Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Jewish kids at Christmas...

For me, growing up as I did in an Orthodox Jewish household, this was surely part of my fascination for Christmas itself, that magical season that was always beckoning, at school and in the streets, only to be withheld each year by the forces of religion and family. (I once decided that Christmas must mean even more to America's Jewish children than to its Christian ones.)
-- Stephen Nissenbaum

I can't decide whether it's ironic or weirdly appropriate that The Battle for Christmas -- probably the most fascinating and thought-provoking book on the history of American Christmas traditions -- was written by a Jew.

On the other end of the spectrum, one of my best friends from high school -- a girl who was from a mixed-faith family but who strongly identified with her Jewish heritage -- seemed to think that it was kind of stupid and annoying that her Lutheran father would put up a Christmas tree in their house every year.

My impression from my various Jewish friends is that whatever their opinion of Christmas, it's hard to be totally indifferent towards it.

It's a complicated situation, but I think everyone can understand some of the emotions involved for the kids -- the mixed feelings of wanting to be true to your traditions and people while on some level feeling like it might be nice to join in what's going on in the outside world instead of having to be different all the time.

I'd like to use this as a metaphor to illustrate the mixed feelings Mormons have towards the symbol of the cross. The reason I bring this up is that I often see people outside the LDS church on Internet forums and such mocking the Mormon aversion to the cross, taking it as some sort of sign that Mormons obviously don't worship Jesus and are some sort of weirdo cultists. I think the reality is a lot more complex than that.

This metaphor can only stretch so far since there's one glaring difference between the Jewish relationship with Christmas and the Mormon relationship with the cross: Christmas is actually fun -- loads of fun -- full of all manner of interesting traditions and customs to suit all tastes, whereas who could argue that wearing and displaying a representation of a gruesome means of execution is fun? (How did a religion of peace and love get such a violent symbol anyway? Seriously guys, what brainiac thought of that one?)

There are several official/theological reasons Mormons give for not using the cross symbol. But the official avoidance of it naturally leads to an emotional avoidance as well. A Mormon wearing a cross or putting a cross on an LDS church would be like saying "Mormon, Methodist, Presbyterian -- it's all the same thing, just a few squabbles over the details."

I suppose now that mainstreaming is the order of the order of the day, President Hinkley's next prophecy will be to encourage all faithful LDS to trade in their CTR rings for cross pendants.

But for the moment at least, Mormons seem to accept being "peculiar."


The Sinister Porpoise said...

As an Exmormon, I always thought the refusal to use the cross as a symbol was because it was a method of execution.

C. L. Hanson said...

That seems pretty reasonable.

The ones I heard as a Mormon were the following:

1. Because of the second commandment against idolatry -- the cross is an image of God (in the form of Christ on the cross) therefore should not be an object of worship.
2. Because the Mormons focus rather on the resurrection and/or believe that the "atonement" was actually during the prayer at Gethsemane, not the crucifixion itself.

But my main point is that whatever the precise theological justification, there's no particular reason why Mormons should have to use the same symbol as other Christian religions. Additionally, there's no reason to believe that not using that symbol means there's something sinister about the Mormons, like they're vampires or something... lol

AnnM said...

Apropos of nothing:

I was referred to your blog by a comment at Bitch, PhD, and I saw your header and thought, “Hey, that’s me!”

But then I remembered, no, I moved back to Jesusland last year. This must be the me living in one of those alternate universes that are splitting off at every moment in time from the one I exist in. Tell me, did Kerry win the election in your universe?

Nice to meet you. You can meet me at Feminist, Economist but the only reference to Mormons is in my recent post, What’s up with those three red states?.

And what the heck is up with blogger these past two days?

C. L. Hanson said...

Hi Sam-I-am!!!

Sadly even in my universe Bush beat Kerry... :-(

That's a great blog you have there!! Once blogger is working again, I'll add you to my "Outer Blogness" links.