Cruciform dildo-swords decorate church lawn in Tennessee

Those are not crosses on the lawn of Grace Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

The man in this photo, Mack Richards, explained that to reporter Scott Broden of The Tennessean.

Richards, photographed here by the newspaper’s John A. Gillis, explained that these giant cruciform objects on his church’s lawn are actually anti-crosses.

“It was more or less to make a statement to the Muslims about how we felt about our religion, our Christianity,” said Mack Richards, a Middle Tennessee Baptist Church member who built the crosses at the request of Grace Baptist member and friend Bobby Francis. “We wanted them to see the crosses and know how we felt about things.”

Richards’ erections there on the lawn are thus symbols of hostility — assertions of power over and power against the neighbors of the church.

That’s the opposite of a cross, just as surely as power is always the opposite of love. A vampire could stroll the lawn at Grace Baptist and hug each of Richards’ cross-shaped creations without fear.

Those are not crosses. Those are swords.

Or phalluses. Or gun barrels, or missiles, or Roman spears, or whatever objects of that sort you prefer as symbolic assertions of aggressive, hostile, brute power. The horns of the beast from John’s Apocalypse, perhaps, if you want an apt biblical description.

I just think of them as giant dildo-swords, since they were placed there both as threatening weapons and as naked symbols of the alleged potency of the Baptists of Bradyville Pike.

Contemplating the sight of these 13 giant anti-crosses on the lawn of an allegedly Christian church one has to ask: Doesn’t anyone in Murfreesboro understand the meaning of the cross?

Well, Broden was able to find one citizen there who did.

If you’re ever stuck in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and you want to understand what Jesus was all about, look for the church with the 13 giant cruciform dildo-swords on its lawn. But don’t go there, obviously.

Go next door, to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, and talk to Saleh Sbenaty:

“We love our neighbors, all of them, including the church next door,” said Sbenaty. “As Muslims, we believe in Jesus, as well. Jesus said love thy neighbors. They are our neighbors, and we must love them.”

 

  • EllieMurasaki

    The devil, like all angels, was made fundamentally good.  He* is certainly lacking in good, he certainly does evil things, but that doesn’t make put him on a different scale, so to speak, of sin and evil.  He’s just the lowest on the totem poll, not on a different standard.
     
    I always liked the idea that Satan is the Loyal Opposition, myself. It certainly makes sense of the Book of Job. Does rather throw a spanner into Revelation, but then the idea comes from the Jews, who consider Job part of Scripture but don’t so consider Revelation.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Swords, spears, and guns are seemingly intrinsically weaponized, without the potential of the phallus to (hopefully) lose its weapon status. Knives have a non-violent role in the kitchen or dinner table that swords can perform in a pinch, although that’s not the intended use of a true sword. Spears and guns, I can’t think of a non-violent role except practicing for violence non-violently (even with no intention of performing the “real” version of the practiced event; e.g., skeet shooting).

    I have always seen baring one’s genitals to the world as advertising a weakness.  The genitals on a human are a vulnerable spot, and the body reacts with excessive pain when harm comes to it compared to other places on the body.  

    In other words, when somebody is holding up their genitals to the world (or some appropriately symbolic substitute such as a gun or other socially recognized symbol of compensatory virility) they are saying “Right here, this is where you can hurt me most.”  Threatening that symbol will provide considerable leverage over them should the need to do so arise.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

     Maybe that’s part of it. It’s like when the villain explains his own weakness or the critical flaw in his plan to the hero, because he’s so confident that the hero is completely overpowered and can’t possibly take advantage of the knowledge. If you have someone completely broken or helpless, you (well, maybe not you but the nutty supervillain version of you) might feel comfortable exposing yourself to them because supervillain-you knows that if they dare attack you can crush them into the dirt.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Except this isn’t entirely an arbitrary symbolic mapping, subject to being interpreted and reinterpreted; there’s some hardwiring involved as well. And if it turns out that humans are a primate species in which genital display is not a dominance gesture, I’ll be very surprised.

  • Lori

    A hypoallergenic, lemony, minty cat would be fine.

