Saturday, December 05, 2009

What's Offensive? What's Inclusive?

When I was younger, I had an opportunity to visit Washington D.C. with some classmates from my high school. We were some of the only liberals in the hotel of 400 kids. We had some very interesting conversations with our peers. Some of them were informative-- the kids from Arkansas had never met a Jew, but to be fair I had never met a Baptist (of course, I knew a hell of a lot more about Protestantism, if not the Baptist movement specifically, than they did about Judaism, but hey). But at some point, we all hit a wall. For me, that wall came when we were discussing a monument. One of the Arkansas girls wanted to have it be a giant cross. I pointed out that the cross wasn't an inclusive symbol. She didn't know what I meant. I said that the cross was a specific symbol of Christianity. She said that for her, the cross just represented God. She and I were coming from radically different worldviews, and we were unable to reconcile them. It was a very frustrating encounter, like we were speaking different languages.

Many years later, enter the Mojave Cross.

The cross has been in the news for a while now, as have been the boneheaded comments of Justice Scalia, who can't understand why Jews or any other non-Christians would have a problem being buried under a giant cross. Background on the case is here. Personally I think transferring the land to another organization is a good compromise (similar to what San Francisco did with our giganto-cross atop Mt. Davidson in the 80s), though I also see the ACLU's point that it seems a bit like a cop-out to have a huge federal land preserve and then smack-dab in the middle have a tiny parcel of land conveniently given to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, as well as the concern that this is establishing a pattern of the government gerrymandering land ownership in controversial monument cases in order to keep them where they are.

But part of the real issue here does go back to the opinions of Scalia and folks like him:
JUSTICE SCALIA: The cross doesn't honor non-Christians who fought in the war? Is that -- is that --

MR. ELIASBERG: I believe that's actually correct.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Where does it say that?

MR. ELIASBERG: It doesn't say that, but a cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity and it signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins, and I believe that's why the Jewish war veterans --

JUSTICE SCALIA: It's erected as a war memorial. I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead. It's the -- the cross is the -- is the most common symbol of -- of -- of the resting place of the dead, and it doesn't seem to me -- what would you have them erect? A cross -- some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David, and you know, a Moslem half moon and star?

MR. ELIASBERG: Well, Justice Scalia, if I may go to your first point. The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of Christians. I have been in Jewish cemeteries. There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew.


MR. ELIASBERG: So it is the most common symbol to honor Christians.

JUSTICE SCALIA: I don't think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead. I think that's an outrageous conclusion.

MR. ELIASBERG: Well, my -- the point of my -- point here is to say that there is a reason the Jewish war veterans came in and said we don't feel honored by this cross. This cross can't honor us because it is a religious symbol of another religion.
Another one who doesn't get the simple fact that crosses do not represent non-Christians is noted theologian and part-time crank, Pat Boone:

I've mentioned here before that each Veterans Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day, sometimes Thanksgiving Day as well, I make my way to the huge, beautiful Veterans' Cemetery in Westwood. I walk among the tens of thousands of markers and monuments, read the names and dates on many of them – out loud – and thank them for giving their very lives in the service of our country. I thank them for sacrificing their dreams, families and lives, so that we all might live ours.

The vast majority of those monuments are crosses.

Yes, there are quite a few with Jewish stars on them. I've seen a few Muslim symbols and even one Buddhist circular one, very pretty.

I've seen no atheist markers.

Have you seen or read "Jarhead" by Anthony Swofford? He talks about fighting with military bureaucracy to get his religious status on his dogtags changed to "No Preference." How much do you want to bet this problem is older than 1991?

Since our colonial days, and through all our wars, the great majority of our fighting men and women marched into battle beneath our American flag and, whether it was visibly displayed or not, under a cross. It was, and is, a symbol of faith in God, a prayer for His protection and blessing and a fervent hope that He will somehow work on their behalf, to bring them home to their loved ones again.

Most did come home, some wounded, some maimed for life, but still alive. Too many did not. But those who lost their lives fighting for our country, and for our cherished freedoms, died believing that the loving God symbolized by that cross would welcome them into eternal habitations. Their families were comforted in that same belief, and if the body was returned home, it was lovingly laid to rest – under a cross.

Once again, Pat Boone uses his psychic medium skills to project, I mean, connect, with the beliefs of all dead American soldiers in the past 200 years, who, in a shocking a coincidence, happened to believe in things the exact same way that he does (loyal readers will recall that this is an ongoing problem for Pat).

Is there more? Of course there's more. Take it away, Pat. (Far, far away.)

I suspect that the young Jewish men and women in our military have had similar experiences, encouraged and strengthened, and finally comforted by the Star of David. Perhaps Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus as well, by their symbols. I have no idea what atheists do in these circumstances. There is obviously no religious symbol to feed hope or comfort loss. There is no expectation of reunion, or afterlife, or anything. There is only death – and nothing.

Pat, I've got news for you, you don't know squat about what Jews, Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus go through, either. If you'd bother to go ask them as opposed to having conversations with imaginary Buddhists in your head, you'd at least have half a leg to stand on. A strawman peg-leg, perhaps, but a leg nonetheless.

