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A symbol of what?!


The American comedian Lenny Bruce once memorably quipped that, if Jesus had been executed in the 20th-century United States, children brought up in the Catholic faith – I deliberately avoid the phrase ‘Catholic children’, since no child can make that personal choice – would not be wearing tiny crosses round their necks, but tiny electric chairs.

Failing as ever to ‘turn the other cheek’, the Catholic church affected to find the joke deeply offensive. What I find deeply offensive is the whole idea of requiring children to wear a replica of any instrument of execution (whether it be a noose, a cup of hemlock, a samurai sword, an electric chair or a cross). This is manipulation verging on child abuse, which as we should by now all know is part and parcel of the Christian religion, and almost surely of religion in general.

Although there have been many complaints from Christian quarters that Muslims ‘flaunt’ their religion by imposing strict public dress codes on women (and, to a far lesser extent, on men), they refuse to see the conspicuous wearing of crosses as in any way similar. Britain’s newsreader Fiona Bruce was incensed to be told that her very visible cross conflicted with the BBC’s code of social impartiality, and that she must no longer wear one during broadcasts – but unfortunately the BBC backed down after a ‘public outcry’. Personally I’d ban the lot. When the French government decided some years ago to outlaw the wearing of overt religious symbols in public places, particularly schools, it quite rightly extended the ban to include visible Christian crosses. Anything less would have been deeply discriminatory, by implying that France was not a secular country but an intrinsically Christian one – which it nowadays quite clearly is not.

What draws my attention to this whole issue is a Wikipedia article on the use of the ‘cross necklace’ as an overt symbol of Christian belief – which includes the following fascinating paragraph:

‘In two highly publicised British cases, [nurse X] and [flight attendant X] were disciplined for wearing cross necklaces at work, in breach of their employment terms. Both took their cases to the European Court of Human Rights … In light of such cases, in 2012 the former Archbishop of Canterbury of the Anglican Communion, Lord Carey, and the then head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, have urged all Christians to wear cross necklaces regularly.’

We have to consider here the recent actions of both Lord Carey (a curiously aristocratic title for the leader of a church that supposedly promotes humility) and Cardinal O’Brien, both born in the 1930s and still living comfortable lives in their eighties. Although Carey is not directly guilty of child abuse, he is indirectly so for having covered up proven abuse by the Anglican bishop Peter Ball (who has been sentenced to a paltry 32 months’ imprisonment for sexually abusing young men over many years). As for O’Brien, who has vociferously opposed legislation designed to improve the lot of gay people in Britain, he has finally confessed to repeated sex abuse against younger men over whom he had authority, usually priests.

These two supposed paragons of virtue have seen fit to call on the rest of us to make a point of wearing the symbols of Christian faith.

Even if I believed in a god – which ‘thank god’ I don’t – I’d be ashamed to show myself in their company by doing any such thing.


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