  • Holden Pattern

    “I’ve said this before and will likely say this again.  But, Christianity doesn’t have any set of rules or advice for people in power.  The story of Jesus in the bible, and his disciples, is the story of a group very much not in political power.  They’re depicted as holy rabble-rousers, people on the outside of power, looking in, and, as such, tempted to think that hatred and violence would be the way to change things.  So, Jesus is depicted giving advice on how to face oppression in the morally perfect way.”
    This also explains a lot about why so many Christians, who are culturally and politically dominant in the United States, so quickly revert to “Help, help, I’m being oppressed” in response to criticism or curtailment of their privilege and set up endless political psychodramas in which they are the victims.  Their religion offers them that narrative, and even when it’s patently false it’s a lazy and appealing story to tell about oneself. 

  • Mark Z.

    If I ever play Exalted again, I am totally making a deathknight named Cruciform Dildo Sword.

  • arcseconds

     What does ‘consist of goodness’ mean?

  • arcseconds

     There’s a tradition in Sufi mysticism that Iblis is indeed loyal, that with their great gifts they foresaw the need for an angel to rebel, and that they decided that it would be better for them to feign their own rebellion rather than allow one of their brethren to become the first rebel for real.  

    It is said that in the centre of Hell there is a mosque where the devil goes to pray.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Oooooooh. I wonder can I steal that for the story I’m plotting?

  • Tonio

    That irritates me as well because it’s obviously driven by xenophobia and ethnocentrism. I maintain that warfare as a metaphor doesn’t belong in any religious context regardless of how it’s used. Warfare means clashing armies and us versus them. Struggle is a far better term.

  • arcseconds

    I found you this:

    http://journeytothesea.com/disobedience-iblis-sufism/

    But I understand that this is a mystery, in the ‘mystery religion’ sense of mystery.  I actually felt reluctant to speak of it openly.  So, assuming you care about such things, you may want to check up on the cultural appropriateness of using it as a story.

    I don’t know how widespread these stories are even within Sufiism, and I understand that the official, external position even for them is that Iblis is evil.

    You may also be interested to know that there’s another tradition that Iblis was Allah’s lover.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Thank you, and understood.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.maki Jon Maki

    Whenever I see the term “spiritual warfare,” I think of either Professor X squaring off against Amahl Farouk/Shadow King on the Astral Plane, or this old Spectre story in which the Spectre is engaging in a battle with one of his greatest enemies on the Astral Plane.

    The latter one is much more entertaining in an over-the-top visual fashion, as the Astral Plane they’re fighting on is basically a mental/spiritual projection of the physical universe, and the Spectre and – I want to say it was Kulak that he was fighting – his adversary had grown to enormous sizes and were whacking each other with comets and smashing each other over the head with entire planets…

    Then I think about what people are actually talking about and it’s a letdown.  Because seriously, your version of spiritual warfare is so boring by comparison.

    (It’s kind of like when, in reference to Project Management, I see the term “Force Field Analysis,” and I think, “Cool!”  Then I’m reminded of how it’s just a cool name for a really mundane and boring activity.)

  • friendly reader

    So… in a way, you can, in fact, say that God is the only reason I am a
    good person. It just oversimplifies the equation, but doesn’t
    invalidate it.

    We were briefly talking about Neo-Platonism on another thread and how it impacted Christian thinking. One of the ideas in N-P is that existence is a good in and of itself; it is better to exist than to not exist.* You’re a real person, still around, still existing; that means there’s good in you.

    There’s a lot of debate over whether that really works as an idea, but it might be some help to you if you’re wondering whether you can count as good. No Christianity required either. N-P ideas have been used by pagans, Jews, and Muslims.

    *This is why Anselm rhapsodized that “God is the best thing that can be imagined” (paraphrased) meant God had to exist, because it would be better for God to exist than to not exist. Even if you buy that argument, what counts as “best” or “greatest” is still up in the air, and it certainly doesn’t require everything else in Christianity that makes it unique, like the incarnation. It was also was never meant to be a proof; Anselm was just throwing philosophy into his meditations.

