those photos and banners being draped outside the church on Sunday mornings that show fetuses and declare abortion a sin. While I don’t promote abortion, I also don’t think that such photos and banners welcome a woman who may be struggling with the issue to enter the church and come to Christ. If anything, it makes them feel alienated and ashamed ~ and the LAST thing they want is enter and be stoned with words and attitudes.

    If the bumper sticker bothers you, it’s probably because God is trying to tell you something and you’re sitting there in your car ignoring Him. “I hear you thumping, but you can’t come in.”

    • Keahn –

      In a previous comment, I made the distinction between people who are irritated by the bumper sticker, and people who disagree with the idea of coexisting. I’m trying to tell you that you can dislike this bumper sticker, and still believe wholeheartedly in coexisting. It’s the means of conveying the idea that bothers me.

      No one around here hangs banners of mutilated fetuses, but if they did, I and 99% of Catholics I know would be horrified — among other reasons, for the same reason as I don’t like this bumper sticker: the message behind it is right on, but the delivery upsets, confuses, and alienates people. You’re making my point for me: it’s not enough to have a good idea — you have to understand how your delivery of it will be received, especially when you are dealing with images.

      You are raging against hypocrisy. That’s fine. I know that hypocrites abound on the left and on the right. But it’s a funny thing: the people I know who actually do good in the world –visit the sick and imprisoned, feed the hungry, etc.,–don’t have any bumper stickers on their cars. I imagine that’s because what they do can’t be distilled into a one-word slogan, and because one-word slogans don’t help change hearts.

  7. I probably shouldn’t be on the internet today b/c I am tired and angry about something else but here goes. . .

    Actually, I need to hold back. I sense an occasion of sin right here in this comment box.

    Let’s just say I agree with you Simcha. I love what you wrote, I admire your humor and how you wield it to such great rhetorical ends.

  8. I’ve never really liked that bumper sticker either. We live near a college town, a very liberal college town, and I see it a lot. Maybe it’s sold in the bookstore? Who knows?

    Simcha, you and Sharon, both articulated the thoughts I’ve had about the sticker. I do think it can be too wishy washy. I think C.S. Lewis said that ours is not a wishy washy faith in his own well-written way.

    I think the bumper sticker advocates tolerance and to me, tolerance is a slippery slope. Yes, we’re called to love one another and especially the sinner. But, we’re also told it’s okay to hate the sin. We’re told to live life with our eyes wide open because evil uses any means necessary to sneak in the back door.

  9. For the record, a bumper sticker I like a lot is “If you want peace, work for justice.”

    I realize that people have wildly divergent ideas of what constitutes justice, and of what is the best way to work for it, but at least it makes you think.

    • Or the “No Jesus, No Peace. Know Jesus, Know Peace” drivel. I sure as heck don’t respond peacefully when he nags me to “go and sin no more” or “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”…

  10. It’s the smug self-congratulation that makes me irritable when I see this bumper-sticker.

    Also the blithe unwillingness to accept that the biggest tolerance problem in our world, by far, is that the capital “C” is trying to kill all the other letters. If they fully accepted this fact and wanted to spread their message as effectively as possible, they’d take their next holiday in Pakistan, and be sure to slap this bumper sticker on their rental car. But it’s ever so much safer to harangue the “x” and “t” from the comfort of a free and peaceful society, isn’t it?

    Also the realization that if the “e” were replaced by a Republican elephant (ignore the difference in shapes…just roll with me on this), the sales of this bumper sticker would decline by 97% in university towns, whether or not the “s” were at the same time replaced by a Democrat donkey. Even though that’s one variety of tolerance these people actually do need to be reminded of each and every day.

    (And can you even imagine if there were universally-recognized symbols for “pro-life” and “pro-Proposition-8” and “I support Arizona on immigration”?)

    Also there are at least three other “also”s I was going to mention, but I’ve got to go. Thanks for helping get the blood pumping this morning, Simcha.

  11. Loved this post. We live in Berkeley, California, Land of the Liberal Bumper Sticker, so I see that very same “Coexist” bumper sticker quite often. It also sticks in my craw, especially when I remember that my friend’s pro-life bumper sticker was defaced and scratched off within months of her moving here. So much for co-existing, I guess!

