Wearing a cross – how naff can you get?

By Giles Coren (THE TIMES, 25/11/06):

Now that 13 bishops have joined in to lend their two penn’orth to the row between Nadia Eweida and British Airways over whether or not staff should be allowed to wear a cross, you may be wondering why I have remained silent on the matter. Well, it’s because I couldn’t give a toss one way or the other (though I apologise for using the word “toss”, with its seedy connotations of Conservative Party advertising).

And yet, while I care not a jot (which is like a toss, only cuter) who wins or loses, I do find myself appalled by the Christians who are using it to suggest that their religion is under attack — for it is what they said when they got wind, back in the 11th century, that Jerusalem was overrun with jungle bunnies, and it led to the Crusades and many of our current woes.

The belief that Christianity is under attack is similar to the belief of Nick Griffin and the BNP that the white race is under attack, or the belief of Richard Littlejohn (and other Sun columnists) that middle-class white males are the most embattled of minority groups. It is specious, racist sophism. The Daily Mail indulged in it yesterday, with a big page 4 photograph of a check-in girl at BA wearing a headscarf under the headline, “The airline’s dress code in action”. So witty, these defenders of the faith.

Can’t they see the difference? Jews, Muslims, Sikhs (others, presumably, too, I’m no expert) are compelled by their covenant with God (to varying degrees according to interpretation) to observe certain forms of dress. Christians aren’t. Faith alone is good enough in Christianity. Not so these others.

I suppose in principle I would defend the woman’s right to wear her cross in public (if not otherwise directed by her employer) but only in as much as I would defend someone’s right to wear any other naff badge of allegiance, like a Chelsea shirt, a hoody, stupid baggy jeans that show your underpants, a Metallica T-shirt, or some wife-beater vest commemorating “Lads on Tour — Faliraki, Ibiza, Puerto Banús — 2003”.

And Nadia’s silver cross is naff, and you know it. It’s just bling. It’s a chunk of metal arbitrarily imbued with cash value by a value system of which Christ disapproved. Jesus, I think it is safe to say, would not have worn one. He might, at a pinch (and it’s a daft anachronistic image), have worn a wooden one and given the silver to the poor. But when was the last time you saw someone wearing a wooden cross? Or a plastic one?

Nadia’s religion compels her to render her spiritual allegiance unto God, the silver she is meant to render unto Caesar (Caesar, in this particular capitalist dynamic, being represented, very ably, by BA).

Christians used to gather together at the sign of the fish (I get my early Christian history mostly from Gibbon, I’m afraid, so much of it is bollocks) and moved over to the cross because the fish didn’t seem to be moving people much. It was part of the same late 1st-century rebranding exercise that removed the ban on pork and the insistence on circumcision. When they saw that they could keep their willies just how they liked them and still have bacon sarnies for breakfast, pagans flocked to the new monotheism of forgiveness and tolerance.

The cross was a rallying sign, a symbol of Roman torture and oppression appropriated (as words like “yankee”, “nigger” and “queer” have been adopted by the people they were intended to offend) by Christians as a symbol of defiance. And it thus became a marching banner, unfortunately, for crusaders, for Inquisitors, for the Ku Klux Klan.

But wearing it is not a religious obligation. And the fashioning of the cross in various vulgar metals as an item of jewellery, the wearing of which demonstrates nothing but the fact that you have money, has made it, arguably, the naffest single image in the world. Make the cross a fashion item and you appeal to what is temporary and fleeting in it. There is no need for jewellery in a world without end.

We know you’re a Christian, Nadia, because unless told otherwise we have to assume you are. This is a Christian country with an established Church whose head is the Queen. It is a given, in Britain, that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried, and on the third day rose again. And the assumption is that you believe that, unless you are bound by your own religion to wear something that identifies you as believing differently.

And those who do show up for work in a turban or a headscarf or a skullcap are, more and more, to be admired for making themselves so easily identifiable in a country that thinks Christianity is under attack.