Return of the Revenge of the Secular Cross

Return of the Revenge of the Secular Cross June 27, 2012

The imposing cross that stands on Mt. Soledad in California was dedicated to “Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” in 1954. For decades it was known as the “Mt. Soledad Easter Cross” and was the site of Christian services (and may even have been a reminder of Christian triumphalism to area Jews). After initial litigation was filed in the late 1980s against the cross standing on public lands, it was dubbed a veteran’s memorial, and expensive “improvements” were made to stress this new role. Why was a Christian cross, obviously erected for religious purposes, suddenly named a war memorial? In hopes of magically transforming it from a religious icon into a secular memorial symbol. A tactic that initially worked.

The Mount Soledad Cross.

Litigation over the 43-foot-tall Mt. Soledad cross has been under way for nearly 20 years. Several federal courts have ruled against its display on city property. In an effort to save the cross, the federal government acquired the land underneath the cross in 2006. Legal action proceeded against the federal government’s ownership of the towering religious symbol. In July of 2008, U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns ruled that the cross “communicates the primarily non-religious messages of military service, death and sacrifice” and can remain on public property.

How can a Christian cross communicate a non-religious message of military service, death, and sacrifice to non-Christian soldiers? The answer is it can’t, it’s a purely political ploy to exploit American patriotism in order to “secularize” a religious symbol so that it can remain standing despite complaints from atheists, agnostics, religious minorities, and church-state separation activists. Here’s Supreme Court Justice Scalia showcasing how the argument typically goes.

Mr. Eliasberg said many Jewish war veterans would not wish to be honored by “the predominant symbol of Christianity,” one that “signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins.” Justice Scalia disagreed, saying, “The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead.” “What would you have them erect?” Justice Scalia asked. “Some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David and, you know, a Muslim half moon and star?” Mr. Eliasberg said he had visited Jewish cemeteries. “There is never a cross on the tombstone of a Jew,” he said, to laughter in the courtroom. Justice Scalia grew visibly angry. “I don’t think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead,” he said. “I think that’s an outrageous conclusion.”


You see, there are a lot of Christian crosses on the graves of dead soldiers, because there are a lot of Christians, ergo, it must be a common symbol of “the resting place of the dead” (repeat sentence until your rhetorical opponent grows tired). In 2010 the Supreme Court took a step towards secularizing the cross with its decision in Salazar v. Buono, which challenged the constitutionality of a eight-foot Christian cross war memorial situated on public lands in California’s Mojave National Preserve. Justice Kennedy acknowledged that the cross is “a Christian symbol,” but this particular cross didn’t mean to send “a Christian message” (how, I’m not entirely sure, but this was a mess of a decision, with six separate opinions filed), and thus was constitutional. Only Justice John Paul Stevens, a wartime veteran, had the courage to call a Christian cross a Christian cross.

“The nation should memorialize the service of those who fought and died in World War I … But it cannot do so lawfully by continued endorsement of a starkly sectarian message.”

However, while there was some secularizing wiggle room in Salazar v. Buono, that wasn’t the case with the Soledad cross. In the beginning of 2011 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the memorial was unconstitutional, citing its long history of being a sectarian religious symbol.

“Much lore surrounds the Cross and its history. But the record is our guide and, indeed, except for how they characterize the evidence, the parties essentially agree about the history. A cross was first erected on Mount Soledad in 1913. That cross was replaced in the 1920s and then blew down in1952. The present Cross was dedicated in 1954 “as a reminder of God’s promise to man of everlasting life and of those persons who gave their lives for our freedom . . . .” The primary objective in erecting a Cross on the site was to construct “a permanent handsome cast concrete cross,” but also “to create a park worthy of this magnificent view, and worthy to be a setting for the symbol of Christianity.” For most of its history, the Cross served as a site for annual Easter services. Only after the legal controversy began in the late 1980s was a plaque added designating the site as a war memorial, along with substantial physical revisions honoring veterans. It was not until the late 1990s that veterans’ organizations began holding regular memorial services at the site.

That ruling was appealed, and on Monday, the Supreme Court denied certiorari, leaving the 9th Circuit’s decision in place. Which means one of two things has to happen. Either the cross has to be taken down, or the memorial has to be modified so as to pass constitutional muster. A process that will necessitate even more litigation. Supporters of the cross are already calling for the Department of Justice to raise the issue, as allowed in the 9th Circuit’s decision.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), in urging the Department of Justice to continue the legal fight, said the government should preserve “such a historic memorial that pays tribute to the service and sacrifice of America’s veterans.”

Notice that cross supporters now completely ignore the history of this monument, invoking veterans to cloud the issue, despite the fact that it this challenge was brought by the Jewish War Veterans, who obviously don’t feel a large Christian cross pays tribute to their sacrifice. In addition, I somehow doubt these cross secularizers are going to stand in our corner when someone tries to erect a “secular” Wiccan or Asatru war dead memorial. Nor would anyone try to argue for a “secular” Jewish star of David, or “secular” Muslim crescent (particularly not the latter in our current climate). They would argue that these symbols are sectarian, and could not represent them. It’s all part of the hypocrisy that comes with the privilege of being the overwhelming majority.

