Is that cross around your neck, just pious cliché?


cegoh / Pixabay

Flannery O’Connor says that the separation of grace and nature does a disservice to both (Mystery and Manners).  Emptied of the spiritual, nature becomes either sentimental or obscene.  This was the topic of my last post: Precious Moments and Pornography.  This post is about how the spiritual, emptied of nature becomes nothing more than pious cliché.

It didn’t take long to think of a great example for this one.  What “spiritual” thing has been emptied of almost everything physical?

The Cross. The central symbol of the Christian faith.

I’m thinking of cross earrings and cross necklaces so many of the faithful sport.  Have we gotten to the point where the jewelry and tattoos only suggest devotion?

I saw a young man in full “gangsta” attire sporting a bejeweled rosary.  I suppose it’s possible he was a Catholic, but it’s just as likely that the cross he wears today will mean the same thing as the adorned dog tags he will wear tomorrow.  I will also wonder if he’s really a veteran.

When purchasing a cross to wear as a pendant, charm or earring, do people actually care about the particular origin of the design, or do they just buy the one that strikes their fancy?  There are many varieties of crosses: Cathedral, Orthodox, Celtic, Greek, Russian, Byzantine, Latin, Maltese, Jerusalem, Huguenot and many more.  I have an ancestor that was a Huguenot so I could wear that one with some legitimacy.  Is it good enough to be a Christian to legitimately wear any cross?

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Do you think of your cross jewelry a Roman torture and execution device, or is it a way to suggest devotion, while also adorning your neck? #FlanneryO’Connor #piouscliche” quote=”Do you think of your cross jewelry a Roman torture and execution device, or is it a way to suggest devotion, while also adorning your neck? “]

Bring the natural back into the spiritual

How do we rectify this?  If O’Connor is right, the spiritual must, once again, be filled with the physical.  We need to be reintroduced to the physical dimensions of the crucifixion.  A lot of people have written on this and many Good Friday sermons have been preached on it.  If you have not ever heard of the tortures of crucifixion read A Physician’s View of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

The Cross, emptied of its physicality becomes a pious cliché.  I suppose it’s fine to put a cross around your neck, but it ought to be scandalous. Isn’t it scandalous for the Son of the Most High God to be shamed, tortured and executed on this device?

The heart of the Gospel is in the answer to the question, “Why would those who love him wear a symbol of this obscenity?”



  1. RK Henderson

    The great problem with all symbols is that they don’t defend themselves. Anybody can brandish them, for any reason. Hence the constant warfare over them. “It’s mine!” “No, it’s mine!” Problem is, it’s everybody’s. That’s why I like to avoid them. I think a Christian is not a person who wears (already a weird concept) a cross; it’s a person who strives to live a Christic life.

    I would extend that fundamentalism to other symbols as well: a Christian is not a person who belongs to a church; a Christian is not a person who carries a Bible; a Christian is not a person who glues a fish and cartoon family members to his car. And so on. These are things you do _instead_ of Christianity. Because they’re so much easier, of course.

    Fortunately, Zen is new enough in the West that we mostly don’t have this problem. But you can feel it coming. I’ve decided to beat the Christmas rush and start rejecting it now.

    I also believe, as perhaps you hinted, that Christ’s life and teaching are approximately 1,982.32 times more important than his death. (If I over-read, I apologise.) Seems to me that all the “cross-ing” out there is an attempt to redefine the Christian path as something easy to see and easy to walk. It ain’t. As George Fox said, “A single man, living in the true spirit of Christ, would shake the country for ten miles around.” Which is probably why so few attempt it.

    Another excellent article, Trent!


    Rusty Ring: Reflections of an Old-Timey Hermit

  2. Trent

    Thanks Robin, I am in complete agreement with extending this pious cliché to the fish on the bumper, etc. And I also agree that part of the appeal to these things is that they are “so much easier” than Discipleship. Bonheoffer said something like that.

    I don’t, however, want to hint that Jesus’ life and teaching are more important than his death (and resurrection). For one thing, I don’t think they can be separated (another line I may attempt to blur in the future), but mostly, because, these things are the heart of the Gospel and therefore, the core of my faith.

    As always (for 30 years now), I appreciate your thoughts…

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