Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Symbols as self

Riverbend has a new post up today. It covers Condi's visit, the increasing and extremely confusing violence around Bagdad and the rest of the country, and, of course, the Newsweek flap

At the end of the day, it's not about words or holy books or pork or dogs or any of that. It's about what these things symbolize on a personal level. It is infuriating to see objects that we hold sacred degraded and debased by foreigners who felt the need to travel thousands of kilometers to do this. That's not to say that all troops disrespect Islam- some of them seem to genuinely want to understand our beliefs. It does seem like the people in charge have decided to make degradation and humiliation a policy.

By doing such things, this war is taken to another level- it is no longer a war against terror or terrorists- it is, quite simply, a war against Islam and even secular Muslims are being forced to take sides.

It has ever been thus. I'm sure there is much to be said about the importance of symbols. They have meaning for us at a visceral level, a level that, at times, is at odds with our rationality. What is so important about a book, a cracker and some wine, a scroll, facial hair, a head covering? Symbols are a representation of our reaching for a deeper understanding, and, as such, become vested with a significance far beyond themselves. It is as if the vehicle of our imagination and inquiry becomes for us more important than the journey or the destination.

We can argue about the importance of symbols, but it doesn't change the fact that in our symbols we place a part of our identity. Maybe I've told this story before, but in my first year of Seminary, in our first Biblical Studies class, our OT professor stood in front of us and, without a word, slammed a copy of the Bible onto the floor and stomped vigorously on it. Even I, who considered myself to be a rational person who viewed the Bible as a collection of texts that spoke to us about humanity's relationship with God in a series of snapshots, gasped. It broke something inside me. Mind you, it was a necessary breakage. But something twinged that I never suspected was even there.

Symbols have power over us. And we have power over them. We are seeing a clash of the Titans, a battle of identities, that really does reach into the depths of our self understanding. There is much more to be said about this, but I'm far from my resources at the moment and do not wish to trail a hodgepodge of half remembered quotes and perspectives through the blog. More later, perhaps.

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