Troy students agree that although the infamous I-65 sign is not persuasive, it does stir up questions of statewide belief systems.
The I-65 sign that reads “Go to church or the devil will get you,” just north of Prattville has gained national attention since it was first assembled in 1995. Images of this sign can be found on Pinterest, Youtube, CNN iReport and personal blogs.
The sign’s owner, W.S. Newell passed away in 2009. Newell was a contractor out of Montgomery that built the section of I-65 that the sign faces along with other roads in Alabama, according to AL.com.
Newell explained his inspiration for the sign in an NPR interview with Scott Simon in 2005. He said that his mother would always tell him that phrase as he was growing up and that it “always stuck” with him.
“I’m just trying to wake up the people,” Newell said. “So many people have dropped out of churches. I’m just trying to get them back to churches.”
Students in an American National Government class on Troy’s campus were given the opportunity to share their views on the sign’s messaging. Of twelve students present at the discussion three of them chose to remain anonymous. Richard Ledet, assistant professor of political science, also joined in the discussion. Ten of the 12 students said that they had seen the sign in person before the discussion was held.
Is this sign persuasive?
Cameron Donnelly, a senior political science major from Dothan, said that the sign was “more of an annoyance than anything else.”
“Seeing that sign definitely does not make me want to go to church,” Donnelly said. “It makes me feel persecuted for not going to church.”
The students unanimously agreed that the sign would not make them more likely to go to church while 10 of the students said that the sign would not make them less likely to attend church either.
Many of the students spoke in agreement with this statement made by Becca Hodge a senior political science major from Jack.
“There’s not much to it,” Hodge
said. “It’s not like there is some underlying message that we haven’t all heard before.”
Laughter v. Anger
Tyler Grogan, a senior political science major from Montgomery, had this to say about the sign.
“Not only is it comical and simple it is also incorrect and that makes me laugh and not want to go to
church at all,” he said.
Grogan said that if one is saved yet does not attend church regularly “the devil is not going to get you according to the Bible.”
Students were then asked if the sign made them either laugh or angry. Each student said that the sign made them laugh while all of the students said that the sign did not make them angry.
“I don’t have any problem saying that I am pretty much an atheist, and this does nothing but make me laugh,” one anonymous student said. “It has no effect on me. It doesn’t make me angry. It’s just a social construct that exists in the South and I have learned to deal with it.”
Is this a common attitude of Alabamians?
This question garnered a varied response from students. From individual responses, it could be said that Alabamians in general, older Alabamians, church-going Alabamians or backward church-going Alabamians were the ones responsible for these views.
One student said that he believes that most church-going Alabamians do hold the views that the sign portrays.
“I think that the church in general, in the South makes a grave mistake by persecuting the sins of one person to a greater degree than the sins of another person,” he said. “Discrimination is very prevalent in our religious institutions.”
Another student said that particular church denominations reflect these views.
“I grew up in a Baptist church, and now I go to a non-denominational church,” she said. “I have heard these kind of statements my whole life. Every sermon is the same, ‘Go to church or ‘this.’ I just think that is their opinion, but not all Christians hold these views.”
The professor said that he thought that the sign represented “more Alabamians than not,” based on higher levels of religiosity represented.
Why has this sign gained national attention?
Hodge spoke about another sign that Newell owned that displayed “John 3:16” a Christian Bible verse. She noted that this sign did not receive national attention while the “devil” sign did.
“It doesn’t have so much to do with it being religious as it is more about saying that there is an ultimate end and threatening people to meet that end,” Hodge said. “Maybe that is what gained national attention, but I don’t think it is religion alone.”
Donnelly said that there is a striking difference between this sign and a sign that might quote scripture.
“That sign is so striking,” Donnelly said. “It’s a blatant point. It basically says you are screwed if you do not go to church. We are not just talking about a statement of morals. ”
Do you think that this sign reflects Christ?
Students responded to this question with a unanimous “no.”
“Generally, people that are very forceful with their religious beliefs are not very Christ-like,” Donnelly said.
Ledet said this in closing this question.
“Christ also said a lot of other things too, Christ said sell all that you have and give it to the poor,” he said. “I don’t see that on any sign anywhere.”