  12. I have no problem with tolerance, but I can’t stand PHONY tolerance. That’s why I can’t stand these bumper stickers.

  13. (I’m starting a new thread because you can’t have more than two replies to a comment, apparently.)

    PikaPikaChick said:

    “When I see other people with it on their car I feel a sense of, “Hey, there goes one less asshole!” It’s a feeling of camaraderie and fellowship in a world where newspapers, magazines, and TVs are filled with hate, hate, hate, and more hate.”

    Soooo . . . everyone who doesn’t have that sticker on their car is probably an asshole? Come on, you’re making this too easy.

  14. Ditto on living near a college town and being endlessly annoyed by this bumper sticker (and its cousin, TOLERANCE made out of religious symbols). I think it really shows the true colors of its owner best when juxtaposed with other stickers, as in the following two examples, seen (and laughed at to the point of tears) in the supermarket parking lot.

    TOLERANCE, COEXIST, and “ignorant beck-tards for sara palin” (printed so as to appear scrawled in crayon)

    TOLERANCE, COEXIST, and “F*** S*** UP” (only, alas, the words were not starred out in the original)

  15. This is a sardonically-funny-because-it’s-true breakdown of said bumper sticker:

    It’s worth reading just because it cleanly articulates the natural discomfort I (and others) have when seeing it – though I’d never taken more than seven seconds to process why I thought it was smug and also just ridiculous and self-contradictory, and this guy does the legwork beautifully.

  16. Let’s just all collectively admit that bumper stickers are a terrible channel for changing minds, if that’s the intent of slapping a printed sentiment on a bumper.

    To me, it’s just a quick way to both loudly proclaim how awesome you think your belief/political bent/taste in humor is, and speedily devalue your car.

  17. my fav was one for a Unitarian Universalist Church that had the word “intolerance” crossed out….like….”no intolerance permitted here.” EVERY time I saw it, I just went BAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHA. It’s just so. silly.

    I will admit that in college, at the height of my activism, the back of my beater was plastered with pro-life bumper stickers.

    Currently, I don’t have any. I like to think I’ve matured and mellowed since then (b/c it was sooo long ago..4 years is just, FOREVER, you know) but mostly I think having kids has robbed me of the emotional energy I would need to continue being that obnoxious. Ha see my kids HAVE made me a better person!

  18. Well, live and let live. I wouldn’t slap a COeXiSt bumper sticker on my truck, but then I probably wouldn’t get a full-color tattoo of Pikachu rollerblading with Hello Kitty, either.

  19. Aw man, one of the first comments says this was their favorite post on your old blog. Does it make me a terrible person to admit that my favorite posts involved your woes with the furnace or hot water heater, or some appliance? The green large family one wasn’t bad, either.

    I’m in an area where popular bumper stickers tend to be of the “You wear your X and I’ll wear mine (confederate flag)” genre, so I don’t see the coexist one a lot.

  20. My husband and I both dislike that bumper sticker. I had the smashing idea to craft one that says “Fight To The Death” incorporating various religious symbols and that made Mike and I laugh for a good five minutes on our last car trip, which was a welcome respite from our never-ending “I hate your $%%&$ Grateful Dead music” “Yeah, well I’m driving, so deal with it” car trip fight.

    But seriously, that sticker seems not to be advocating a cease fire as much as it is a squelching of evangilization. I ain’t no stinkin’ Unitarian, baby. I’m not going to beat you up, and maybe not even beat you over the head, but I will share my faith. I guess the Gospel means something to me, and the yin-yang does, too, and they don’t sit well side by side.

    How ’bout this- I shall have the same uneasy peace with various religions that I extend to my husband’s crappy taste in music. Which means I’m going to glare at you if you display that sticker. In a Christian way.

  21. I thought you had the “alternative” version as well. Coexisting is not fun when you deal with immorality…

  22. Hmmm…I get what you are saying about agreeing with the message while still hating the bumper sticker for being shallow (but what bumper sticker isn’t?). And maybe a few years ago I would have agreed with you. But since there are now so many people in American politics who feel free to imply that certain religions are inferior, or that certain political candidates are suspect because they have an Islamic middle name, I feel it is important that people who do not agree with that approach become more vocal. Yes, actions speak louder than words; but it is still essential to respond verbally to verbal expressions of prejudice and hate. I’m afraid that, in these times, it is not enough to be quietly tolerant. We must speak up.

