Friday, September 14, 2012

The Memorial Peace Cross

I've never been a big proponent of bringing too much Jesus into our complex national identity.   Not that I'm shy about teaching what he taught and encouraging others to follow along, obviously.  Christianity bears within it the promise of deep personal and collective transformation.  Jesus is where we need to be.  If I didn't think that, I'd be in the wrong profession.

But when the symbols of my faith are too deeply coopted by culture, I confess to having some reservations.   Jesus too easily becomes not the one who challenges our society, but the one who affirms our every action.   This cultural Jesus blesses every action of the state, and gives us the consumer-product blessings we know will make us happy.  I'm much happier with a countercultural Christ, a Christ who forces me in particular to consider how my citizenship and my consumption might not necessarily mesh with what he lived and taught.

For that reason, I'm not ever quite comfortable with aggressive displays of Jeezosity that seem to conflate Christian faith with the state.

So as I encounter the current religion and state kerfuffle in the DC area, I confess to having a peskily nuanced perspective.   The issue, in the event you haven't encountered it, is a large World War One Memorial erected on private land in 1927 by the VFW.  It has on it the names of Prince George's County residents who lost their lives.   The memorial itself is in the shape of a large Celtic cross, which now stands on public land.

This offended a passing atheist, who conveyed his offense to the American Humanist Association, which is now filing suit to have the forty foot tall concrete cross removed from public land as a violation of the separation of church and state.

The courts have dealt with this issue before, or tried to.  Some of the reasoning on the part of those who defend the existence of these memorials has been absurd, like Justice Scalia's theologically questionable assertion that the cross is just a generic religious symbol.  It is most certainly not.   The cross has a very specifically Christian purpose and meaning.

But while don't buy in to that kind of jurisprudential sophistry, I can't quite bring myself to the place where I can validate the atheistic umbrage over this.  In historical context, the memorial is entirely comprehensible.  Crosses...and particularly the Celtic cross...were common forms of early 20th century memorial, entirely representative of the culture of the period.  The memorials that exist across Europe to those who lost their lives in that wretched meatgrinder of a war consistently and unsurprisingly use the cross.  Some do not, of course, but those that do are entirely justifiable.

In context, it makes sense.  What I cannot see is how it represents any meaningful state support of religion.  Unless the Christian faith of early 20th century America is inherently offensive, removing/demolishing a 90 year old monument to the war dead of that era seems fundamentally irrational.  Were it being built today, such a response would be comprehensible.  But now?  It's just absurd.