To many Christians their immense privilege seems invisible. They don’t understand how much of our society panders to their unspoken power. The churches on every corner, the holidays and celebrations structured around Christian dates, the pandering of politicians, the ceremonial deism that acts as a placeholder for state-sponsored religion. Even our vernacular is colored by Christianity: “God bless you,” “we’ll pray for you,” “I’m in heaven,” or even “go to hell.”  Yet despite this, many Christians, particularly conservative Christians, have a major investment in seeing themselves as part of a persecuted minority. This was reinforced for me in the comments section of a recent post at the journalism commentary site Get Religion. There, I was informed that Michele Bachmann was part of a religious minority, and that due to mainstream media criticism “one has to speculate that perhaps Christians are a small minority in the United States.”

Eventually, like the memorial crosses erected in Utah, this Soledad cross will have to be removed. We can no longer claim to be a secular, pluralistic nation while winking at those who crave a “Christian Nation.” The time of pretending the cross isn’t the cross, or that monuments to the 10 commandments are religiously neutral, are quickly coming to an end. Public spaces will either have to accommodate all the other faiths that inhabit this country, or leave such expressions to the private sphere. While Christians may not think twice about a “secular” cross, it’s not a luxury many non-Christians have.

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  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Progress comes in small steps.

  • Interesting post. Over here in the U.K. (or, more precisely, in South London), there are a large number of war memorials that were erected after the Great War, and subsequently added to following the culmination of the Second World War. Almost all of those that I am familiar with are in the shape of the Christian Cross, often with the image of an upturned sword in the center. Whether all of those soldiers being commemorated were actually Christian is something that seems unlikely, but as far as I am aware there has not been any widespread (or widely publicised) protest against the use of this Christian Cross to commemorate London’s war dead, from Pagans, secularists or otherwise. Why should there be this difference between the U.S. and U.K. in this respect ? 

    Perhaps the difference lies in the differing nature of the two states; the U.S. being officially secular and the U.K. being officially affiliated with the Anglican Church of England ? Equally, it could be that non-Christians over the pond in the States fear the encroaching power of the religious right in the “Bible Belt”, primarily through the Republican Party, and as a result campaign more passionately to prevent the de-secularisation of the country?

    Over here in the U.K., organised Christianity seems (on the surface at least) to have a far weaker grip on government and society. After all, even though we have the Church of England tied to the British state, recent estimates by British humanist and secular groups point to less than 2% of the population actually attending Anglican church services regularly. Food for thought. 

  • Theophile

    As a Christian, it grieves me to see this “cross worship”, the cross was worn by temple prostitutes of Jupiter, the staff, and crosses on the statue named “Peter” (St. Peters) were there on that same graven image when it’s name was Jupiter, in his temple,…..long before the new testament times…and before that the “t” shape represented Tammuz(Ez 8)
     This cross adoration supplants the blood of Christ, as well as worship of the gravel lady in NY harbor supplants the kind of liberty Paul referred to.
     Um..sorry I know this is a Pagan blog, but for the few Christians that deem scripture the  authority, crosses represent something to be killed on… I ask: If Jesus was killed on an electric chair, would we erect giant electric chairs on churches? What if the Jews had stoned Him? Or used a sword?
     I think it’s a safe argument to say that D.C. is filled with temples erected to graven images, and religious symbols starting with the obelisk, called the national monument, down to the national cathedral  where God is not mentioned. What about the pentacle displayed on the armed forces vehicles…..where’s the outrage???

  • LeohtSceadusawol
  • Mia

    I don’t know what the UK’s laws are, but it’s illegal in the US, plain and simple. This is a fairly young and huge country, we do not have a unified culture or history across the board that lends to a common understanding of religion.  Even among Christians themselves there’s no consensus on basic ideas, and that’s nothing new either. That’s why religion supposed to be separated from government.

  • Crystal Kendrick

    “I think it’s a safe argument to say that D.C. is filled with temples erected to graven images.”  That’s called art.  Get some culture, provincialist.

  • Gall-Gael

    Just to say, the Church of England is only the established church in England, not the UK. The Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian rather than Anglican, is the “official” church in Scotland. However, it’s not an “established” church But is instead the designated “national church”. Don’t you just love the joys of the British system?

    On the matter of memorial crosses, just about every village in the Highlands has a memorial Celtic cross to remember the dead of the two world wars. Although I am a dyed in the wool pagan, I have never had a problem with this. It is part of the national culture, and was not meant to insult or denigrate anyone. However, I much prefer the route that the UK government has taken on remembrance in recent years with the creation of “The National Arboretum” ( as the location to remember those who have fallen in wars since the Second World War. As the trees develop and grow it will be a fitting memorial for those who have given their lives.

  • Theophile writes:
    I think it’s a safe argument to say that D.C. is filled with temples erected to graven images, and religious symbols starting with the obelisk, called the national monument, down to the national cathedral  where God is not mentioned. What about the pentacle displayed on the armed forces vehicles…..where’s the outrage??? 

