I suppose the cross is gone from the hill of Golgotha.
No doubt someone over the last 2,000 years complained about it being there in full view of the city of Jerusalem.
Symbols are important to people for many different reasons. The cross is probably the most recognizable symbol of religious belief throughout the world. The Red Crescent and Star of David are also instantly seen as representing two more great religions.
There is no doubt that terrible things have been done by people fighting under the Christian cross. The Crusades are examples of the worst excesses, followed closely by the Inquisitions.
If I were Muslim and familiar with the details of the Crusades and the terrible things that were done to Muslim people in Jerusalem when “the streets ran red with blood” and babies were skewered on swords, I think the Christian cross might arouse different emotions in me than it does in your average Christian.
On the other hand, the forces of Islam have also been extreme in the suffering they’ve caused. Likewise, the swastika is an anathema to Jewish people, as it is to decent and compassionate people everywhere. And so it goes.
But, as Elizabeth Taylor said when a man asked her if she were married, “It’s complicated.” Symbols mean different things to different people, and somehow one has to find his way through his various prejudices and emotions to a commonsense perspective.
Unfortunately, common sense may not be the same for you as it is for me. It’s complicated.
Let’s talk about the cross on St. Matthew’s school in St. John’s.
Some parent thinks it has no place on a public school where many diverse beliefs and faiths are represented, and so has petitioned the board to have it removed. The board says it will do so over the summer.
Someone objecting to the cross being there has suggested that we got rid of Christian schools many years ago when the system became non-denominational, and there’s no reason to suggest that they are Christian now. It’s an affront to non-believers.
It was always my understanding that what we did away with when all schools became amalgamated was the churches’ administration of the school system.
The intent wasn’t to have no more Christian teachers, or literature written by Christian writers, or even administrators who were themselves Christian. Certainly no one believed that Christian influence, from whatever source, would be somehow banished or become nonexistent.
Removing the cross is really an empty gesture, since it will do nothing to change the Christian influences that undoubtedly exist in the school, as they do in practically all schools in this province. The school functions in what is largely a Christian culture in a country which was established on Christian principles.
To deny this is to become a revisionist historian. We cannot toss out what we are essentially as a people — as the majority of people — by simply tearing down our symbols.
Even as I say that, however, I’m aware that removing the visual reminders of who and what we are is a slippery slope to forgetting our history and the basis of our faith. Perhaps some of you do not know that it was the churches that began placing schools in very small places and helped such schools grow and develop.
Those of you who read my book “From the Ashes of My Dreams” — and surely that must be in the hundreds of thousands — may remember my anecdote about being in hospital in Toronto over Christmas. OH and I were delighted to find in the lobby one day a beautifully decorated Nativity scene. We looked at it awhile when suddenly she grabbed my arm and said, “There’s something missing. Can you see what it is?”
I am supposed to be so observant, but I could not find the missing piece among the angels, the shepherds, the animals or the wise men. Finally, in exasperation, she pointed at the manger and it struck me. No baby Jesus. At that point the administrator of the hospital walked by and we asked him why the Christ child wasn’t part of the scene.
“We did have it there,” he said, “but someone complained that it was offensive to other religions so we had to take it out. But we left the rest!”
He did not seem to understand that taking out the Christ child was kicking the guts out of the whole thing (sorry, Jesus, no offence). It had no meaning when the manger was empty.
My question was why would anyone object to having that beautiful story told that way when it means so much to so many millions of believers?
Why would that be hurting their faith?
In speaking to several of our friends of different faiths afterwards, I discovered they could not understand that attitude, either. In the meantime, I would be more than surprised if the people doing the complaining were from another faith.
My suspicion is that those who do find that cross offensive are much closer than we think.
Some years ago, we had a doctor in Springville who was Hindu. At one point, the school discovered the people of his faith were celebrating some festival or other that involved lights.
The school decided to celebrate the occasion with the family and teach the children something about another faith. No one in town was threatened by that.
I, for one, am offended when I get those articles that circulate from time to time explaining how “these people” should not be allowed to practise their beliefs in our country.
On some levels, I agree. Our laws and customs should dominate, while at the same time protecting the rights of minorities. So, I welcome peoples of other cultures and other religions. They should be allowed to keep, as far as possible, their own practices and beliefs.
In Newfoundland, however, we are basically a Christian people, whether or not we attend church every Sunday, whether or not we support any church financially or even believe the basic tenets of Christianity. Our very beings are steeped in Christian thought and tradition.
To ask us to do away with the symbols of that faith and that history, I believe, is wrong, and I regret the school board caved in so easily, and that the parents of the school did not kick up more of a fuss about it.
Seems to me, people, we have to take a stand somewhere, or else our identity as a Christian people will be so watered down that we won’t know who we are.
Perhaps that isn’t important to us anymore.
Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale.
His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.