Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Church and Me, Part 2

On Saturday mornings from 10 to 11, I go to a 12-step meeting held in the basement of a nearby Catholic Church. Most days, the classrooms where we meet are used for Sunday school and Bible study groups, and as such the walls are festooned with posters of the popes and martyrs. One poster in particular has horrified me since I first noticed it. It is a series of photos of a man being executed by a firing squad. There are four pictures in all, culminating in a photo of the blindfolded martyr, now bleeding and lying on the ground, being shot in the head—the coup de grace—by a soldier with a rifle.  The caption says something to the effect that this person died for Christ.

I’ve been going to this meeting for several years, always in the same room, and being a creature of habit I usually occupy the same chair against the wall. Today was the first time I perceived that right across from me, hanging on nail, was a crucifix.

I’ve always had a strange feeling about crucifixes. Why people should hold this particularly gruesome instrument of torture and death as a religious symbol is beyond me. A Jewish friend of mine once commented on the oddness of one of the world’s prime faith worshipping “a dead boy on a stick.” Another acquaintance found it strange that, in effect, Jesus committed suicide-by-cop some 2000 years go, and is now venerated for an act unacceptable to the church he founded.

Today, as I half-listened to people sharing about their alcohol-related issues, I couldn’t take my eyes off that cross and the mutilated body on it. The head hangs down and to the side as if the Christ has already suffocated—one of the ways crucifying kills—and the fingers of both hands are curled like claws. The body itself bleongs to a man who obviously works out daily. He's got a Gold's Gym six-pack of abs, glorious biceps and quads of steel.

The fact that most depictions of the Christ on a cross are inaccurate doesn’t matter. Criminals who were crucified during Roman times were nailed through the ankles and wrists—not the feet and hands—to a T-shaped edifice. If the executioner wanted the criminal to live and suffer a while, the man would be placed on a small platform to relieve the stress on the spikes piercing him.

What are we supposed to get from this? Why do we espouse such an absolutely horrid way of presenting a faith that claims as its foundation the love of and forgiveness for one’s brethren? I wonder if the kids attending classes in these basement rooms ever shrink from the awfulness of it all, or whether, perhaps, the cross is merely a symbol as potent as the Easter bunny.

Have a happy Sunday.

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