Sunday, 24 June 2012

Bad Religion

About two weeks ago, I was passing through Dundas Square in downtown Toronto while a concert was going on. There were a lot of people there and I could hear the loud punk- rock music, the cries of the crowd, and whatnot. But what really struck me was that, elevated high above the stage overlooking the square, was the image of a cross with a line through it, crossing it out.

I don’t really know much about the band “Bad Religion” and just how much the theme of anti-religion is involved in their lyrics or identity. Nor do I care. It struck me, though, that if the symbol were anything other than a cross, be it the star of David, the crescent moon, the Buddha, or a pride rainbow or any other symbol of secular culture/ political identification, people would be up in arms.

What does this say, that we are so willing to deride the deeply loved symbol of one group, but not many others?  Is it because so many Christians are willing to use the cross to try to intimidate others into their worldview? Perhaps, but there’s no question that secular symbols and PC language are also used to intimidate and silence people through social pressure.

In a way, I wonder if we’re not so willing to deride the Cross precisely because there is some residue of Christian identity left within our culture.  It suggests, in a certain sense, our comfort with the image of the Cross- the extent of its internalization in the Western psyche. We do not feel these other symbols, those of Islam or Buddhism, are really ours to claim and use.  The cross, we feel, somehow belongs to us, even if it is there for us to abuse and deride as a statement of political or social rebellion.  In a culture that was truly not Christian, that truly had forgotten it’s cultural roots in Christianity, the crossing out of a Cross would not have much of an effect at all.  It wouldn’t strike us as subversive.  It couldn’t possibly be hip and show up at the centre of a rock and roll identity.  When one religion replaces another, the symbol of the new religion is a positive object, not merely the negation of the former. 

Of course, I understand that any use of a symbol is very complex and has a variety of explanations.  I am only thinking that perhaps there is just a little bit of  “the lady doth protest too much” here. To define yourself as the negation of an idea is to permit the continued power of said idea over you. 

1 comment:

  1. I cannot speak for the history or culture of Canada but a similar difference is often observed here in the UK. At least here, I think that the difference in people's perceptions separates groups that have historically been vilified, otherwise ill-treated, powerless, or just generally small and unknown (with implications of "minority that must be protected") from groups that have historically been dominant, powerful, and very much perceived as the norm of the prevailing culture.

    We pay lipservice to equality but that just isn't the reality. The truth is that, as a reaction to previous one-sidedness, the pendulum has now swung in the other direction, so a black man can make a joke about a "silly white boy" work colleague and people will laugh, while a white man making an equivalent joke about a black colleague would quickly find himself in front of HR at a disciplinary hearing; a gay man can be outrageously flirtatious with a straight male classmate/colleague and have that accepted in good humour while a straight man making the same comments to a woman would be hauled over the coals for sexual harrassment; and yes, minority religions, or religions that have not traditionally had pride of place in British culture are treated with some degree of respect, while Christianity is seen as fair game for people's vitriol.

    I once raised the last of these examples with an atheist friend who was railing against Christianity. I asked him if he would say the same things about Islam or Sikhism, for instance. He said no. Despite being a self-proclaimed atheist, and despite having only ever set foot in a church for weddings and funerals, and despite knowing very little to nothing about the Christian faith, he felt that, in criticising Christianity, he was criticising part of his own culture, so that was OK, while criticising a religion that has not historically been a significant part of the fabric of of British life would feel like an attack on somebody else's culture.

    I find that interesting. He could not see that, because he had wilfully and very definitely removedg himself from anything identifiable as Christian, his harsh words not those of a family member assessing the state of the family unit from within, but rather were those of the neighbour across the street shouting abuse at the family. They constituted an attack not from within, but from without, and were just as offensive as they would be to any other religious group to whichhe did not belong.

    Anyway, in all of the examples I cite, it is the group that has historically been the dominant group that faces the harsher treatment, while a more serene response is given to those who have been in the minority.