Recently the European Court of Human Rights decided to allow the display of crucifixes in public school classrooms (Lautsi and Others v. Italy, March 18). As Justin Reynolds noted here a few days ago, this decision applies not only to Italy, where a lower court previously reached the opposite verdict, but to all 47 member nations. In a New York Times piece, Stanley Fish outlines the reasoning of the court and analyzes the implications of its decision.
Posts Tagged ‘symbols’
Rural Vermont is a place known for its natural beauty—trees, rolling hills, and open green space. Recently, a Catholic couple who live on a hilltop in Vermont constructed a cross alongside a chapel on their land. So far, fine. Constitutional guarantees of freedom of religious expression give them the right to do this. However, this is no small cross. It is huge, and its owners want to light it up at night, believing that they have been divinely instructed to do so. Many of their neighbors are unhappy and want it to come down.
In her essay on Salazar v. Buono, Winni Sullivan ponders why crosses present such a difficulty for the modern, secular nation-state, and she questions the degree to which religious myths and symbols have been supplanted by those of nationalism. “Has secularization failed?” she asks. Sullivan posits that religious symbols’ ability to connect the universal and the particular is at the root of their success. Yet the ambiguity of both the Mojave cross and the commentaries made by various judges in evaluating the case point to the layered religious and secular meanings of the symbol at that particular site and in U.S. society more generally. Perhaps a more expansive definition of civil religion can trace how the same symbol moves across “religious” and “secular” contexts, depending on the site, event, or time in which it is deployed. In Poland, for example, the cross is and is not religious, although it is always sacred. Indeed, this ambiguity, the ability to pivot in different directions, may help account for the cross’s social force.
On Sunday May 25, 2008 the New York Times published an article entitled “Superhighway to Bliss” about Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist who suffered a stroke in 1996. After she regained the ability to speak, she described the experience as “nirvana.” Neuropathology as religious experience is nothing new, yet the next day, the piece was number one on the Times list of most e-mailed articles. In the Science Times section of the paper the following Tuesday, there was an article entitled “Lotus Therapy,” on the growing use of the meditation cushion to treat problems previously consigned to the analyst’s couch. The next day, “Lotus Therapy” had taken over the top spot as the most e-mailed article. Clearly, something is going on. But that had become clear two weeks earlier when the conservative commentator David Brooks entitled his May 13 op-ed piece, “The Neural Buddhists.” […]