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Meditation 26
God's Billboards

by: JT

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I had been thinking about writing about the religious billboards along America's highways for some time. However, when Massimo Piglucci tackled the subject in the June 2001 Rationally Speaking, I put the topic on hold. But on reflection, I decided to go ahead with my own slightly different perspective.

One sign Massimo didn't mention was the one that says "I don't doubt your existence." and signed God. Clearly, my existence isn't being doubted, because somebody is putting up billboards for me to read.

But those billboards saying nothing about the existence of the supreme being who is claimed to have signed them. If I were to take the trouble to investigate every step in the way to the placement of those billboards and their messages, I have no doubt that I would find evidence only of human effort, and no sign of divine intervention. Possibly at some point in the investigation, someone would be found who would claim divine inspiration or that God had actually talked to him. But inspiration does not justify a direct quotation nor demonstrate the reality of the source of inspiration, and most people, even believers, regard those who claim God speaks to them as somewhat less than completely sane.

And if these quotations, attributed to God, along America's highways are clearly the work of human beings, what does that imply about the holy books claimed to be the true word of God?

Another sign I saw while driving on a rural road in northeastern California stated "It is written 'The Pope is the Anti-Christ.'" I had to laugh at this one because, in itself, the statement is self-evidently true. Indeed, it is written, right up there on the billboard. However, it is doubtful that whoever put up the sign intended this to be an exercise in self-reference. More likely, they were referring to some passages in the Book of Revelations, which can be interpreted to refer to the Pope only through convoluted and twisted logic.

This billboard symbolizes something else. Christians have been fighting among themselves both in word and in deed for nearly 2000 years over differences in doctrine. And the fighting shows no sign of coming to an end. Many of those who have moved away from Christianity identify these internal disputes as one of the elements in loss of faith. When we find that our brand of Christianity condemns others to eternal damnation, then we find out that others similarly regard us as condemned to hellfire, (and we make these discoveries at quite a young age) we start to sincerely question which side is right. The more intelligent of us question whether either side is right. And so we start on the path of abandoning the faith of our parents.

So when I see these billboards along the highway, I regard them as an affirmation for my agnosticism, and as evidence of the inherent contradictions in the beliefs of those that constructed them.