I try not to get involved over at PZ’s place, but his post today just sucked me right in. To catch you up, in a case before the Supreme Court, Justice Scalia argued that a cross can actually be a secular symbol used to honor the dead.
“I assume it [the cross] is erected in honor of all of the war dead. The cross is the most common symbol of … of … of the resting place of the dead.”
Um, Tony? My cemetery doesn’t have a single cross. In fact, none of my relatives is buried at a cemetery with crosses in it. What’s up with that?
I must be some sort of freak. If these cross things are so common, how come none of my peeps have them on their graves? I shouldn’t feel bad. According to Scalia, the cross is for Yids, to:
“I don’t think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead the cross honors are the Christian war dead,” thunders Scalia. “I think that’s an outrageous conclusion!”
See, the symbol of the cross, whose only common use is to symbolize the death and rebirth of Jesus Christ in Christian mythology, is secular, and Jew-boys like me should feel honored that generous Christians might adorn my grave with one. How can I turn down a gift like that?
It’s thinking like that that incites religious hatred. In fact, a part of me was thinking, “Gee, I’d really like to take a nice, big mogen David and shove it up Tony’s ass.” But that’s horrible. Let’s step back from my nastier urges for a moment.
I have no doubt that many people (but not Scalia) “innocently” see the cross as common enough to be a secular grave marker. But only someone deeply steeped in Christian culture could make such a terrible mistake.
First, just because crosses are benign to you does not mean they are to all. That is very narrow thinking.
Second, there may be reasons other than simple religious disagreements that set off people like me. I’m not a religious person, but the thought of a cross some day adorning my grave, or someone baptizing me post-mortem, horrifies me. I perceive this as an existential threat. It is not a leap for me to think that acts like these against the dead might lead to viler acts against the living. While a nice, peaceful Christian dude might see this as ridiculous, I submit that it is not. Once you lift the blinder of your own preconceptions, you may see that Christianity (or maleness, whiteness, or whatever) is not “regular” and everything else “other”.
So do yourself a thought experiment. Think—really think—about what it might be like to be “other”. I don’t mean what it’s like to sit when you pee, or to go to a synagogue on Friday night. I mean what it’s like to ride the bus, to sit in a meeting and listen to the people around you, to think about where you can bury your uncle and not have his grave desecrated. Put some effort into it.