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Meditation 40
God's Billboards Revisited

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As those who read these articles may know, I have an endless (if not mindless) fascination[1] with the religious billboards posted along the various highways and byways of the United States. Though I am concerned that this form of visual pollution is gradually finding its way north into Canada.

Recently, while travelling on I-90 east through the Black Hills, I saw a sign I had not seen before - "One Way, One God, One Book." I have little doubt this sign was erected by a Christian group, but have no idea which one of the approximately 250,000 evangelical and fundamentalist churches in the US was responsible. And even though it is probably intended as a Christian message, it could equally well be used as the slogan for any sect of monotheistic religious extremists. And the basic message is not one of religion, rather it is a formula for authoritarianism. You are not invited to think, you are told what to think. And that is "We are right! Everyone else is wrong!"

And yet, with about a quarter million different Christian groups who could promote this message, along with perhaps the same number from other religions, how is it possible to identify which "one way", which "one god" or which "one book?" If you are concerned about where you are going to end up in an afterlife, the odds of making the right choice are minuscule.

Interestingly, a few miles further along the highway is a sign advertising the local United Methodist Church with their slogan "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors." While there is a similarity in the three part construction, the underlying meaning of the two messages is completely opposite. Rather than telling you what to think, open thought and discussion are invited.[2] And there is no implied claim that UMC is absolutely the only way.

If the United Methodists understand the implications of this slogan and live up to them, then they are probably a pretty decent and reasonable religious community. It is also a message the agnostic community would do well to follow.

Footnotes:

  1. Reflection 8 & Meditation 26
  2. A slight variation of this motto is used by Cornell University, and their discussion of the three elements provides an informative (though perhaps rather politically correct) interpretation:

OPEN DOORS, OPEN HEARTS, AND OPEN MINDS - Cornell's Statement on Diversity and Inclusiveness

Open Doors

"I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study." This statement, made by Ezra Cornell in 1865, proclaims Cornell University’s enduring commitment to inclusion and opportunity which is rooted in the shared democratic values envisioned by its founders. We honor this legacy of diversity and inclusion and welcome all individuals, including those from groups that have been historically marginalized and previously excluded from equal access to opportunity.

Open Hearts

Cornell’s mission is to foster personal discovery and growth, nurture scholarship and creativity across a broad range of common knowledge and affirm the value to individuals and society of the cultivation of the human mind and spirit. Our legacy is reflected in the diverse composition of our community, the breadth of our curriculum, the strength of our public service, and the depth of our commitment to freedom, equity, and reason. Each member of the Cornell community has a responsibility to honor this legacy and to support a more diverse and inclusive campus in which to work, study, teach, research, and serve.

Open Minds

Free expression is essential to this mission, and provocative ideas lawfully presented are an expected result. An enlightened academic community, however, connects freedom with responsibility. Cornell stands for civil discourse, reasoned thought, sustained discussion and constructive engagement without degrading, abusing, harassing, or silencing others. Cornell is committed to act responsibly and forthrightly to maintain an environment that opens doors, opens hearts and opens minds.