Signs of the Times

Popular yard signs that list slogans do raise some meaty questions

Vatican Council II counsels us to search out “the signs of the times.” The Latin, “signa perscrutandi” suggests the keen scrutiny this involves. One sign of our calamitous times is the invasion of the slogans of the day.

What’s the difference between a sign and a slogan? A sign points, but a slogan emotes. Signs signify, but slogans shout. At its best a sign gives us the direction that we need. At its best a slogan gives birth to a meme.

Sometimes the intersectionality advocates bundle their slogans as if to suggest that doing so constitutes a sign. Of late, such packaging has made for a popular yard poster. On my daily walk I often see the following:

In this house we believe:
Black Lives Matter
Love = Love
Science Is Real
Women’s Rights Are Human Rights
Kindness Is Everything

The poster and its variations are popular in large part because they’ve been commodified. The river Amazon delivers them daily. Zazzle churns them out by the hour. They run from $12 to $20, and sometimes profits are shared with worthy groups.

Once upon a time there was a bumper sticker urging us to “Question Reality.” (I’m still waiting for one that says, “Learn from Reality.”) What I’d like to do, more modestly, is to raise some questions that come to mind on my daily walk in “Posterville.”

For a start, even slavers would agree that black lives matter, if only because their ill-gotten gains depend on them. So let’s ask why do black lives matter. Let’s ask why they are of inestimable worth.

As for love, it’s a many splendored thing. And we can’t quarrel with an assertion in the form of x=x. Still, love awaits definition. Eros? Philia? Agape? In any case, eros does not equal agape! St. Thomas Aquinas rightly says that love means willing the good and acting to bring it about. Not all sexual acts do so.

To be sure, science is real if it is real science. But the pseudo-science that plays handmaid to the new gender ideology isn’t real science. So what counts as science? And just when does science stop and advocacy begin?

On to women’s rights. Don’t legal rights sometimes violate human rights? Consider female genital mutilation. In some places men and women still have a legal right to engage in it. In many places women have a legal right to commission the dismembering of their preborn children. Are we to suppose that these rights are human rights?

I’ll not quarrel with kindness. We need more rather than less of it, and we would do well to reflect both on our need for the kindness of strangers and on our duty to return it. But distinctions are important. Kindness isn’t always nice, nor is being nice always kind. And since kindness is not the only virtue, it can hardly be everything.

So what’s to be done? I’ve got a plan, by golly. The wheels are already rolling! I’ve had a batch of stickers printed up. Next time I go for a walk, I’m going to affix one of them to each of the proud yard posters in view. Just see if I don’t! The sticker reads, “Any questions? For clarification, inquire within.”

Enough of slogans. Back to the signs of the times. Searching them out has never been easy. Of old, the Pharisees sought a “sign,” only to hear Jesus say to them: “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times” (Matthew 16.3). The stakes are high, are they not?

St. John Paul II advised us to “look truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name” (Evangelium Vitae, no. 58). His words, I think, remain our best guide in searching out the signs of our times.


Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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