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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Roadside Religion

http://www.conggiao.info/
Now that Spring is finally dawdling along to Ohio, Rick and I are weekending at the lake, which is in Ashland County, about a forty-five minute drive for us through small towns and farmland. And, apparently, judging by the yard signs we see, Proud Christians.

I am continually fascinated by this sort of Roadside Religion, this blaring Bible-thumping. My mother, St. Patsy, and I had a chat about it once when she accompanied me.

Nance: These God signs are ridiculous. Who puts a bigass sign full of religion in their yard?
St. Patsy: I know.
Nance: It's pretty lazy evangelizing, if you ask me. What if other people, like doctors, did their jobs like that? What if a doctor merely put up a sign in front of his office that said, "Take two aspirin and lie down" and that was it? What if I, as an English teacher, had simply put up a sign in my yard that said, "Apostrophes don't make plurals and go read the classics"? Those God Warriors are just taking the easy way out.
St. Patsy: (laughs; shakes head) Oh, Nance. Just ignore it.

My mother's stock answer for most things that annoyed me throughout my life has always been to Ignore It, from my siblings' torments to the sometimes hurtful retorts from my children to runs in my pantyhose to the random pimples on my chin. But I think it's pretty hard to ignore this:


And here's the other side of it, shot from the road parallel, the only place I could grab a decent photo:

As you can see, this is one bigass, preachy sign, the wording of which still escapes me. Exactly how does one Believe ON something/someone, anyway?  (St. Patsy assures me that this is Old Timey, Bible wording that she recalls from her Pre-Catholic Days.)  This sign is along a residential driveway, bordered by evergreens, and when I drove into said driveway to get the shot, it was peaceful and parklike, even eerily so. The other side's sentiment, stating that only Grace/Faith saves you, not Works, is a very Puritan sentiment. It goes all the way back to Predestination, that confusing doctrine that said your Final Destination (Heaven or Hell) was already decided at your birth, so no matter what you did, it didn't really matter. I still don't know why any Puritan bothered to behave at all. I'd have sinned myself ragged. (Of course, many did but the social and real costs were high.)

Lest you think that sign is the only one, let me present Exhibit B:


And its reverse:


This sign is much more subtle, of course, but is again in a rather nice and tranquil setting (the dead Easter plants notwithstanding). Across the street (where I parked to get out and get the shot) is a junky used car lot, and nearby is a railroad track. It is about two miles away from the bigass sign. And yes, that comma is killing me there.

This enormous and rather scary sign appeared over Easter. The bloody red paint presents a rather interesting and ironic contrast to its message:


Unfortunately, you cannot clearly see the small, also hand-lettered sign next to the bigass one. It reads "Do Not Come To The House." (Something the newspaper delivery person clearly took to heart, as you can tell by the newspaper lying in the grass.) This presents a wonderful paradox for me. JESUS LOVES YOU, but DO NOT COME TO THE HOUSE. Hey, they are into Jesus, but not so much what He was into.

The lakehouse is smack-dab in the middle of a large Amish enclave.  Right at the entrance to the lake community is an Amish farmhouse, and across the road is another one.  Several more are down the street.  They are easy to spot; they have no electric lines running to their homes, and their buggies and horses are often in view.  Once a week, their familiar black and deep blue clothing flutters on clotheslines next to white aprons and caps.

But the one thing you never see is overt signs of their devotion to their God.  They are quietly devout, silently living their Christian ideology. Their farmstands are shuttered on Sundays.

I'm a recovering Catholic; I am not religious, so I don't understand evangelical religions.  One thing I do understand, however, is that I don't like being preached to about pretty much anything, especially passive-aggressively.

A long time ago, someone passed this along about religion--I forget who--but I think it's a great analogy, however crude:  Religion is like a penis. It’s fine to have one, it’s fine to be proud of it, but please don’t whip it out in public and start waving it around...and don’t try to shove it down my throat.



