Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Mixed Signals Our Symbols Send

Over the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to think about some of our symbols, and what they say about us. About how we see them and how others see them. About what we think they say about us and what others think they say about us. About the message we think they send and about the message that others think they send.

So with that in mind, I want to talk about a symbol that is beloved by millions, but causes hard feelings among a small minority of people in this country.

It’s the cross.

Yes…the cross. Be it a plain, empty, Protestant cross or a fully-loaded Catholic crucifix.

To Christians, the cross is a symbol of love. A symbol of God’s love that he would be willing to come down to earth, live among us, and die one of the most painful deaths imaginable for our sakes.

But to many Jews, it’s a symbol of hate. It’s a sign of a religion which was responsible for a lot of anti-Semitism. For many in the LGBT community, it’s the symbol of a religion which is responsible for a lot of hatred against them as well. And for many who are non-religious, it’s the symbol of a group of people who are arrogant, ignorant, small-minded, mean-spirited, and want to force everyone to live by their rules.

So which is it?

Technically speaking, the cross in its Christian usage is supposed to be a symbol of love. But it’s undeniable that over the past 2000 years, Christians have not been entirely loving of others. It’s true that we’ve been responsible for some pretty horrible things and that the writings of some Christians have been used to justify some pretty horrible things. So which is it, a symbol of love or a symbol of hate? More to the point, is it intrinsically a symbol of hate, or has it unfortunately been hijacked and turned into one by people who didn’t quite grasp its true meaning?

When those of us who are practicing Christians say that the cross is a symbol of love, and not of hatred, are we supposed to expect those who have suffered at the hands of people who carried it to buy it?


All of which brings me to the symbol you probably thought I was going to talk about in the first place…the Confederate Flag…or more precisely, the Confederate Battle Flag.

There are those who say that it’s about “heritage, not hatred,” and that it represents their part of the country. There are others who point to the founding documents of the Confederacy and the reasons behind the designs of the first flags as undeniable evidence that the Confederacy was founded on racist principles, and to preserve slavery in the South.

And yet…there are others who point out that fewer than 10% of Southerners owned slaves, and that the average person wearing a gray uniform was fighting to protect their land, and to prevent the Yankees from telling them what to do.

Is it possible that the average Southern farm boy who put on a gray uniform had no idea what was going on at the highest political levels, and didn’t know the totally racist agenda behind secession? And is it possible that most Southerners have never heard of those documents or what’s in them?


And…if they don’t know what’s in those documents, then can they legitimately say that to them it’s about “heritage, not hatred”, without needing a stiff laxative…despite what historians say?


And yet…as with the cross…should they expect those who have suffered at the hands of people bearing that flag to buy it…especially when they know its history?

I’ll let you think about that.

1 comment:

  1. As usual, well stated. What any given symbol, sometimes even a word means to YOU is not invalidated by what it has since come to mean to society. That doesn't mean that your choice to wear/fly/yell about it is not offensive to those to whom it means something different. Especially if empirical date supports that the offended have been legitimately wronged. It is still your right to say/use/fly it...but you have no right to make me like it, and no right to prevent me from pointing out its flaws.
    (PS...relevant to the CBF, may or may not be relevant to the cross...since when do the losers get to fly their flag over the battlefield? They get to be in the history books, for sure...but I'm pretty sure the winners get the flagpoles.)