"The object of all good literature is to purge the soul of its petty troubles." ~ P.G. Wodehouse

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Seriousness of Symbols

I just ran across this article in today's Scotsman. Apparently a pantomine in Glasgow was told by the British Red Cross that the production had broken the Geneva Convention. In this rendition of Robin Hood, the costume for a nurse character had a red cross on it. Harmless, one would think, but that is not the case according to the British Red Cross. The theatre was sent a letter informing them that they had broken the Geneva Convention on the use of the red cross and that they could face legal action. Included with the letter was "a three-page document from an extract from the Geneva Convention and it also contained a booklet that said it was a criminal offence" to use the red cross symbol in such a way.

I agree with the general manager of the theatre that it was "a wee bit heavy-handed", but what interests me are the statements by the British Red Cross. In their opinion, any use of a red cross other than by the wounded or those helping the wounded in a conflict region jeopardizes the meaning of the symbol.

Here are two quotes:
Michael Meyer, the head of international law for the British Red Cross: "Unauthorised use of this sign [the cross] in the United Kingdom is an offence under the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 (section 6, 1a). The reason for this strict control is that the red cross emblem is an internationally agreed symbol of protection during armed conflicts...If the red cross emblem or similar signs are used for other purposes, no matter how beneficial or inconsequential they may seem, the special significance of the emblem will be diminished and potentially lives may be lost" (emphasis mine).

And a charity spokesman for the British Red Cross added: "We have no desire to be the villains of the pantomime or to appear heavy-handed, but we do have a very serious obligation to protect the Red Cross emblem...The emblem is a special sign of neutrality and protection recognised by all sides during armed conflicts. Misuse of that emblem - even when done in an innocent and light-hearted manner - has to be addressed. Repeated and widespread misuse could dilute its neutrality and its ability to protect" (emphasis mine).

These comments just have me wondering about whether or not this is the best way to protect a symbol and ultimately the meaning that the symbol represents. Within the Christian world there are many symbols. The cross is one of the more recognizable. Should there be a zealous protection of its meaning and use? Should it only be used in certain ways? I guess this event has me wondering that if the British Red Cross is so concerned about its symbol which is internationally recognized, what symbols should Christians be concerned about safeguarding and what is the best way to do it? Does "widespread misuse" actually "dilute" or "diminish" the meaning of the symbol?

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