23 comments:

  1. Love that last sentence about penises and religion. Says it all, right there. I'm Jewish and I feel a bit wonky when I see these fervent road side signs about Jesus. I don't think I want to know the people who made these signs...and I doubt they want to know me.

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    1. phoebes in santa fe--"Fervent" is a good word to describe the tone of this sort of advertising of one's religion/religiosity. I'm not sure exactly what it all is about. Do the sign owners really look to convert people, make a statement of their own Christianity, fulfill an obligation to evangelize, what? I guess it's wrong to assume all of them are a Certain Type. Perhaps they'd be very nice to both of us (at least one of them.)

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  2. First of all, my mother was of the Just Ignore It school of mothering, too. It was, I believe, a generational thing that all those good girls were taught [probably in Sunday School], so that they'd stop complaining.

    As for the signs you see up your way, they're down here too. We refer to them as roadside sermons. Unlike you, I rather enjoy seeing them around. I'm fascinated to read what it is that a family thinks is so important that they must tell the world. Sometimes it's joy, often times it's gibberish, but it's always big!

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    1. Ally Bean--I suspect you're right about the Ignoring School Of Mothering. I was more of the Tell Them To Mind Their Own Business School Of More Assertive Parenting myself.

      As a regular denizen of NEO, I'm not used to this sort of thing as I head southward, even just a wee bit. NEO is a vastly different area of the state with its organized labor, liberal Democrats, and racial diversity. You don't see that much here.

      I like your take on it, however, and I'll try to remember that. It will help me Maintain My Zen/Joy.

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  3. Ah yes, it was this type of evangelical behavior that made me run into the open (& welcoming & diverse!) arms of the Episcopalians. Right now I'm on the outreach team at church & I cringe - don't make me go out into the highways & bi-ways!

    Even when I was young and fully indoctrinated into the Southern Baptist church I was a smart ass - if I ever saw a sign like that small one that's talking about "he" and "man" I would tell whoever was around me, "well, guess I don't have to worry about that seeing as how I'm not a man!"

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    1. Bug--Bless those tolerant EpiscoPals! My favourite aunt is a very active Episcopalian. Their church just last year welcomed a new gay pastor and his partner.

      Did you volunteer to be on the outreach team? Didn't you figure that you'd have to venture out onto some highways and byways in that capacity? OUTREACH = REACHING OUT. Oh, well. Just put up a sign. LOL.

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  4. https://youtu.be/dG9tuuznL1Y

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    1. Silliyak--I know this scene--of Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke singing "Plastic Jesus"--is supposed to be quite moving and poignant in context. Having never seen the film (!!), I had a different experience. It reminded me of a colleague of mine, a chipper, sort of goofy math teacher who used to sing this song constantly in the hallways, classroom, and offices at our school. It was just his thing. You always knew if Deryl was around because you could hear the strains of "I don't care if it rains or freezes; long as I got my plastic Jesus!" sung in varying degrees of intensity. He's a real character, as they say.

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    2. You simply MUST watch it, if for no other reason than to hear Struther Martin say, "What we have HERE, is a failure to communicate!"

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  5. Ah, yes...the language of the King James Version. Very Shakespearean, without all the double entendre and iambic feet. Interestingly enough, the good King James, head of the Anglican Church, was somewhat of a closet Catholic and pretty intolerant of radical Protestants in his midst. But the English-speaking world demanded its own, standardized version of the Bible, and so sources were assembled, but not from the fabulous Erasmus Bible, alack. Be glad you only have signs and not "wonders" such as snake handlers and poison-drinkers, who base the entirety of their practice on one bit of verse at the end of the Gospel of Mark...a verse that is not in the Catholic Bible, nor is it in the standard Koine Greek New Testament favored by most Protestant scholars for translation into modern languages, etc. *sigh* In the midst of all this shouting and daring God to do some mighty smiting, these lovely "Christians" forget the most simple of commands from their lord and savior: "If you love me, feed my sheep." Thanks, Nance! You make me smile.