    For the record…raised Jewish, married Catholic, raising kids Catholic. Many good right-wing Catholic and evangelical friends…many good left-wing friends. God loves us all, fiercely and unequivocally. We should do the same.

    • Certain religions ARE inferior. You’re telling me Mormons and Scientologists are on the same spiritual footing as Catholics and Jews?

    • You know, this is my fault, but I think I gave the impression that I agree with the message intended by the bumper sticker. Let me clarify: I agree with what _I_ mean by “coexist,” which is that, just like God, we should love and care for everyone equally, no matter what religion (or non-religion) they belong to. I don’t think we should hate, attack, or kill anyone because they are different from me. I really do strive to carry this out in practical, meaningful ways in my personal life. And, like you, I have friends (and family) who are non-Catholic, non-Christian, non-religious, non-conservative, etc. I coexist with them.

      I don’t think this is what people mean when they use this bumper sticker, though. I think they mean: everything is equal. To achieve this equality, you should never do anything, even if your religion requires it, which would be contrary to another religion.

      That is not a Catholic idea. The Church recognizes that some truths are contrary to what the world, and other religions, teach.

      In practice, this idea has other problems. Keeping everything equal and fair and unobjectionable sounds really good, but is it possible? Maybe, but I don’t see it carried out by people who sport this bumper sticker. As several people have pointed out, you don’t see liberals going out of their way to be inclusive and inoffensive and tolerant toward conservatives. You don’t see the ACLU rushing to the defense of Catholics peacefully praying in front of abortion clinics, for instance.

      Frankly, I’m probably just as disgusted by conservative talk radio as you are. I don’t listen to it, and I don’t even consider myself a republican anymore — they’re mostly phonies, liars, perverts, and crooks, just like the democrats.

      I’m just trying to tell you that saying “coexist” is not a message of peace. Look at our friend PikaPikaJen, who seems to have disappeared from this combox. When pressed, she revealed that her aim was not, as she originally stated, to spread a message of peace and tolerance. It was to make herself feel better. It was to remind herself that she was better than all those “assholes” who couldn’t go to the world-changing effort of slapping a sticker on their car.

      Gee, there’s a hero for you. We’ll have world peace in no time.

      • PikaPikaChick said:

        “Er… sorry, I was off celebrating the birth of my niece. Sorry I had to leave the discussion. I guess you win.”

        Oh, sorry, I assumed you had left in a huff! Glad to see you back. Probably everyone’s said everything they have to say (I know I have), but feel free to go ahead and continue it if you like. Congratulations on the birth of your niece! Hey, let’s talk about babies. I like babies.

  23. The one thing my husband wanted for his birthday this year was a bumper sticker that says, “Goat ropers need love, too.” So . . . we have no goats. We rope no goats. We know no goat ropers personally, that we’re aware of. But whatever. I got it for him, to make him happy. People ask me about that bumper sticker all the time, and it’s kind of a relief, actually, to say that it really doesn’t mean anything. Not to us, anyway. (unlike the Belmont Abbey “Got Monks” sticker that holds the right corner of the front bumper to the rest of the car — that’s meaningful on all kinds of levels).

    At the same time that I was browsing the internet for that bumper sticker, I saw another one that I wound up buying, too: “A good bumper sticker makes me feel like I’m done thinking for the day.”

    That’s my favorite.

  24. I have a bumper sticker on my car. It is a quote from Rachel Scott the first girl killed in the school shooting at Columbine in Colorado several years ago. It says “You just may start a chain reaction.” She was referring to kindness and how by being kind we might inspire others to be that way. The thing is that is works the other way around too. That’s why I love this sticker. It reminds me that my actions can very easily be prone to start chain reactions. I know what kind of chain reaction I would prefer to start…

  25. I have a sister who is a practicing Wiccan (not sure there is such a thing as a lapsed Wiccan!) and she had this sign painted on her guest house. I had no idea what it meant so now I do. 🙂

  26. lol no wonder religious freaks will never coexist. this blog is a perfect example. Atheism, truth, rationality is the only way.

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