  • friendly reader

     Also, not all Christians believe in the idea of fallen angels and a literal devil. A lot of us view Satan as a metaphor for the persistence of evil. Obviously Christians have taken a more literal look on the existence of a fallen angel throughout history, though it’s notable that a lot of the Devil mythos comes from outside the Bible. It’s Word of Dante.

    And while Christianity has a lot of dualistic tendencies, mythologically the devil is technically not the opposite of God, but the opposite of Micheal, the chief angel. Not absolute good versus evil, but “turning towards God” and “turning away.”

    I tend to see the devil – however you interpret the idea – as principally opposed to humanity, depicted as either our arch-critic (Job) or as a representative of madness (the Gospels), sin (much of the NT), or the forces of Empire and oppression (Daniel and Revelation).

  • friendly rader

     Ah, but we do have Christians who are involved in that kind of warfare! Have you ever heard of Frank E Peretti’s books, like This Present Darkness? I read that one in high school and thought that it was so neat that someone had created a crazy fantasy universe based loosely on Christian mythology. Demons lurk around drug dens and covertly try to control the government, angels have swords and use prayers of humans as backup support, exorcism is actually real rather than a total joke.

    It was only later that I found out this is how he actually believes the world works. Oh my sheltered Lutheran upbringing…

  • Fusina

    First, thanks for all the concern and good thoughts. Got a good nights sleep last night and am feeling a lot better.

    Second, thanks for all the interesting comments. I love the blog, but love the comments just as much. I learn so much about how other people think, and it is fascinating–in a good way. Because it forces me to look at my thoughts and sometimes to turn them upside down to see what is lurking underneath them. This is a good thing, albeit scary. And I am beginning to suspect that an awful lot of evangelicals may be terrified of examining their beliefs, on the off chance that they are wrong and will have to change. Change is scary in and of itself, and when you toss religion into the mix…well.

  • Shane

     Notions of the devil as a fallen angel predate the formation of Christianity itself.  I’m inclined to take the devil as a real person due the affirmation of that throughout the vast majority of Christian tradition.  One strand of thought looks at the devil as rebelling out of jealously of humanity.  I really don’t have an opinion on most of this, but it is interesting to think about.

  • Shane

     Anselm’s arguments got a lot resistance even in his own day, because they relied upon an early univocity (one substance; the good of God is the same thing as the good we speak about in normal conversation, just quantitatively higher) of being rather than the analogy of being (The good of God is different from the good of human beings; language is used as analogy to give an imperfect capture of that) used in that day; it wasn’t until Scotus came along that the concept of univocity really developed, which a lot of modern day theologians and philosophers of religion view as deadly to many conceptions of God.

  • Shane

     Someone likes Milton ;)

  • EllieMurasaki

    Never read him, actually. I keep meaning to but there’s always something else higher on the priority list.

  • ReverendRef

     And I am beginning to suspect that an awful lot of evangelicals may be
    terrified of examining their beliefs, on the off chance that they are
    wrong and will have to change.

    I think you’re right on here.  On the surface it seems like they are strong in their faith — prayer warriors, standing up to persecution, etc etc — but when you really look at it, they seem to have a tenuous hold on their faith.  You don’t dare question the “fact” of a six-day creation; you don’t dare examine Scripture that contradicts a church “doctrine;” you don’t dare challenge what any leader says; and you certainly don’t ever read and think on Scripture such as Matthew 25 (the separation of sheep and goats) or John 10:11-16(ish) where Jesus says, “I have other sheep you don’t know about.”

    It takes a lot of faith to be able to honestly examine your belief structure.

  • Fusina

     It takes a lot of faith to be able to honestly examine your belief structure.

    Mmm, I would not be one to say that I have a lot of faith. Hope, on the other hand… I have one parent who is very evangelical, one who has difficulty with that sort of certainty, and two sibs who follow in the evangelical parent’s footsteps. So I get to see a lot of the hanging on for dear life. My beliefs about God and who and what he is have evolved over my lifetime, based on experiences, and on occasion dreams. And I don’t know how honest I am either. I can be just as petty as the next person when one of my fondly held beliefs is challenged.

