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Religious Hermeneutics at Comedy Central

October 14, 2009

Stephen Colbert treats a controversy over the placement of a cross on public property with his typical playful comedy, but he touches on some matters of heavy hermeneutics, namely, questions about whether and how subjective interpretations of the cross contribute to its symbolic significance. Does the cross have an essentially religious meaning or is its religious significance merely historical? Is it possible to remove the Christian meaning from the cross and attach only a non-religious meaning to it? Colbert dances around these fascinating questions. Perhaps his jokes point us to some answers.

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One Comment
  1. David Raber permalink
    October 15, 2009 12:07 pm

    “Does the cross have an essentially religious meaning or is its religious significance merely historical?”

    It is hard to say what meaning the cross or crucifix has to people, for example, who are not Christians in any committed sense (or perhaps in no sense at all) who wear it as jewelry. Perhaps it is has no more meaning than any other fashion item.

    Perhaps the only significance that remains in this signifier (in the thoroughly secularized part of our culture) is its historicity itself, its character as a piece of tradition, part of a style vocabulary we have received from our forebears, something like the classical orders of columns in architecture.

    Then we can ask to what extent the cross has ever been understood in its full meaning right within the Church–whose leaders and members have always and everywhere more or less compromised with the ways of “the world.” To what extent do we regard “Christian” or “Catholic” as not much more than the label of our tribe, a banner over our heads, as indeed the name of a personal style–as a signifier with at best a weak signification in the direction of taking up our cross and actually following Jesus?

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