Oh dear. Sometimes you get the feeling that a big row is unnecessary, that everyone wishes they could wind the clock back or just get out of it. The wearing of crosses in England is one of those matters. For some it is a non-issue, for others it is a matter of simple common sense, for others still it is the thin end of a very dangerous wedge.
Media reporting doesn’t help. Just as a nuanced comment about gay relationships (aspiring to the ‘virtues of marriage’ – got that?) leads to headlines proclaiming that the new Dean of St Paul’s ‘backs campaign for gay marriage’, so another game is set up to create/prove/illustrate (delete as appropriate) division between archbishops. What if there is no contradiction between their positions and this is just ‘story creation’?
The Archbishop of York rightly says that the wearing of jewellery is not a matter for government judgement. If the government wants to get involved in questions of what people wear, then I await with interest their rulings on the abolition of the burqa and the prohibition for Sikhs wearing their kirpan. This argument about someone wearing a small cross has got completely out of proportion: if jewellery is to be banned on a BA uniform, then all jewellery (including BA badges, presumably) should be banned – the ruling being based on the potential dangers in an emergency of loose or sharp jewellery. However, if it is the nature of the jewellery – in this case a cross – then that is a different matter and the argument should be one of principle about religious symbols. That this current argument has gone as far as European courts is ridiculous as it appears to most people to be a matter of simple common sense.
According to the Daily Telegraph the Archbishop of Canterbury said in Rome that “the cross had been stripped of its meaning as part of a tendency to manufacture religion. Taking as his text the account of Jesus driving the money changers from the temple in Jerusalem, he said the temple had become a ‘religion factory’ rather than a place of worship”:
I believe that during Lent one of the things we all have to face is to look at ourselves and ask how far we are involved in the religion factory… And the cross itself has become a religious decoration.
Er… isn’t that true? Is anyone seriously going to argue that the cross has become for vast numbers of people simply a piece of jewellery – a decoration devoid of any religious significance – or a sort of religious totem (or lucky charm) that substitutes for substantive faith or commitment?
The point is that both archbishops are telling the truth about the wearing of crosses. They are simply not engaged in the same argument. (It’s a bit like me saying the sky is blue, my mate saying it is covered in a layer of ozone, and the commentator saying we are bitterly divided.) Any contradiction – and they are both grown-ups, so they can differ if they wish to – is, in this instance spurious. The fact that some people are ‘angered’ by the archbishop’s comments is irrelevant: someone is always angered by whatever an archbishop says and we have all been told by journalists that we are ‘furious’, ‘angry’, ‘upset’ when all we have done is differed from a view. You’d think that all archbishops do is spend their day working out how to upset people by making outrageously sensible statements.
However, I still think it ridiculous that any government – especially a religiously illiterate one – should try to decide on questions about the wearing of a cross on clothing. This simply feeds suspicions of conspiracies against Christians. So far BA has never asked me to remove my pectoral cross when flying – and my pectoral cross is a good deal bigger than any little piece of jewellery.