Monday, April 13, 2009

Replacing your cross of gold

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?


Anonymous said...

Good thoughts, Kevin. I think one reason (of many) that the cross is so highly revered by Christians is that it reminds believers of the cost of their redemption. It was no small price that Christ paid, and there should, in turn, be no small amount of gratitude for it shown by believers.

Temaskian said...

Which is why protestants only use crosses without the christ on it. They say it's because christ is no longer on the cross, so there's no need to have a christ on the cross. But why have a cross in the first place, why not some other symbol? And why not no symbol at all, isn't that more in accordance with scriptures, to have no graven images?

Although I'm no wolf-boy, the first time I saw a Catholic cross pretty much freaked me out too. I think it was in a hospital.

Lorena said...

The message of the cross is not only violent, but it is also misleading.

Christians believe that by suffering in silence, Jesus conquered death and defeated the evil forces of Satan.

Churchianity, then, upholds the idea that when a person is being victimized, he or she should suffer in silence, because that is the way to defeat the enemy.

How wrong! Protesting peacefully isn't the same as suffering in silence. No wonder it is so hard for me to express my feelings of discomfort when I face people with abusive tendencies.

Temaskian said...

That's a very good point Lorena, christians like me tend to keep silent about every wrong they see because we believe that god will eventually right all wrongs, god is bring vengeance in his own time, etc, etc, so we don't really bother to fight for our own rights.

One of the sins that can send you straight to hell is railing, it can be found in the bible. Once, when I voiced out in an internet church forum, and was rebuked by the pastor, I spent sleepless nights thinking about whether I was a 'railer'. Hilarious on hindsight, but imagine what people have to go through because of religion.

Jason said...

I agree, its quite a violent and disturbing symbol to carry while preaching peace and love.

Makes me wonder, if all this went down in more recent times and Christ was killed in a more modern way, would Christians be walking around with a gun around their necks? Or a lethal injection needle?

Under Duress said...

The cross is not suppossed to make you feel comfortable. It's meant to shock you. It's meant to symbolise the wrath of God that Christ suffered on our behalf. The Christian God is not a softy. But in Christ his compassion was extreme. His love was not passive. In the lives of those who have truly understood the symbol of the cross, His sacrifice was victorious, as was His resurrection.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the Apostle Paul best voiced the Christian perspective on the cross: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." -- 1 Cor. 1:18

The various views expressed in the comments above appear to confirm this statement.


Temaskian said...

In the comment above, I was just saying that the visage of the cross (with christ on it) is rather macabre, I wasn't saying that it was foolish.

Anonymous said...

I've often thought that the equivalent of a Christian wearing a cross would be a Jew wearing a swastika. Why place honor in the symbol of torture and death of your god? ~Dar

Nick said...

Hi everyone, I just happened upon this thread and couldn't resist commenting: I don't know if any of you remember Bill Hicks, but he once did a little routine on this very topic, & said something about going up to Jackie Onassis with a sniper rifle round your neck. Or to put it another way: When Jesus comes back to earth, you think the first thing he wants to see is a cross?

Anonymous said...

To answer Nick's question, in a sense, perhaps he does (Matt. 16:24).

Nick said...

That's an interesting quote in a mysterious kind of way; I'm afraid I'm not sure what you're driving at here though.