Billboards and God

There was a time I worked for a small environmental nonprofit.  Instead of concentrating on environmental education, for which they were funded, they would periodically get on a rant about billboards.  (The logic to that escapes me.)  When I first moved to Philadelphia, billboards helped me find restaurants, bars, and frequently the right exit.  I always like to know at which exits I could expect find a Dunkin Donuts, for example.  However, I must withhold my enthusiasm for outdoor advertising when it comes to religion.

Consider the New Jersey turnpike.  A friend of mine was once pulled over and ticketed for driving the speed limit because she was impeding the flow of traffic, i.e. going too slow.  I am convinced that if you get in the way, those trucks will very willingly run you down.  So why does anyone think billboards along the New Jersey turnpike are an effective means of communication?

Last December some ambitious atheists decided billboards are a great place to attack Christmas.  Really?  Attacking Christmas is quite like hating puppies.  I applaud the American Atheists for being “reasonable since 1963” but I’m thinking that was not the most reasonable campaign.  Naturally, there was a response.

Granted, that’s sort of old news, but while on the New Jersey turnpike this week I noticed several boards.  First I saw “The Bible” board, which said something like, “Infallible.  The Truth.”   (It’s hard to capture perfectly while driving to avoid being run down by truckers.)  Shortly after that I saw one with a 1-800 number over an American flag that said “Why Islam?”  Congratulations to American Muslims for jumping in the fray, but no one has time to write down a 1-800 number while driving on the NJ Turnpike.  We’re all just driving to stay alive.

Here is an attempt at something more artsy that was edited with graffiti.  Now that’s public discourse!

And let’s not forget the warning of impending doom.  How did that work out Harold?  I want to see: “Oops.  I got the date wrong.  My bad.”

Here are two of my favorites from the “Freedom From Religion Foundation” Web site.

I may now have to amend my view of religion and billboards.  This proves that outdoor advertising can be public expression and pop-art.  It reminds me of my favorite Joan Osborne song, “One of Us.”  (She did the theme song for “Joan of Arcadia.”)  One of the lines is, “What would you ask [God] if you had just one question?”

“What if God was one of us?  Just a slob like one of us.  Just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home.”  I’m wondering what God would look like on the Number 9 bus from Center City to Roxborough.  Is God really everywhere?  “If God had name, what would it be?  And would you call it to His face?”

I want a billboard that just says, “Why?”  That’s it.  Nothing else.  You know everyone would be claiming credit – both the atheists and the religious folk.  So this summer while you’re traveling, instead of playing “I Spy,” how about playing “What would you ask God?” or any of the questions in the Joan Osborne song.

Enjoy your summer.  And don’t forget the Dunkin Donuts.  Eating Boston Kreme can be a religious experience.  –J.B.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Beki Spurrier  On August 8, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    Nice blog, JBG. I’ve been away from reading your stuff for awhile… it is good to be back. In December of last year, a local group put signage on the sides of city buses in Ft. Worth. I believe the message was something like, “Millions of people are good without God every day.” I, personally, sort of liked it. No, wait… I actually liked it a whole lot. But needless to say, in Ft. Worth, Texas, there was a HUGE outcry. The City Council got involved and there are now new guidelines about who can and who cannot advertise on the side of a bus in Ft. Worth. Hmmm. Go figure.

  • allthingsreligious  On August 8, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Thanks for reading and commenting Bek. I would have been amused by those busboards and especially by the local outrage. I can imagine it. -J.B.

  • Mkay  On August 11, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    As always you make me think. Normally, I would drive on the turnpike at 80 miles an hour (because of the truck about to climb on my lap) without a thought about these messages. Maybe I will pay a little more attention…

    • allthingsreligious  On August 12, 2011 at 5:58 pm

      My thoughts exactly on truck drivers on the turnpike! Don’t watch billboards too closely! Nice to hear from you again, Mkay! -J.B.

  • Led Signs  On September 15, 2011 at 5:57 am

    I think some of your billboards conveying the incorrect message.

    • allthingsreligious  On September 23, 2011 at 2:11 pm

      Thank you for reading. While I did select these billboards for discussion, they are not my billboards. I’m not sure what you mean by “incorrect.” These billboards are just opinions from different organizations and as such are neither correct or incorrect, they are just the position of those people.
      Thanks for your comments. -J.B.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: