Letting Go of God: Atheist Film Festival, Part 2 »« I’m Back!

Strange Religious Signs in the Midwest

When I went on this trip, I’d been planning to do a Midwestern follow-up to my Strange Religious Imagery in my Neighborhood piece. But alas, Midwesterners don’t go much for floridly weird religious imagery. (At least, not in the part of the Midwest where we were.)

They do, however, go for some interesting religious language. So I thought I’d share with you my twisted version of vacation snaps: Strange Religious Signs in the Midwest. (We actually had a genuinely good time on our trip: my family is cool and fun as well as godless, and there’s much about the Midwest that is deeply peaceful and beautiful. I do in fact love it, and get mad when people dismiss it as “flyover country.” But this is what I was doing with my camera instead of shooting pretty trees and houses. There’s something deeply wrong with me, I know.)

God has blessed america

“God Has Blessed America Let America Bless God!” (Galva Assembly of God, Galva, IL)

One in a long series of “America is God’s special country” theocracy signs. We were traveling on the Fourth of July weekend, so this theme was all over the church signs like a cheap suit. I didn’t even bother to photograph most of them.

May the fourth be with you

“May the Fourth Be With You” (St. John Roman Catholic Church; not sure what town, somewhere near Galesburg if not in it)

Yet another in the “patriotic Christianity” series. With an “out of date pop- culture pun to inject some humor and please the kids” thrown in for good measure.

Have i got your attention

“Have I Got Your Attention? — Good! Now Give Me Your Heart -God” (First Church of the Open Bible, Galesburg, IL)

Not a particularly unusual sentiment, I know. What struck all of us about this one was the arrogance of presuming to speak for God. What exactly does a pastor think when he puts up a sign like this… and signs it, “God”?

A family altar

“A Family Altar Can Alter A Family” (Colonial Baptist Church, Galesburg, IL)

What is is with church signs and bad puns?

Presence of christ puts pain in perspective

“The Presence of Christ Puts Pain In Perspective” (Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church, Galesburg, IL)

I’m not quite sure what the point here is. It could be, “Your divine buddy Christ is here with you and will get you into Heaven forever, therefore your pain is no big deal.” But it could also be, “Christ’s suffering on the cross was more horrific and ghastly than you could imagine, so quit whining about your own petty pain, and have some gratitude for his sacrifice. If it’s the former, then my reaction is pretty much, “Screw you for trivializing my pain.” If it’s the latter… then ditto. With an added helping of, “If I hit myself on the hand with a hammer enough times, does that give me moral authority over you? I didn’t ask Christ to hang himself on a cross for three days, so screw him for using it to try to guilt trip me into obedience.” And with just a dash of, “Ew.”

Do you truly know god

“Do You Truly Know God?” (Galva Assembly of God again; return trip)

At last — a church sign with a clear question that I can answer. My reply to that would be have a big, fat, unequivocal, “No.” Glad we could get that one settled. (I am curious about this one. Is the point that we don’t truly know God but the church does… or that none of us truly knows God and it’s arrogant to think that we do? I like to think that it’s the latter. Although given the blind certainty of the church’s previous “God Has Blessed America Let America Bless God!” message, I’m not so sure.)

We see god every day open arms

“We See God Every Day. Do You Recognize Him?” (Open Arms Community Church, Kewanee, IL)

Providing a charmingly arrogant contrast to the delicate philosophical questing of “Do You Truly Know God?” I mean, isn’t pride one of the seven deadly sins? I’ve never understood why thinking that you know better than others what God thinks and wants and looks like doesn’t qualify.

Brief tangent: This one is even funnier in the context of the church’s “1960s drive-in” architecture. While I didn’t take pictures of many churches themselves, I had to make an exception for this one.

Open arms church

We see God every day. And he looks like a
roller- skating carhop from “American Graffiti.”

Welcome we don't bite much

“Welcome Worship 9:00 AM Stop In We Dont Bite Much” (St. John Lutheran, Princeton, IL)

We don’t bite much. Wow. Do I ever feel welcome here. Especially with the barbed wire. And double especially with the other side of the same sign:

Hell is hotter

“Hell Is Hotter Probably Windier Too.” (ditto)

I think they were probably trying to be funny. With both sides of the sign. But something about this one told us, “Get the picture fast, and then get the frack out of there.” I am kind of entertained, though, by a church sign that warns you against the torments of hell by essentially saying, “The weather is even worse than it is in the Midwest!”

And finally:

God is perfect

“God Is Perfect Only Man Makes Misteaks” (First Congregational Church, Peru, IL)

Another in the “labored comedy” series. Rather more comical than most. Of course this one immediately makes me want to ask, “If God is perfect, then why did he make his most magnificent creation such bad spellers?”

A specially blessed country; bad puns; out- of- date pop culture references; the trivialization of human suffering; the presumption that believers recognize God and speak for him; jokey threats; labored humor; and weird logic. Let’s hear it for Christianity in America!

Comments

  1. Maria says

    I am weirdly fascinated with the phenomenon of church signs. Churches in Sweden don’t do that, at least I have never seen one here.

