Taking my shirt off in protest? #crucifix #femen

Ok – that’s not about to happen – on top of which, no one wants it to happen!

But based on events of this past week, perhaps you’ll know I’m referring to the recent Femen protest in the Quebec National Assembly. If you’ve heard anything about Femen, you will know that this protest followed their usual modus operandi:

In a public place, in the presence of politicians and/or other person’s of power, rip off your shirt to reveal your breasts and a political message painted in black on your body. Simultaneously, you begin screaming your political message. There may be an anti-religious method to your madness/message, or it may be more secularly inclined (“don’t legalize rape” or “my body”).

crucifixThe Quebec protest was religious in nature. The slogan painted on the torso of one woman, as far as I can make it out under the grasping arms of security guards, insisted that the crucifix prominently displayed in the Quebec legislature should be re-located to a museum. Another body-painted slogan was “crucifix décâlisse”, which apparently means “crucifix go to hell.”

This protest (ineffectual and offensive as it is) can be contextualized within the present debate over the government’s proposed Charter of Values, which (among other things) would prevent state employees from wearing ostentatious (the religion police will be out with their tape measures) religious symbols. A number of criticisms have been launched against the charter, including the charge of hypocrisy. Its hypocrisy is revealed, to cite one example, in the exemption granted to the large crucifix in the Quebec legislature – a religious symbol that hangs directly above the speaker’s chair.

Which is where my own proposed (non breast-bearing) protest comes in. I also have a deep concern with the presence of the crucifix within the Quebec legislature – my objection is that a vital religious symbol and icon has been appropriated and evacuated of meaning, as a cultural emblem within Quebec. The question for Quebec politicians is this: What possible meaning does the crucifix have for contemporary Quebec society. What does the image of a crucified Jew, put to death by the state some 2000 years ago, mean for the Quebec legislature and the wider culture? Nothing, or very nearly nothing, as far as I can tell.

For the government of Quebec, the crucifix has been evacuated of its religious meaning. The crucifix has been appropriated and relocated within a vigorously secular state – a state within which religious language (the language of sacredness and of belief) is curiously redeployed by the state to defend the expulsion of religion from the public sphere and from sight. And there the crucifix hangs – appropriated and meaningless, disconnected from the faith of those who have, for some 2000 years, honoured and followed this crucified Jew.

So if I were to mount a protest (perhaps catching a parliamentary security guard napping) and were to steal onto the floor of the Quebec legislature while it was in session, my protest would take the form of worship. That’s right, a protestant boy, raised to hesitate before the presence of a crucifix (Jesus is risen, isn’t he – not eternally crucified), would gladly fall to his knees before the crucifix in prayer.

The purpose of such a protest would be to remind every politician and citizen of the province that the crucifix is a vital religious, and not merely cultural symbol. My hope would be that politicians and fellow-citizens would be unable to dissociate the crucifix from the practice of prayer before it – would be unable to get that image of devotion out of their heads. Perhaps the combined image of crucifix and praying Christian would be a decisive reminder of the substance and meaning of that symbol. There is nothing neutral, secular, or merely cultural about it. This crucified Jew is life and hope and meaning for me and for sisters and brothers who also put their faith in him.

So, if you see my photo in the newspaper, you can rest assured that there will be no bared breasts – I would be fully clothed, on my knees, in prayer. Do you think they would get the message?


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