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    1. Carolina Linthead--Thank You, Professor! I love to gather in as much knowledge as possible on as many things as possible, and my Bible knowledge is limited. The Catholics, as you know, are primarily Gospel/Epistolary, so my Bible exposure is literature-based.

      I find the most fervent, noisy Christians to be the worst Christians in everyday practice, almost without exception. It's like the old saying that the ones who sing loudest in church on Sundays sinned the most during the week.

      It is my great pleasure to know that I made you smile. I hope I can do that often.

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  6. Love your posts! I'm making my Honors 10 students read Things Fall Apart and our discussions include religions and respect for others, so I may try and use your quote, if I can figure out how to sanitize it, for the sake of my job.

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    1. Rose--Thank you! It's not MY quote; I want to be sure you know that. But it's an easy one to "sanitize", I think. You can substitute the word "sword", or if you're not in a big Gun Totin' area, use "gun."

      Depending upon your bravery, you might even sub in "nice butt." I probably would have used the quote straight up in my classroom, but I was in an entirely different demographic, had tenure, and had a big dose of Oh Please, These Kids Are Honors & Have Heard Far Worse On Cable.

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  7. Nance...We have a guy in our neighborhood who drives a 1995 Toyota truck with rusted out fenders and dented and smashed in doors.
    On his once chrome but now cardboard bumper he proudly displays a "REAL MEN LOVE JESUS" sticker. I often wonder if Jesus is flattered by this sign of devotion or if He is just waiting by the Pearly Gates for this guy to appear so he can smack him.

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    1. Nancy!--Lovely to see you back! Ah, the pickup truck cliche/stereotype; it's so often proven, isn't it? I see plenty of those on my trips down to the lake, and while I've never seen this particular bumper sticker, I've seen others that are just as defining.

      Right now, it sure seems like heaven is going to be full of teapartiers an republicans, so I'll pass.

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  8. One of the nicest things about living overseas (at least, in the countries where I've been living) has been the freedom from having someone else's religion thrust down my throat. The Koreans - although many of them are strongly evangelical - mostly limit their evangelizing to handing out leaflets inviting you to their churches. The English would never dream of being so rude as to thrust their religion upon you via a billboard. At least, not as far as I've seen since moving here in January. I still think Dave Barry summed it up the best when he said, "People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them."

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    1. MsCaroline--Dave Barry, one of my favourite funny writers, is very wise. If I had any patience whatsoever with the very pleasant Jehova's Witnesses and occasional Mormons who arrive on my doorstep, I would share what shreds of Catholicism still cling to my memory and see what happens. That would be interesting, at least. I have to say, the likelihood of that happening is whisperthin, however; talking about religion to The Devoted unnerves me terribly.

      As far as handing out leaflets, one comedian said that it was merely someone asking you to throw something away for him. So perfect in pretty much every single case!

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  9. Religion--UGH!

    I was force-fed Catholicism growing up and figured out early on that it was not for me. As soon as I was able to, I stopped going to church and have never been back. Religion smacks of ritualistic superstition, and I am not a superstitious person.

    It astonishes me how completely superstitious the vast majority of people are about EVERYTHING. If I wear my lucky socks, the Lakers will win the game. If I dance around the fire tonight, it will rain on Tuesday. It is really about believing you are the center of the universe, and that your random behavior influences events you have no control over. This is exactly what religion is about. If I pray or believe or behave a certain way, the "god" will show me favor. Even in the face of absolute black and white evidence to the contrary, people still buy in to this stuff, and adamantly assume you should as well. Unbelievable...

    Many religious people and all evangelical/orthodox types can't see past the end of their noses, and don't give a damn what you think. The few times I've ever encountered a proselytizer on a mission (no pun intended), I've bluntly told them I'm not interested. AT ALL. It usually surprises the crap out of them.

