God patiently awaits you on Highway I-15 in Las Vegas. It’s a big, graphic “God”—towering, in fact—on a billboard just a few blocks from The Strip. In a city where provocative sloganeering is a minor literary genre, the God billboard takes a clever, understated tack. With white lettering, a green background, and light-reflective paint, it looks exactly like a monolithic highway sign, reassuring in its familiar green-and-white clarity. The gargantuan arrow on the left of the billboard points (surprise!) up. The word “GOD,” in respectful capitals and neatly spaced, balances out the right.
Every time I zip past the God Billboard on Highway 15 or glimpse it, reigning on high, from the forsaken concrete mishmash on Sahara Drive below, I wonder what it means….
1) The God Billboard a Directional Guide. First things first: by exactly mimicking interstate signage—down to the no-nonsense Clearview type font—the sign offers trustworthy directions. And we need them. Marketers know that human beings have a universal feeling of being on a path through life, a feeling so deeply held that we don’t even question it. Not only our cars, but our feet (often manicured in Vegas) and every other mode of conveyance (including time), take us further down “our” road. The billboard counters our anxiousness as to where, exactly, the road leads, by reminding us that our destination is God.
2) The God Billboard as Anti-Exit Sign. One off-ramp south of the God Billboard is the exit for the Las Vegas Strip—but no way the God Billboard wants us to flee the straight and narrow in search of fun. The God Billboard’s vertical arrow points us in another direction, “up”—an impossible exit to take with a turn signal on a Nissan. The God Billboard profits from our automatic (and universal) association with “up” as “good,” even though it’s doubtful that heaven is located in the constellation of Alpha Centauri.
3) The God Billboard as a Harbinger of Sexual Ecstasy. Ever since homo sapiens evolved with a head at the apex of an upright body, we’ve really liked “up.” But our unconscious association of “up” as “good” emerges from more than bi-pedalsim. With its rigid shaft topped by a tapering head, the enormous billboard arrow also reads as a giant erection. Given the strip joints and street walkers rimming the billboard’s supporting pole, a sexual interpretation is not as far afield as it might seem at first blush. The fact that the arrow precedes the word “GOD” seems to suggest that sex leads to heavenly bliss.
4) The God Billboard as Advertisement. Sin City is famous, Soul City less so. Behold: Las Vegas is full of churches, temples and New Age retreats that encircle the metropolis in a bid to contain the surfeit of libidinal energy pulsing at its core. On The Strip, an occasional tidy preacher squeezing a Bible competes with hawkers thrusting call girl advertisements into the hands of over-stimulated visitors. The God Billboard is a reminder that the divine is present in Vegas, too. The arrow on Highway 15 guides sheep away from The Strip toward the abstinence in the conservative suburbs of the North, and eventually, Salt Lake City, Utah.
5) The God Billboard as an Atheist Joke. While the “up yours” interpretation of the sign might make believers shudder, this irreverent interpretation of the God Billboard is popular among Vegas youth. The simplistic message on the billboard, with its superficial “this way to the divine” exhortation, seems a little too pat, a little too trite, to ever be taken seriously. Yet both those who hew to challenging spiritual paths and those who refute a sentient God chuckle on cue.
6) The God Billboard as Giant Post-It. If recent findings in neuropsychology are correct, reading influences not only conscious thoughts but also the defying complexity of systems that is the human body. No matter what a freeway driver’s position is on the after life, the God billboard makes us think, fleetingly, of order in the universe. A glance at the billboard (if not a double-take) may stimulate feel-good pathways in the brain for just a fraction of neural time, enough to get an itsy-bitsy buzz roaring past the billboard. The slightly rounded border on interstate signage literally forces the eye inward, both literally and metaphorically. The reflective surface… uh, well, compels us to “reflect.”
7) The God Billboard as Anti-Fundamentalist Propaganda. Equating proponents of the Vegas God Billboard on Highway 15 with Christian fundamentalism seems logical, but actually misses the point. The Light of Peace project, an under-the-radar outfit even by Vegas standards, sponsored the God Billboard and its flipside, the Buddha Billboard, which aims God and His Arrow right into interfaith.
“With our thoughts,” it reads, “we make the world,” a sentiment with which even the staunchest atheists would have to agree.