    Therapy has helped a lot–in a way, it can be like an exorcism, without the incense and crosses, if you see what I mean. Dealing with the crud in ones past can be as freeing as being delivered from devils–and maybe that is what happens, on one level.

    I am just intensely curious, and sometimes I look at bits of the bible in ways not usual. One of my signposts, as it were, was the bit about how God’s ways are not our ways etc… So if there is something that seems right to me as a human, I have started to examine it. Sometimes I conclude that the rightness is there, sometimes I change. For instance, I was brought up to believe that homosexuality was a sin. Only then I met and made friends with people who are. And they were absolutely normal people. So I started to question that belief, and consequently my beliefs on that subject have changed. 

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Dildos are things that give sexual pleasure, and most often give sexual pleasure to women. They aren’t in any way “dildos”, and the people who placed them on that lawn probably overlap quite a lot with the people who want dildos to be outlawed.

    They are definitely crosses — but Roman crosses, not Christian ones. 

  • AnonymousSam

    Relating to a person’s inner motivations for doing good deeds.  For some people, it comes naturally and seemingly with its own set of rewards (make someone smile, feel good for the rest of the day). I honestly don’t really understand how that even works, but then again, I don’t really ever “feel good.” If I’m not discontent, I just feel there, really, and the only emotional term I can apply to that is “mellow.”

  • AnonymousSam

    I could debate that. Is there good in the existence of an evil person? That would presume that some purpose is fulfilled by evil people, which starts to eek into the predestination and grand plan concepts in theology. My beliefs do allow for one to be more religiously oriented than others though, it’s just that I weigh one’s spirituality by how deeply aware they are connected to the universe and everything within it. Or to quote John Donne,

    No man is an island,
    Entire of itself.
    Each is a piece of the continent,
    A part of the main.
    If a clod be washed away by the sea,
    Europe is the less.
    As well as if a promontory were.
    As well as if a manor of thine own
    Or of thine friend’s were.
    Each man’s death diminishes me,
    For I am involved in mankind.
    Therefore, send not to know
    For whom the bell tolls,
    It tolls for thee.

    I could make this poem a sort of koan — if you can understand it, you’re on the right path. If you’ve internalized it, you can never go wrong.

  • Lori

    To follow up on my earlier comment about the fact that not all Muslims agree on the meaning of jihad—Pew has released a broad look at what Muslims say they believe. It turns out that, like Christians, they share a few core, definitional beliefs but aside from that they have a wide range of opinions. Who woulda thunk it?

    The
    world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are united in their belief in God and the Prophet
    Muhammad and are bound together by such religious practices as fasting during
    the holy month of Ramadan and almsgiving to assist people in need. But they have
    widely differing views about many other aspects of their faith, including how
    important religion is to their lives, who counts as a Muslim and what practices
    are acceptable in Islam, according to a worldwide survey by the Pew Research
    Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. 

    http://www.pewforum.org/Muslim/the-worlds-muslims-unity-and-diversity-executive-summary.aspx

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    This question is probably intrusive, so please feel free to tell me I’m an ass for asking, but do you feel good if your body feels good? Stuff like endorphins after exercising.

  • AnonymousSam

     For what it’s worth, you already strike me as the kind of person who can fulfill the blog’s motto: Test everything; hold fast to what is good.

  • AnonymousSam

    I don’t embarrass very easily and I am largely anonymous*, so don’t worry about it. I’m not sure I understand the question though.

    Are you referring to an emotional connection to the state of one’s body? Whether or not my body feels good is kind of a thing in and of itself, as far as I’m aware. I’m a pretty sensual person (by every definition, innocent and not) and do get a certain measure of pleasure out of things like warm sunlight, pretty flowers, well-made or performed art, etc… but I’m not sure if it goes past that.

    *For a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that I work for a company which monitors my online behavior under any alias they deem to be associated with the company, meaning that if I’m recognizable, I directly represent the company and will be held liable for anything said which can even potentially be taken poorly by others. They’ve had… incidents with employees on Facebook and Twitter being traced back to said company.

