Just another Rainbow Christian's Blog

I think this article is heading towards another topic that I have been trying to write about for the last year or so, and that is the whole concept of “Christian culture”.

Do Christians really want the faith of 2 Million Christians equated with one “culture, and if so, which one? Or is it something entirely made by that “idea” of a Christian culture?

Sightings 6/27/2011

The Secularization of the Cross

— Martin E. Marty

Weekly, year in and year out, we sight new evidence that defining what is “religious” and what is “secular” remains difficult in the United States. One way to trace some attempts is to read The Humanist, as we often do. “Cross Purposes,” in the current July-August issue, is an example. In it Rob Boston plots the curious, not always thought-through, and apparently self-contradictory actions by “the religious right” which “secularize” the Christians’ sacred “central symbol.” Boston provides legal examples.

He takes for granted that “the cross is the most [sic] preeminent symbol of Christian faith,” the unifying marker for more than one billion people, the reminder to them of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. You’d think believers would guard the centrality and sacrality of the cross. Yet, to achieve certain worldly and civil ends, many recent court cases reveal the religious right leaders in public contexts saying, in effect, “Never mind. We don’t mean it. The cross isn’t really religious. . . it has become a generic symbol to memorialize any dead person” (e.g. in the Salazar v. Buono case where friend-of-the-right Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia ruled that the cross can be a secular symbol. If so, asked plaintiff Buono, a Catholic, “why don’t we see crosses in Jewish cemeteries?” Similarly, a Utah court said the cross can be deprived of religious significance, as on highway signs).

Boston writes that such uses of the cross reduce it to the “level of a public service announcement,” which is “a novel interpretation of law and theology, to be sure.” Agreed. You’d think firm Christians would be the first and loudest to protest such reductions, but in these court cases they promote the secularizing practice. For this “meager payoff,” as Boston calls it, “the religious right is willing to deny the meaning of the most significant symbol of Christianity.” He is brusque: “Rubbish. Who looks at a cross and thinks, ‘My, what an interesting way to arrange two planks of wood?’” Why, he asks, with this reduction prevailing, should believers still be asked to “take up the cross”? Why make it the focal point of churches, incorporate it into devotional art, and celebrate it in hymns? Has any non-Christian, he asks, ever felt compelled to cling to “the old rugged cross?”

Believers and non-believers alike have reason to back off in some cases on this scene, and not always be crabby, jumpy, and super-scrupulous about the intrusions across the “wall of separation of church and state.” Ours, we remember, is a messy religious, secular and pluralist society in which lines are never clear and walls are seldom the best symbols for separation, which is complex and changing. Sometimes to keep the civil peace or civil tone, citizens can wink and live with the mess a pluralist and contentious society creates.

Boston may be over-alert to these issues, but he raises enough flags that Christians, including many not only on the right, may become more aware of the risks. “At the end of the day what will [the cross-planters on public spaces] have achieved?” Not all of their games played with the cross as symbol have to be as cynical as Boston sees them. There can be naïveté and generalized reverence in some of these cross-posting moves. But critics may be doing articulate Christians a favor when they observe militant Christians having mounted crosses alongside highways and atop mountains, “simply and conveniently forgetting they did so by denying the symbol’s importance. They should ask ‘what if the secular symbolism sticks?’” For many, it has stuck.

References
Rob Boston, “Cross Purposes: What’s Behind the Religious Right’s Drive to Secularize Their Central Symbol?” The Humanist, July-August 2011.

Martin E. Marty’s biography, publications, and contact information can be found at http://www.memarty.com.

Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Submissions policy
Sightings welcomes submissions of 500 to 750 words in length that seek to illuminate and interpret the forces of faith in a pluralist society. Previous columns give a good indication of the topical range and tone for acceptable essays. The editor also encourages new approaches to issues related to religion and public life.

Attribution
Columns may be quoted or republished in full, with attribution to the author of the column, Sightings, and the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Contact information
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“I trace the rainbow through the rain and see the promise is not in vain.”

Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place. For if you will indeed obey this word, then through the gates of this house shall enter kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they, and their servants, and their people. But if you will not heed these words, I swear by myself, says the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation.- Jeremiah 22:3-5

You just need to be a flea against injustice. Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation. – Marian Wright Edelman

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Every 3.6 seconds a real person dies from hunger somewhere in the world!!!
Feed a hungry person today:
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God is still speaking
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