Cross: An Offensive Sign

April 02, 2006

Sometimes a symbol can send quite a controversial message without the use of a single word. Some people have become quite angry over cross memorials for soldiers who have died in the Iraq war.

Sylvia Grider, an anthropologist at Texas A&M University, explained that the cross can cause conflict like other symbols have (circular peace symbol, Nazi swastika, etc.): "The point is that symbols draw attention and elicit an emotional response. ... For most people, whether they realize it or not, that's usually their intention of using [symbols]."

People have argued both sides of the debate about the crosses and other symbols. One stated, "The cross is not a universal symbol. ... Not everyone who died in Iraq is a Christian. I know I would resent someone representing me with a cross."

Another added, "Two small sticks of wood nailed together and multiplied by 2000-plus is symbolically a simple and immediately powerful way to communicate the tragedy of lives lost. It's a brilliant, heart-wrenching display."

Another argued, "If someone installs a memorial, why do other people get to define what it symbolizes? They can tell us they're offended. They can't tell us what we meant to portray."


There are a couple of interesting aspects to this discussion. First, there is an important reminder that symbols—not just words—communicate. While these images have the potential to be more powerful than words, they also have a greater chance of being misunderstood. Just as with words we must choose our symbols carefully.

The other interesting thing here is something that is undeveloped in the piece—the idea of the cross being an offensive symbol. While that may disturb Christians at first, it is probably an accurate representation. We hang up our beautifully carved wooden crosses and wear our golden ones. Yet, the cross was an ugly and offensive symbol. It was an ugly and offensive way to die. Perhaps we would do good to recapture some of that message.

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