Recently I was elated to see a number of great Twitter posts regarding news of an imposing 34 foot cross being removed from a public park in Florida. This victory means that members of the non-theist and non-Christian communities can feel free to enjoy Bayview Park without that imposing religious symbol looming. But in my opinion, this is not only a victory for those who wish to be free from having religion imposed on them. This victory is also taking a step forward in dismantling the patriarchy which has silenced girls and women for decades.
I will acknowledge that for many Christians the cross is a symbol of hope, comfort, and inspiration. We see it all around dangling from necklaces, rear view mirrors, tattooed, and randomly scattered along the grassy banks near highways. For numerous Christians, this symbolizes hope that they will be spared from the fires of hell in the afterlife and instead meet Jesus, their savior. Even when I attempted to follow the Christian path, I simply could not manage to avoid being distracted by my memories of how the cross, and in particular, the crucifix was used to silence women.
The memories that I associate with the cross center on experiences where this symbol was used in conjunction with two scripture passages in particular, in order to justify ill treatment of women. One scripture was Genesis 3:16 which states “your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” The other passage, directly related to the symbol of the cross, which was taught by pastors to justify enduring unhealthy relationships was Luke 14:27 saying that “whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Those who are familiar with the passion story are fully aware that the carrying of the cross as referenced, is equated with suffering and brutality. So the implication used toward women was that the earthly inconveniences that they endured simply did not measure up to what Jesus endured as he willingly carried his own cross which he would eventually be nailed to. And if being an obedient, subservient wife to their husbands meant keeping their mouths shut and following the rules of men folk, then it was their cross to carry. Lovely little sentiment isn’t it?
It’s bad enough that the carrying of the cross belief is used to exonerate Christian followers and urge them to suck it up and remember that Jesus endured much more. But what’s even more disturbing is when the cross and the aforementioned scriptures are used to teach women that they are obeying God’s will in accepting their lowly place in their relationships to men.
I’m most disturbed by defeated attitudes of women who remained in physically or emotionally abusive relationships because of such patriarchal brainwashing. Far too often I’ve heard women’s sigh of defeat as they depressingly maintain their places in abusive relationships based on unhealthy expressions of religion. It truly saddens me to think that there are still women who willingly give up their self-worth and joy for life to fall in line with this belief system. It saddens me because as a Secular Humanist, I believe that this life is all that we get and not a minute of it should be wasted by stifling the value that we can offer to make the world an even more awesome place. A quote from Natalie Portman’s 2002 interview with Rolling Stone magazine sums it up nicely for me. “I don’t believe in the afterlife. I believe this is it, and I believe it’s the best way to live.” I share in Natalie Portman’s belief and this is why it saddens me to think that someone would give up the possibilities to make this one life as beautiful as it can be as a result of oppressive, archaic religious teachings. While I try to remain respectful of peoples’ religious beliefs, I will always find it disturbing to think that a woman would choose to be belittled and silenced by her husband because of the advice of some minister, elder, or brainwashed woman. Or the fact that there are women out here who not only carry that metaphorical cross, but also bear the physical and emotional scars as punishments for daring to express their individuality.
I can only imagine what it must be like for those women who feel it is their religious obligation to withhold their opinions, downplay their intelligence, and stroke the egos of their husbands or significant others. And that in doing so, the belief is that they are becoming disciples of Jesus by carrying the cross that was given to them. Well my opinion of the Bible’s passion story, is that carrying the cross didn’t end very well. After all, the cross carrying story is incomplete if it doesn’t include the brutal beatings, the big owey of having thorns smashed into skin, and stakes being driven through hands and feet. But the rationale is that if Jesus could willingly bear the brunt of such brutality for all of humankind, the least that a woman can do is happily and dutifully take on the occasional discomforts which come with modesty and subservience.
While I am disturbed by the fact this belief system is still to this day being taught, I am also enthused that I happen to live in an age where there are growing numbers of strong, independent women and girls who exercise their rights to call BS on such a manipulative tactic. Women who see this practice for what it is – beliefs based on ancient scriptures that were not only written by men, but also taken out of their cultural and historical context for the purpose of controlling a population of people.
No woman, or any person for that matter, should be expected to sacrifice the beauty of life and expression for the sake of carrying anyone’s cross. No one should be the target of a guilt trip inflicted upon them by clergy or brainwashed lay leaders who use the passion story as a tool to suggest that compromising dignity and self-worth is a minuscule price to pay in comparison to being flogged, spit upon, and nailed to a cross.
So again, for me and my experience of the cross, the victory in Florida’s Bayview Park was yet another forward step in freeing the general public from religious imposition as well as the oppressive overtones that said symbol has had for many people, women in particular. Maybe now members of the non-Christian and non-theist population can fully savor the golden glow of the Florida sun in all its beauty, free from the literal looming shadow cast by an imposing symbol of one-sided beliefs. And for those who saw the removal of the cross as defeat as opposed to victory, maybe they will now be inspired to erect one in their own backyards to enjoy in private as it should be.