  2. says

    “Do You Truly Know God?”
    Biblically? Yes. Oh my, yes. Every. Single. Inch of him.
    “We See God Every Day. Do You Recognize Him?”
    I think your assessment of this one was a little unfair. It struck me as being a reminder that, if we’re supposedly made by some deity or other, there must be a little of that deity in us — so let’s be a little nicer to each other.

  3. Lyndi says

    I one passed a sign that said: “Life offers many choices, Eternity offers only two.”
    In other words, limit your choices to the ones their God would have you do, or BURN IN HELL FOR ALL ETERNITY!!!!!!! Now that’s a friendly morning wake-up message. Let’s guilt-trip everyone. Let’s use FEAR as a tool to get people to behave, rather than compassion or empathy.

  4. says

    What is is with church signs and bad puns?

    Churches may dominate the Top 10 Bad Pun charts, but the federal government owns the Top 10 Vogon Poetry Sign charts.
    Back in the early 90s, my commute used to take me through the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, a research farm. A few times, there was a sign at the entrance that read
    TOES WON’T SING THE BLUES
    WHEN YOU’RE WEARING SAFETY SHOES
    And around the same time, I saw a sign by the side of the Beltway that read
    LET’S SAVE FUEL
    JOIN A CAR POOL

  5. ErinM says

    “Stop in we don’t bite much.” Church signs, with their limited space, leave no room for the subtleties and nuances that make the whole “we don’t bite… much” joke funny.
    As it is, if you didn’t already know how the joke is supposed to go, you’d be scratching your head and wondering which congregations they’re comparing themselves to?

  6. says

    I once saw a sign outside an Episcopal church that said: “Jesus is better than pizza. He can’t be topped!”
    Which made no sense to me. That is like saying that pizza is bad for having toppings. I love toppings on pizza. Most people that I know love toppings on pizza.
    Plus, I was raised Catholic, and I’ve had the Jesus crackers, and those are so totally not better than pizza.

  7. Laura says

    It’s not just the midwest that loves those signs- every day I pass one on the way to work- always doing the “labored comedy” thing, & I live in northern VA less than 5mi from D.C.

  8. Ramel says

    What is is with church signs and bad puns? I’m going to go with boredom and a truely desperate need for a blow job…

  9. says

    Several years ago, I remember seeing a sign in front of an Assembly of God church that said:
    “A man is strongest when on his knees.”
    I’m guessing this has something to do with piety and prayer but all I could think of was BDSM.

  10. Claire B says

    Here’s a few I’ve spotted:
    “Long standing problem? Try kneeling.”
    (In the style of the Burger King logo): “Home of the Bigger King”
    “Sin is the worst disease: the Cross is the only cure.”
    (In the style of the Lord of the Rings poster): “Lord of the Kings”
    “Jesus fed the 5000, I’m sure he can help you!”
    And so on…

  11. says

    I so hate puns, and religious people…the two together is just a perfect storm of yuck! My ultra-conservative parent’s favorite…”God Accepts Knee-Mails”…spine-chillingly awful…

  12. says

    Are you originally from Galesburg, or does your family just live there now? My father and his family all grew up there, and my grandma lived there until she passed away a couple years ago. Small world.
    And yes, midwest church signs are fun. I personally love all the bad puns, those are my favorite.

  13. says

    Jennifurret: I’m not from Galesburg, but I have relatives there, and did throughout my childhood, so I’ve spent a fair amount of time there. I split this trip between there and Chicago (where I grew up, and where my dad and brother now live). It’s a lovely town. I love visiting there. (And yes — small world indeed!)

  14. says

    Interesting selection of signs. I’m a Star Wars fan (yeah, I know, I’m giving away my age), so I rather liked “May the Fourth be With You.”
    I’m still trying to figure out the link between conservative Christianity and punning. It may have something to do with the fact that they have to guard their humor closely, lest they inadvertently make an inappropriate or off-color joke. Puns are simple and, often, pretty safe.

  15. Cactus Wren says

    Here in Arizona I had (regularly) to pass a church that displayed “For All You Do … His Blood’s For You”, which struck me as being tasteless at best. Another church had, for several months,
    NEW AGE
    SAME OLD LIE
    There was a blank line between them: I was terribly tempted to stop by late some night and add a big
    VS.

  16. says

    Why, Greta, did you just say “frack”? That makes me all warm and fuzzy inside :)
    (as long as I don’t think about the series finale….)

  17. says

    I totally grew up in Kewanee and I loved that church (though I didn’t attend it). When I go back to the visit the parents it still makes me laugh. It was cool to see you were hanging around the cool part of the midwest.
    And for my chuch sign contribution, years back when churches were showing The Passion of the Christ, I drove by a church early one morning on my way to work and the sign said “NOW SHOWING: THE ASS OF THE CHRIST”. The sign now has the locking plexiglass over it.

  18. Tyrone says

    That church in Kewanee always has arrogant sounding thing on it’s sign. The building used to be the world headquarters of Sandy’s burgers, before they were bought by Hardees.

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