  • Fusina

     For what it’s worth, you already strike me as the kind of person who can fulfill the blog’s motto: Test everything; hold fast to what is good.
     I try. It is an ongoing thing. Um.

  • AnonymousSam

    Well yes, of course. You’re still alive. ~_^

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Are you referring to an emotional connection to the state of one’s body?

    I’m not sure I understand this question :). If my body feels good, I feel good. If my body feels bad, I feel bad. If I’m ill or something, I can make myself feel better by finding things that are entertaining, but I can’t really feel “good” when I’m ill except by making my body feel better. If my body is feeling actively good in the moment, I cannot possibly feel anything but good in that moment. If my body is in a state of neutrality, then how I feel can go in any direction, depending on internal and external circumstances.

    I guess I was trying to understand if it’s possible not to have that kind of mind-body connection. Maybe mine is particularly strong, I dunno.

  • Kiba
  • AnonymousSam

    Well, I might not be a good example to ask since my body’s in pretty bad condition, but I certainly appreciate the days when it’s not giving me grief. For what it’s worth, I’m generally content in my “mellow” phase, if only because that’s what feels most natural. I’m just not sure if “everything’s fine” and “I’m having a good day” are the same thing.

  • arcseconds

    You know, Kant would say almost exactly the opposite.

    You’re the one that’s all good, because you help others because you realise that’s the right thing to do,  and for no other reason.

    Someone who feels good about helping others may be helping others in order to feel good.   If that’s the case, in a sense they’re no better motivated than someone who eats chocolate to feel good.

    (While in general it’s not really possible to tell what’s motivating a nice person to act nicely, sometimes I think we do encounter people where it’s highly plausible that they are only acting good to feel good, and this is where they don’t consistently act good, but rather it’s very mood dependent.  They can act in a very generous and helpful fashion when they’re in a good mood, but when they’re crabby or have a movie they’d rather watch they behave quite selfishly and unfairly. This is to be contrasted with people who, no matter what state they are in, inhale deeply and continue to act well.)

    There’s a common misinterpretation of Kant to the effect that he maintains you are only acting morally if you don’t feel good about it — ‘misanthropic angels’ is a poetic term I’ve heard to describe this.  And also that helping people to feel good is of no worth whatsoever.  This misunderstanding arises because he sounds a bit like that when he first introduces the concept, but he does this for explanatory purposes — a first approximation, ignoring air resistance and turbulence.

    What he actually says is that doing good to feel good is great, even ‘praiseworthy’, but doesn’t engender ‘respect’, by which he means something a lot stronger than what we generally mean by ‘respect’.   Not “I think there’s a lot to be said about the way you act”, but “wow… I really have to take my hat off to you.  You’re a far better person than I” kind of thing.

    He also thinks we ought to try to inculcate feeling good when acting good in ourselves, in so far as it’s possible, because it makes us more reliable moral actors, and of course it just makes doing good more pleasant for us.   

    Also, he does continue to maintain a degree of suspicion about motivation, even to the extent of wondering at one point if anyone has ever acted morally, ever (at other points he says people act morally all the time – gloomy Kant and happy Kant).

    So you’re off the hook with regard to the former point, Sam, and you’re proof against the later suspicion!

  • AnonymousSam

    That’s… hmm. You may have backed some of my definitions into a corner. I never thought of it like that. I may have to think about this further.

    I still don’t like Kant though. I don’t believe in moral absolutes or ethics without compromise. The entire concept of a categorical imperative strikes me as oversimplified morality, like the ethics of a child in concrete operational stage development. “You never do THIS because doing THIS is ALWAYS WRONG NO MATTER WHAT.” And Kant smells funny.

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

     That is a horrible year. 

    I’m so sorry for your losses.  My heart goes out to you.

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    At last!  Someone else who has the same distaste for the same reasons that I do!

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    By the way, dildo lawn decorations makes me think of this:
    Welcome to the Penis Farm
    (Image from the DVD-based game “Tender Loving Care”, which I spoke briefly about here. The image is from a Thematic Aperception Test that’s part  of the game’s interactive element)

  • arcseconds

    Well, that he smells funny and has conclusions that you don’t like in other places doesn’t mean you can’t help yourself to the reasoning that does strike you as worthwhile.