Perhaps that's why a growing number of atheists and the atheist-driven ACLU are so militantly and vehemently trying to remove all crosses from public life, off public buildings, out of sight and out of mind.

They have no God; they have no faith in anything except poor, fallible mankind, no intimation of another life beyond this short one. Really, they have only themselves, some transient experiences and a yawning grave ahead. And it makes them furious. Why should all those poor duped, ignorant people be able to smile through their tears, believe through their sacrifice and loss, even somehow be proud that the sadness had a "greater purpose"? Why should people who believe in "fairy tales and fantasy," as Bill Maher describes faith, be happy, when atheists aren't?

Hey, Pat's sounding more like Bill O'Reilly all the time- yes, those bitter atheists are jealous of us wise and noble and happy December-celebrants. Oh, how brilliant we all are, thanks to the magic of wholesome gift-giving at arbitrary calendar dates! God bless us, every one.

Ironically, they're marching under the same cross – but their goal is not to honor the faith it represents, but to destroy it. It has become the symbol of their quest, their obsession. Whenever they see a cross, they are encouraged ... to tear it down. To defame it. To declare that they are offended and that their "rights" are being limited or deprived. That the cross in public view – on government property anywhere they can see it – is a violation of the First Amendment.

Wonderful. So now atheists and Christians (and non-Christians? I can't tell) are all marching under a snazzy invisible cross. Creepy and confusing. Mazel tov. Hey, I guess this means all atheists should be buried under crosses, too. Score one for Pat!

The rabid ACLU often acts unilaterally, not waiting for a citizen even to raise an objection. Currently, their lawyers are even trying – in the Supreme Court– to have a war memorial cross in the Mojave National Preserve, far removed from the highway, taken down. It couldn't possibly "offend" anybody but a passing motorist, and it was erected 74 years ago as a memorial to young Americans who had given their lives to defend the very freedom the ACLU wants to abolish.

Again with the retconning. World War One was not fought to ensure giant crosses everywhere. And the Constitutional issue isn't over whether the Cross is readily visible, it's the fact that it's on government land. Incidentally, if you want to talk about unilateral, you might talk to Judge Roy Moore and mention the various Ten Commandment plaques and monuments he carries around in his truck. You know, the same Roy Moore that WND has been hailing as the best thing since sliced bread carrying the image of Jesus in it.

Here's the kicker. Check out Pat's take on the ACLU lawyer's exchange with Scalia:

Very interestingly, Peter Eliasberg, arguing before the Supreme Court to remove the Mojave cross, actually said, "A cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity, and it signifies that Jesus is the Son of God and died to redeem mankind." And this is his argument against it! This is what offends him, though nobody makes him affirm or even recognize it. Just the fact that somebody else believes it, and wants to symbolize that faith, repels him. He wants the Supreme Court, sworn to uphold the Constitution, to disallow the very freedom of expression the Constitution mandates – because he is offended by that expression.

It escapes him, and almost every atheist, that his atheism is a faith system, based on a belief there is no God, which he cannot prove – versus a belief in a Creator God (mentioned in our Declaration of Independence), for which evidence is everywhere. And he is determined that his faith system shall be ratified by the courts as if established by Congress – in effect, that Congress shall make a law respecting an establishment of religion!

A- Who says Eliasberg is an atheist, or personally offended by the Mojave Cross? He's a lawyer arguing a case for an organization and a plaintiff. It's not about him.

B- The issue is not that atheists are mad that Christians believe things, or even that they represent them. Name me a case of atheists trying to ban churches from having crosses on their steeple, or legislating what Christians can do in their own homes. You can't; it doesn't happen and there's no legal precedent to support it. What's problematic, potentially unconstitutional and yeah, arguably offensive is to shove civic Christianity in everyone's face, act as if it is THE national faith when there is none, and to give government authority and sanction to it. It's additionally offensive when people like Scalia and Boone argue that Christianity or its symbols are more "big-tent" than they really are. A non-Christian may choose to bring a Christmas tree into their home. Chances are they won't choose to be buried under a cross. It doesn't represent them, and it never has, and only someone totally incapable of or uninterested in understanding the perspective of a religious minority would argue that they think the symbols of the majority are appropriate ways to remember them. Only someone that isn't used to looking beyond their own nose would claim, "Crosses are the most common symbols for the resting place of the dead." Really? To whom?

"What would you have them do," Justice Scalia? How about burying them under a damned wooden flag? Or an eagle? Or a freaking map of the U.S.? An obelisk? A wall? Some statues? Or the various symbols of the armed services that are buried there? There are any number of NATIONAL or military symbols that do unite fallen servicemen, as opposed to a cross.

A cross is not a "bad" symbol. But it is a specific one, advocating or representing a specific faith. Scalia and Boone refuse to understand this. And, like many majority groups throughout history, rather than consider the fact that they simply may not understand the opposing point of view, they instead deny that it has any right to exist. Forget the cross. That's what's offensive to me.

1 comment:

Kylopod said...

>Pat's sounding more like Bill O'Reilly all the time

Somehow I doubt Bill will be singing "Tutti Frutti" anytime soon. =D

Seriously, Boone's a real wingnut, he's way more extreme than O'Reilly. He's a birther, he thinks the WMDs got moved to Syria, and so on.