Over the last weekend I found myself reflecting on Easter. As an outsider to the Christian faith, I've always been interested in the imagery that Christians revere, especially at this time of year. One thing that has continuously perplexed me is the adoption of the cross as the primary symbol that identifies Christianity. Almost every church is adorned by the image of the cross in some way, either hung above the pulpit or attached to the steeple. The cross appears in most Christian material, from books and pictures to clothes and coffee mugs.
But what does the cross mean to me, as a non-Christian? Knowledge of Angels, a fictional novel by Jill Paton Walsh, is about a young child who has been brought up by wolves in the wild, and her subsequent discovery by a highly religious, medieval society. In one point in the book, the young child is introduced to a church for the first time, and is horrified by the image of the suffering Christ on the wall. Without the filters of religious upbringing, she sees the cross for what it really is: misery, violence and death. This sight shocks her, as it seems far more barbaric that anything she would have experienced among animals.
Fundamentalist Christianity in particular seems to have an unhealthy fixation over Christ's death, of the pain, the violence and the blood. Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, for example, is one of the most violent movies I have ever seen.
Not only does it symbolise suffering and pain, but doesn't the cross also symbolise the victory of evil over good, of God's brief defeat in the hands of Satan? I'm perplexed because, from what I understand, the main turning point in the Christian story is not the cross, but the empty tomb, when misery was replaced by joy, and defeat by victory.
Should Christianity then not replace the symbol of despair with the symbol of hope, the symbol of evil with the symbol of good? If Christianity has anything positive to say, should you not instead wear around your neck an image of the empty tomb, rather than that of the cross?