    However, the absolutism is, I think, a bit of a misunderstanding too.  He’s often presented as an absolutist because it’s easy to understand, it’s a handy foil to utilitarianism, and possibly because Kant isn’t necessarily well understood even by many ethicists (I’ve even seen an ethics teacher give the ‘handy foil’ argument when pressed by a Kantian as to why keep teaching Kant badly, to which the Kantian replied ‘well, then attribute it to Schmant, not Kant!).

    Of course, it depends on what you mean by ‘absolutism’.   People often seem to think of Kant operating the categorical imperative in order to stamp out an endless series of ‘Thou Shalt Nots’ which then you are then obliged to obey without question. 

    That picture is wrong.  “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is not something that Kantians need to follow rigidly, although of course they’d generally be against killing just the same as anyone else who’s even vaguely moral.

    The way Kant actually invokes the categorical imperative is to select what maxims are appropriate to be adopted as principles of action, and the maxims that he gives always involve a goal.  So to a Kantian agent “is it OK to kill?” isn’t enough to go on, they would respond with “well, what are you trying to accomplish?”

    “In order to save my friend’s life, I will kill the murderer that’s assaulting them (if necessary)” – OK, could that be a general rule for everyone?  I reckon it could be.  So, killing in self defense or defense of others is OK.

    “In order to secure a promotion at work, I will kill my rival” – could that be a general rule for everyone?  Well, a world like that would be horrible.  What the person considering killing a rival really wants is a world where they can get away with it, but are never confronted with that possibility themselves (and everything else that goes along with it, like widespread paranoia, loved ones getting killed, etc. )

    So, I suppose ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill to Obtain a Promotion” is an absolute Kantian rule.  Is that a problem?   To me it seems quite a good result…

    (I’ll note in passing that it’s easy to get the impression that the categorical imperative is a decision procedure that has to be employed every time you act.  Kant does treat it a bit like that for expository purposes, but the general picture later is not like that at all.  I’ve already said a bit about this in an earlier comment on another thread.)

    You do complain about the categorical imperative directly as though that’s the absolute rule you don’t like.   Well, sure, that’s Kant’s ultimate moral principle, and isn’t negotiable within Kant’s theory.  But I don’t think Kant is any worse than consequentialism on this score: “do whatever achieves the greatest amount of good” is just as absolute as anything in Kant.   Maybe you don’t like consequentialism either, but if so you’re complaint is looking more like a beef with contemporary philosophical ethics rather than with Kant in particular.

  • AnonymousSam

    Possibly. It’s looking like my Bioethics instructor oversimplified for the sake of brevity (we had a LOT of material to cover and didn’t come close to getting all of it). I’m less interested in ethics and philosophy as how others have tried to convey them and more in using the concepts as a toolkit to better learn how to approach the questions they try to answer, so I admit, I didn’t rush home after class to do extra reading. We pretty much covered the basics of Kantian ethics, utilitarian ethics and one other that escapes me now and then spent much of the rest of the semester in a series of class discussions based on material we were reading and covering (mostly case studies).

  • lovecomesfromlife

    This is exactly what I had in mind when I wrote this: http://beholdconfusion.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/tough-love/
    About how I love the church but it keeps disappointing me.

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    You can tell you’ve read too many political/legal (and, apparently, not enough theology) blog posts lately when .  . . .

    instead of seeing “Scotus” you see “SCOTUS.”

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     Except that Jesus had lots of enemies, and he didn’t kill them.</i.

    Not yet.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     Then I think about what people are actually talking about and it’s a letdown.  Because seriously, your version of spiritual warfare is so boring by comparison.

    Try reading Fundamentalist literature of the Jack Chick variety.  They treat Spiritual Warfare like their lives are a 24/7 Mage LARP.  I find their stuff to be hilarious until I get the sudden sickening realization that they REALLY BELIEVE this stuff, and that Satan and his zoo of demons are MORE REAL to them than, say, that guy on the streetcorner holding a ‘will work for food’ sign.


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