You’ve probably seen the delightful Flying Spaghetti Monster parody of the Sistine Chapel painting, where the Pastafarian deity replaces the white-bearded guy giving life to Adam. If not, you can see one (and even buy one) here.
Where you can’t see it, though, at least for very long, is at London South Bank University. It seems they had a start-of-term event where various campus organizations were able to set up tables and attract members where the South Bank Atheist Society displayed a Flying Spaghetti Monster poster to attract attention. The attention it attracted, though, came from student union officials, who ordered that it be taken down because they perceived it to be “religiously offensive.”
The knee-jerk response, especially from humanist types, is to condemn censorship in all its forms, especially on a university campus dedicated to the free flow of ideas, blah blah blah. But I’m going to take a contrarian view here. I happen to think that some personal beliefs matter, and ought to be respected by others.
That’s why I believe that all displays of the Christian crucifix should be banned. Not just from government property, but everywhere that I might possibly see it, because I find it profoundly offensive.
First of all, the crucifix itself was an instrument of horrific torture, reserved for those who committed the worst possible crime: treason against the Roman state. I hate torture. I get the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it, or being reminded of it in any way. You don’t see people displaying images of a rack or other medieval torture contraptions very often, because that would be sick. I put crucifixes in the same category, especially the ones that try to outdo one another in depicting as graphically as possible just how much agony Jesus was enduring.
Second, the whole theology of “divine atonement” symbolized by the crucifix is even more offensive. The idea is that all humans are sinners, either by the “original sin” of our parents, or just because we are so inherently depraved that we can’t help but sin. We’re all so terrible that the only way to get us out of this fix was for God himself to suffer unimaginable agony on the cross. (Who exactly made that a requirement anyway? If you were God, wouldn’t you have made fixing this easier?) Anyway, every time I see a crucifix, I get the message loud and clear: “You, Granados, are such a hopeless sinner that the only thing that could possibly save you from eternal flames is God himself getting tortured.”
How much more offensive can a message be? I’m no sinner. An idiot sometimes, but not a sinner. Anyone who wants to dispute that can talk to my lawyer. But I can’t drive down the street without seeing all these images saying “You’re a sinner … you’re a sinner … you’re a sinner.” It’s a good thing I’m not paranoid.
Aside from the origin and theology of the crucifix, there is its undeniable association with violence over many centuries. In fact, the earliest Christian symbol was a fish, and the crucifix began as a variant on the “Sword of Mithra” symbol popular among Roman legions who celebrated that particular god. Then there were the Crusades—to Palestine, Spain, France, the Baltic, and elsewhere—all under the banner of the cross. How can I see a crucifix without being reminded of all that brutality and mayhem?
So I’m devastatingly offended by the crucifix, and others seem to be offended by the Flying Spaghetti Monster (“FSM”). There are four ways this could shake out:
1. Anybody should be able to display either a crucifix or a FSM, otherwise known as “free expression.” This is a poor result, because it would do nothing to soothe my shattered nerves.
2. Follow the path of the London South Bank University student union, allowing display of crucifixes but not the display of the FSM. This rubs salt on my wound.
3. Don’t allow anyone to display either a crucifix or a FSM. This gets me past my hyperventilation problem, but unfairly restricts my freedom. Unlike the crucifix, there is nothing inherently offensive about the FSM, which simply argues in a humorous way that we don’t know what the creator of the universe looks like. The FSM has nothing to do with torture, violence, or calling anyone a sinner, and everything to do with people not taking themselves too seriously.
4. Thus we see, by impeccable logic, that the best solution is for all displays of offensive crucifixes to be prohibited, and all displays of harmless fun like the Flying Spaghetti Monster to be permitted. Maybe even required—I need to give that one more thought.