The SCOTUS told us that the creche was not a religious symbol. In other words, a dad, a kneeling mom, a few wisenheimers, some animals, and a baby with a nimbus is not about Jesus. Okay. If it meant keeping the creche on public soil, some were ready to agree. No, it is not a religious symbol.
The world has taken over the cross and it has become a symbol that no longer has much to do with Christ and Him crucified. Crosses are no longer offensive. They are pretty. We wear them as jewelry and on our clothing. They have eased their way from the offensive sign of Christ's suffering and death into an almost generic symbol of hope. Probably not a religious symbol anymore.
The internet has transformed all symbols so that they are less about what they once stood for and are now simply things we like, we find inspiration, meaningful, or, well, nice. All sorts of religious symbols have lost their religion and now are just nice signs or symbols. They mean what we want them to mean. Not a good day for religious symbols.
My own congregation has a copyrighted round window. We designed it, bought it, paid for it, and installed it. We thought it was ours but then it has shown up as cover art for a self-published book and, perhaps most curiously, as bulletin cover art with a giant carrot (yes, you read that right) over it. What does that mean???
Watch the ads on the sides of vans or on TV or listen to them on radio and religious symbols are being used to promote commerce. Some of it, ostensibly enough by self-proclaimed Christians, but others as a means of claiming authenticity and integrity sort of by osmosis. All of a sudden we know which cars God drives, which plumbers he uses, which exterminators kill His bugs, and all sorts of things. I once went to purchase a freezer and was lectured to by the salesman on the value of tithing, how he would tithe on the value of my purchase, and how God has given him more and more than he has paid out in tithes. It was quite the racket. I skipped on the freezer there and bought one from an ordinary sinner who did not trade on God's good name or His promises.
Neil Postman, in his pointed critique of late-twentieth-century American culture, Technopoly, wrote that modernity and technology have been hard on symbols. He called it “the great symbol drain.” I cannot argue with him. He was correct. Another writer put it this way: "A technological culture such as ours, he wrote, devoted to efficiency and consumption, has little regard for tradition and its symbols—symbols that represent ancestral values and commitments, including sacred values and commitments. In a technological culture, people feel free to use symbols any way they like, which has the effect of emptying the symbols of their meaning. It’s not an act of sacrilege; sacrilege suggests that people recognize the symbols and mean to insult them. It’s an act of trivialization. In a technological society, nothing is sacred, so everything can be exploited."
Postman's point as well as the comments of Mark L. Movsesian are right on point. Symbols have become the fodder for our manipulation so that they do not mean the same thing to the same people but are individual and personal. . . and. . . it would seem, becoming worthless as a means to communicate anything of substance. This is surely our loss. Christian symbols have been released from their moorings in Scripture and tradition and have become captive to the person who sees them. Their references have been rendered trivial, so trivial, in fact, that the rest of us hardly even notice when someone is playing on a religious symbol to market a product to us or to tell us something. Though we might complain when this happens by mass marketers in pursuit of profits or by advertisers who find it too difficult to be innovative, we are also guilty of it all. Even if we did not directly misuse these symbols, we stood by and let them be stolen from us.
Maybe some Christian should have stood up and told the SCOTUS that, damn it, we don't want to put up those creches if they don's mean anything anymore. Maybe the rest of us ought to rise up and walk when an advertiser or a commercial concern tries to play on our Christian sympathies and identities for some purpose other than the Gospel. Are you with me, folks?