Absurd aversion to a symbol

  • Along The Watchtower
  • Wednesday, 30 Dec 2015

THE roofs of houses in a Langkawi neighbourhood are being repainted so that they do not display crosses when viewed from a particular angle.

It’s the sort of idiocy that Malaysia is becoming infamous for, besides shameful and inexplicable scandals.

But let’s just stick to the irrational aversion to the crucifix. It’s a form of staurophobia or fear of the cross.

Among Christians, it is caused by perception that one could face a similar fate.

Sufferers of the phobia might not go near a cross because it can make them extremely uncomfortable.They can have palpitations, tremble or sweat and in acute cases, even cry or scream.

Like all anxiety disorders, are fundamentally based on fear.

The Malaysian version of it seems to be more connected to apophenia – seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless things.

The aversion to the cross in Malaysia could also be associated with confirmation bias or being skewed towards one’s prejudices.

It could also be a mass case of pareidolia, a psychological process in which the mind perceives a familiar pattern or thing, even when it does not exist. To put it simply, it means reading too much into something and getting worked up over nothing.

Like, for example, in the case of the Langkawi houses. A picture of supposed crosses on roofs went viral on social media although it was just a view from an angle of the white dividing walls and air wells.

The “sensitive issue of a religious nature”, resulted in Kedah state exco member for Housing, Datuk Tajul Urus Mat Zain, ordering the areas to be repainted to match the roof tiles “to avoid confusion”.

Risible as it seems, the non-existent crosses were yet again seen as subtle attempts to proselytise Muslims.

In April, about 40 residents of Taman Medan in Petaling Jaya staged a protest against a church for putting up a cross. They claimed it posed a threat to their faith. Members of the church removed the cross but after intervention by police and local authorities, the church was allowed to re-fix the cross.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was later quoted as saying that the protesters could face charges under Sedition Act and other laws if they were found to have acted unlawfully.

The Attorney-General’s Chambers has since announced that it would not pursue any action against the group.

But staurophobia isn’t something new in the country. In 1984, the RM5 note was recalled because of a perceived ‘cross’ in it. The reverse side of the note featured the old Istana Negara, the official residence of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, which had a flag post with a horizontal bar.

It was not an issue when the note was released as part of the country’s second series of currency in 1982.

Two years later, supporters of one rising politician who promoted himself as a champion of Islam, capitalised on the issue to embarrass then Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin (now Tun).

The note was eventually recalled. In the modified version, the horizontal bar on the flag post had been removed.

This “crossed” RM5 note has become a favourite item for collectors and some owners have been trying to sell it for exorbitant prices.

One seller, for example, offered two such notes for sale at RM35,000 via an online numismatic store.

In any case, although the cross is the accepted symbol of Christianity, the debate over whether Jesus was crucified or nailed to a single stake is far from over.

Researchers have found that the New Testament scripture referring to a “cross” was a misinterpretation.

William Tyndale, the man credited for the first English translation of scriptures from Hebrew and Greek texts, used the word “cross” in place of the Greek word “stauros” which should have been rightly translated as “stake”.

Some scholars say that Jesus was nailed to a single upright beam, with his hands directly over his head. Apparently, there were no crosses in early Christian art before the middle of the fifth century.

The most accepted reason for the “cross” being brought into Messianic worship is Roman Emperor Constantine’s famous vision of “the cross superimposed on the sun” in 312 AD.

Even after his “conversion” to Christianity, his coins showed an even-armed cross as a symbol for the Sun-god.

Constantine also used another version of the cross, the Chi-Rho or Labarum, representing the first letters of the name Christos (CH and R, or, in Greek, X and P). Chi probably stood for Great Fire or Sun and Rho for Pater or Patah (Father).

Identical symbols have been found as inscriptions on rock, dating from 2500 BC.

The cross was an important religious image during the Middle Ages but in the 16th century after reformers identified it with idolatry, it was not seen in Protestant homes and churches.

Concerns over idolatry abated over the centuries and the cross was back as a Christian symbol.

In Malaysia, the Christian community has had to deal with the growing staurophobia for decades and the situation has become worse, as seen by the latest example.

It has become the butt of jokes with people asking what “cross-related” images or words are going to banned next and whether the Kuala Lumpur International Airport’s “cross-shaped” terminals would be demolished and turned into crescent-shaped ones.

A ban on cross-stitching? How about crossword puzzles?

Will schools be barred from organising cross-country runs?

Would there be a ruling that the popular Crossfire online game be deemed as unsuitable?

How about military and police weapons with cross-hairs on view finders?

Perhaps, the Cross pen and the cross-branded Chevrolet vehicles, along with the Philips cross-head screw, could face the risk of being banned too.

Enough of this silliness. We should instead get upset over the real issues ailing the country, like corruption, abuse of power and zealotry.

Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by author Tom Wolfe: Sometimes we don’t even realise what we really care about because we get so distracted by the symbols.

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