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Thursday, 8 January 2009

Crossing boundaries

Scenes that are not quite nice – those depicting death and torture, for instance – are often censored, or partially censored by being, in theory, closed off from parts of the population (as with the TV 9 p.m. watershed). Yet for centuries we’ve allowed in our streets huge statues of a man being put to death in the most barbaric and cruel manner devised by the Romans of old.

As a symbol of Jesus’s death, the cross is a potent image for Christians. But so often we see the dead or dying man hung there with nails through his palms (or wrists) and feet and a novel form of acupuncture being performed on his head. What’s wrong with having a cross rather than a crucifix?

A priest in Horsham in Surrey is so disgusted with the Crucifixion sculpture (pictured) outside his church, St John’s, that he’s ordered it taken down. Yes, it looks a bit gruesome, but its colour adds to the horror that is already there.

It’s odd that those who would censor TV say constant exposure to violence inures young people (well, all people, I suspect) to its effects. Perhaps it makes them more likely to go and commit violence. It’s in their lives, albeit on a TV screen.

Yet we allow a barbaric form of execution to be depicted throughout the land, instead of just having the cross, minus the corpse. I remember drawing it in infant school (in a C of E school in Nottinghamshire longer ago than I care to remember). I as a six-year-old was allowed – nay, encouraged – to depict this suffering individual (usually with a thief either side of him, suffering a similar fate) in crayon.

Even if the image – the full-blown crucifix, as opposed to the clean lines of a symbolic cross – is so much a part of the landscape that kids don’t recoil in horror at it, they’re going to ask questions. Why is that man hanging there like that? Who did it? Why? Why did they have to do it like that? How long does it take him to die? Does it hurt?

So I wonder if the Rev. Ewan Souter is as concerned with the rest of these images as he is with the sculpture on his own church. Perhaps he ought to be.

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