That undying symbol

It is a simple design, useful in the construction of grand buildings, or as a small platform from which to hang trouble makers. It has also become the world’s most recognizable religious symbol.

In its most utilitarian usage, it is part of the framework of buildings. It is so impressive, we need be reminded it is utilitarian, not miraculous. Despite its inspiring design, it failed along with the rest of the framework, to stop alleged religious zealots from destroying two of our largest buildings plus themselves in their effort to prove their god was better than our god.

Somewhere in there lies an inspiring religious message. It must be so because when our buildings fell and 2,700 people died, people in many foreign countries, those with the other god celebrated. Death and the celebration of it are big deals in religions.

The cross, called the symbol of peace, is more often associated with mass killing and cruelty. Spanish conquistadors brandished flags decorated with crosses as they killed countless native Americans in their search for gold and other riches. Pious Christians, crosses on their vestments and shields, journeyed from Europe to the Holy Land to kill, plunder, and secure land they deemed sacred because a man/god had been crucified there.

It was the very symbol of the Spanish Inquisition. Countless heretics were killed because they committed one of the prime sins: questioning unproven claims. Today the word “inquisition” conjures up a vision of cruel men, wearing crosses, causing unbearable pain to folks who merely asked the most basic sentence in science: “Why?”

Reminders of the sacred icon are everywhere, and defended zealously. Defying the Constitution, a court order, and affirmation of that order by an appeals court, a cross still stands on public property on a mountain overlooking La Jolla, California.

Others have not been so prominently displayed. A piece of the framework in the shape of a cross was found in the wreckage of the Twin Towers. This was the symbol, many felt, to inspire us to . . . uh, to adorn a new, replacement building.

A photo shows a priest and the former mayor of our greatest city adding a blessing to the symbol pulled from the wreckage of the Twin Towers felled on 9/11. Some object to this use of a religious symbol, sometimes citing its long and poignant history of violence and killing.

But to the adherents of our god, history is ignored. After all, they claim, believers are enjoined to never question God or his works. You can find it in every catechism or Sunday school tract.

So, should we object to yet another religious symbol? After all those of us who don’t share this zealous feeling that comes from belief in things not proved are shunned, often considered eccentric. More than half the electorate would not vote for someone who does not acknowledge a belief in a supreme being, and the cross does represent just such a thing. Who knows how bad it will get if we object to a sacred symbol?

Let’s leave it be. Agree it will stay there, but as a reminder of what we lose when we substitute faith for reason in trying to determine what is happening on our earth. When a non-believer views the symbol which inspires so many believers, he might take off his hat and stand quietly while contemplating what the world would be like if we started thinking rather than believing.

Thinking will not produce miracles but it may help us understand those who believe in them.

Keith Taylor is a retired Navy officer living in Chula Vista, Ca. He can be reached at

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