    I just try to do the most right thing in each situation and "do unto others". Sometimes I fail, but that's how people work--they make mistakes. Figure out what went wrong and try to do better next time, and take responsibility for your behavior. It's a simple approach, but not always easy. It's too bad more people don't behave this way, regardless of how they get there.

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  10. LaFF--I know a lot of religious people, and I know a lot of spiritual people. I don't know many evangelistic religious people--most of my experience with them was via a student--so my experience there is limited. My own experience has been that the evangelists have a very, very hard time NOT evangelizing. It's a strong urge; they have to, at some point, at least invite you to their church and back that up with a few more bright, hard Jesusy things that, while not intended to, make you feel pretty uncomfortable.

    I'm very comfortable in the company of spiritual people, and I'm pretty comfortable in the presence of most religious people, thanks in great part to my early Catholic upbringing and my literary background in religions of all kinds (and the Bible as literature) if religion comes up. By and large, however, it rarely does.

    I think your last paragraph sums up My Religion pretty well. I always thought it was Basic Christianity/Basic World Religions, anyway. My eldest son, Jared, once took a class or two on world religions as part of a personal quest. He spoke at great length to a practicing Buddhist, who suggested to him that he was probably most comfortable with Buddhism, and that it was a lifelong journey and practice. At that point Jared, a dedicated sloth, said, "Forget it. That sounds like a lot of efforting just for a religion. I'm out." He's happier being a very kind and compassionate atheist.

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  11. If I were tacky enough to put a sign up in my front yard with a Christian message on it, it would be the only one you ever really need: “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” (Matthew 7:12) (P.S. I was also raised a Catholic with no biblical training and had to look up the verse number, ha, ha.)

    One of the funniest and most unsettling signs I have seen posted for the general public (outside of a Baptist church):
    DUSTY BIBLES
    DIRTY LIVES
    What the heck is that supposed to mean?!

    Completely agree with LAFF on the superstitious aspect of religion. So true! It’s just another rabbit’s foot to make people feel like they are in the winners’ circle if they go to church and tithe. I revel in the irony of how many “upstanding church members” turn up in the news as pedophiles and assassins.

    With regard to your question to pheobes in santa fe, Do the sign owners really look to convert people, make a statement of their own Christianity, fulfill an obligation to evangelize, (or) what? ---
    I think they are trying to make a statement of their own Christianity, experience a “holier than thou” feeling, and chastise all of the pagans and atheists for not being as good and holy as they are, and (the implication would be) ruining the world for all of the holy rollers who think they are saving humanity from certain death and destruction. It is such an in-your-face, childish attitude. Personally, I also believe that the Tea Bagger mentality is permeating the ignorant and gullible sectors of society (who are legion) in ever greater numbers. People LOVE a “self-righteous” cause to clamor for, and what could be easier than posting Biblical platitudes? It’s so very easy to pick this as a reason for all of the problems in the world today.

    Finally: I am totally, totally with Jared: let’s just try to be kind and compassionate atheists. (But not use the word “atheists” because it tends to conjure up such feelings of fear and rejection.)

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  12. Ortizzle--Dusty bibles, dirty lives. Sigh. That's right up there with the individuals who keep harping that what we need is to "get God back in our schools." Oh, sure. Let's add ONE MORE THING to school that's NOT SCHOOL. But that's not even the point, and I know that.

    Pretty much, for me, it comes down to Being Bossed. As you said, it's very in-your-face and self-righteous. And it's so at odds with what its origin is (or was, or is supposed to be), which is a loving, Golden Rule philosophy.

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  13. I agree. If you are selling a religion, get out there and SELL, SELL, SELL! I want to see some work. I am supposed to buy a product you're too lazy to go door to door for.

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    1. BipolarBunny--Love it! Let's see some work is right. WHERE IS THE EFFORT?

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