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We all agree that the State has no business imposing a religion on its citizens. Someday, I have to find or write articles extolling the beauty and appropriateness of a just freedom of religion, and a just autonomy of the State relative to the Church.
Secondly, we also all agree that the State has no business engaging in bad proselytism. Even if the State doesn't force a religion down the throat of its citizens, it can still make their life miserable by constantly insinuating they should "convert".
That being said, a State still has the political responsibility of doing everything it can to edify its citizens. It's impossible to have a healthy State, if all citizens are lazy, stupid, hateful, etc.
This is why in this article, I want to explore the following political question:
"What non-religious reasons would the State have to respectfully encourage non-Christian families to hang a Crucifix in their house?"
For the sake of the argument, let's try to list a few.
"Acute Horizontalitis" is the social disease which causes the loss of all traces of verticality. It makes lives become totally "horizontal", i.e. we only think of paying the bills, buying food at the grocery store, giving a new coat of paint to the living room, catching the bus to go to work, etc.
There is nothing wrong with such "horizontal" activities! On the contrary, they are necessary! But they have no ultimate meaning in themselves. Whether you are a Christian or not, you must make room in your life for questions which are more "vertical" or "existential", like: "Is there more to life than food, sex, paying taxes, and so on?", or "What makes life worth living?", or "What do my kids need, apart from physical and financial health?", or "Why pain and death?", etc.
Of course, many sophists will try to make you believe that life is only "horizontal", and that asking "vertical" questions is useless (See among others "The Poisoned Pill of Doctor Patch Adams"). Even if that were the case, you would still need to ask yourself: "Is it true that "vertical" questions are useless?", and then make a reasonable inquiry into the topic, which includes hearing both sides of the story. So even in that case, your duty would be to have at least one "vertical" investigation!
A Crucifix, having a horizontal, but also a vertical component, can help remind us that we are more than "horizontal" beings.
One of the most important factors in the health of any society is the capacity of its citizens to truely love one another. It isn't much use balancing the State's budget or keeping the hospital waiting lists short if citizens want to strangle each other!
Politicians have many means at their disposal to encourage true love in their country, but none of them are of any use if the average citizen doesn't even know the difference between true love and false love!
True love is sometimes called "oblative love", because you want the loved one to be happy, even if you have to make some sacrifices yourself. False love is called "captative love", because you're only interested in yourself, and willing to disregard or even hurt other persons, if that can get you some base advantage. See also Vive La Différence Between Charity And Emotions Of Love.
A Crucifix reminds us of oblative love, the true love of somebody who was willing to suffer and even die (i.e. "give himself up in oblation") for the good of his fellow citizens.
If you think about it, there is only one difference between a poor and polluted country ravaged by civil war, and a rich, healthy and peaceful country. That difference is the daily choices made by all citizens. If you accumulate enough bad choices, made by enough citizens, you can destroy any country.
But what is a good choice? That's a difficult question, but one thing is clear: if the best choice was always the most immediately pleasant one, then everybody would choose well, all the time! What makes choosing difficult is that often we must accept some temporary pain now, in order to gain a better good which is in the future.
We could give endless examples of this. Before you can enjoy playing the piano, you first have to endure an initial learning period in which you won't sound too good. Before you can be at your healthy weight, you have suffer a bit while you improve your eating habits. Before we can enjoy a cleaner, greener environment, we'll have to suffer while we change our economy, so it won't be oriented toward consumption and destruction. Etc, etc.
A Crucifix reminds us that we often need to choose temporary little "deaths" in our lives, if we want to gain more durable "resurrections".
A country cannot help its citizens be humanely happy if nobody makes an honest profit. Money is necessary to pay for schools, hospitals, roads, etc.
As we can show, a country cannot prosper if its citizens do not respect the basic rules of morality. See among others "The Gross National Product And The Ten Commandments".
Definitely, a Crucifix is an excellent reminder of the Ten Commandments.
Of course, I'm absolutely not saying that the Bible contains only metaphors, or that Christianity is just a culture! As Tertullian said: "Dominus noster Christus veritatem se, non consuetudinem cognominavit" [quoted in Ratzinger, Josef. Introduction to Christianity, San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2004, p. 141].
Whether you believe the Bible is the Word of God or not, all citizens in a country still need to share a common language of wisdom, so they can communicate effectively. It's somewhat comparable to the story of the "Three Little Pigs", which can teach us about the importance of building well on good foundations, etc.
Few would disagree that the Gospels contain little gems, which can be used to express important snippets of wisdom, so we can teach them and communicate them. Many examples could be given, but let's just list:
6.1) Love of our neighbors (The parable of the Good samaritan, [Lc 10:25]). A man is attacked by robbers and nearly beaten to death. Rich and supposedly holy men pass by without stopping to help. A lowly samaritan does stop, and behaves as a true neighbor to that injured person.
6.2) Forgiveness and Tolerance (The Adulteress, [Jn 8:1]). A crowd gathers to stone a guilty woman, but changes its mind when one who is without sin is invited to throw the first stone.
6.3) Care for the poor (Judgment Day, [Mt 25:31]). God gives us the answers to the "Really Final, Final Exam". Did we give food to those who were hungry? Did we give something to drink to those who were thirsty? Did we take care of the sick? Etc.
(See also Dear Schoolchildren, Here Is Your Homework For Next Week!)
An air conditioner is useless if you don't install it in your window, plug it in and turn it on. It's the same thing with a Crucifix: there is no magic involved. If you want it to gradually edify everybody in your house, you have to hang it up in a very visible place, and explain to others what it should remind them of.
A politician, faced with the huge challenge of edifying each citizen individually, while encouraging those same citizens to build themselves a collective identity, must not neglect the effectiveness of the Crucifix.
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