    Uh, I’m pretty OK with that, actually – I’m pretty well in favour of civil/secular religion.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    I daresay your speculation is correct. We have a non-establishment clause, which sets up a bright church-state line that the two sides see in different ways. My side sees it as a boundary whose breach represents a threat of imposition by someone else’s religion. The other side sees that interpretation as an example of hostility to religion (by which they mean Christianity).

    And we have indeed seen a rising evangelical aggressiveness since around the Reagan administration (Thatcher in the UK), to which some of us respond in defense at every new or renewed point of intrusion.

    “Food for thought.” Indeed, but we’ve been doing it like this for a century and a half and it’s how we do this struggle. For example, whether evolution is taught in public school biology class becomes a fight over the Establishment Clause. Substituting the UK format would not end the struggle because religion is far more energetic in the US.

    Yes, there are aggressive atheists, but they lack the population and the institutions behind them that aggressive evangelicals have.

  • Nicole Youngman

    An interesting point. I’ve always found it interesting that Christians ended up basically using a torture/execution instrument as their primary symbol. I’ve always thought the dove or the ichthys fish would be much nicer (however much I disagree with the meaning behind those symbols personally).  The cross is meant to symbolize Christs’ victory over death, of course, so I think with Christianity’s history of near-constant militarism (literal and symbolic–forced conversions across Europe, the Crusades, painting the Iraq/Afghanistan wars as battles against the enemies of God, “spiritual warfare,” etc.) that kind of war/battle symbol is likely to stay. It’s too bad, really, since there are a few contingents of progressive Christians out there trying to move their religion away from all that nonsense.

  • Kilmrnock

    These people , the cross supporters got alot of nerve , don’t they . Hmmm lets call a clearly Christian cross on public land a war memorial long after i was erected as a Christian symbol and see if we can get away with it . Sounds a wee bit hokey to me , when it is clearly against constitutional church/state seperation rules. Your correct Jason having an emance majority gives these fools a major feeling of entitlement .     Kilm

  • LeohtSceadusawol

     The UK is, effectively, a theocracy, since the head of state is also the head of the Church of England and (thus) the de facto head of the Anglican communion. Beyond that, the UK government has, in its upper house, the Lords Spiritual.

    The US, in contrast, has very specific laws in place to prevent this kind of (soft) theocracy.

    It is, therefore, of endless amusement to me that the USA is so much more religious.

    Personally, I’d like to see complete secularising of the UK.

  • I’m actually fine with the idea of the cross as a secular symbol of death. 
    For clarity’s sake though, they should start by asking congress to write legislation requiring it to be displayed on all toxic, nuclear, and biohazardous  materials.  You know, so we know they mean it.

  • Kilmrnock

    That fish symbol isn’t really a good one for Christians either . Tis actualy a pagan symbol turned sideways .The  enya meaning sacred feminine sexuality . Turn the fish on end with the so called fins at the bottom , its proper position …………..tell  me what it looks like .The so called fins are actualy the lovely curve of a womans inner thigh. Is an  ancient symbol in use long before Christianity existed.Rather sexual in its meaning , with the mindset of most devout Christians may not be a symbol they would want  to display openly.      Kilm

  • Hotstreak12

    instead of having it taken down, pagan religions and jews and muslims should all campaign to have there symbols put up right next to the cross then call the Christians out on there hypocrisy when they oppose it. 

  • Thelettuceman

     It never gets that far, because one the Christians face other faiths sharing the spotlight they backpedal and end up supporting it’s complete removal.  It’s always going to be their way or nothing.

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    Off topic:  Jason, hoping you can use your super-special reporter powers to report on the Pagan Circle at the Air Force Academy and Colorado blogger Chas Clifton given the serious fires raging in Colorado.  Also, any Pagan efforts to raise funds for either Colorado or Florida?

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    If you think that the Christian God is not mentioned at the (Episcopal) National Cathedral, then you have never been there.  

  • Sanna

    Like those in the UK, you see crosses around my country in secular circumstances also – such as along the side of the road at places of accident and death. As such the cross has always been a secular symbol of death to me, since childhood (it is after all a method of execution). Maybe it has to do with the number of Christians in one’s country. Only 10% of people here attend a Christian church, so perhaps it’s easier for us to interpret a religious symbol in a secular way. And of course we don’t have the same laws as the US.

  • Mia

    The usual joke is that all the religious people up and left Europe. All that’s left are the buildings.

    Which isn’t too far off, given how the US has a tendency to attract the numerous independent sects wanting to carve out their own version of paradise prep.

  • Mia

    But then we can’t pretend there’s pirates around with the skull symbols. 

  • Jay

    Considering that the Soledad Cross has a history of almost a century at that location, I would rather see it moved to private hands rather than be removed.  Isn’t there some way to give it in trust to some memorial organization, or even a religious organization to look after?  Things with such history shouldn’t just be taken down because we get our collective panties in a twist.

  • Mia

    “such as along the side of the road at places of accident and death”

    Thing is, it’s because those that died are Christians (for my area, often Catholic), or their families taking care of the death/grave sites are Christian. There are plenty of other easy markers to make on sites like that, such as flowers and bike parts or stuff animals for roadside accidents, that aren’t religious but still memorial and easily recognized as a death site. The cross is a religious symbol, and therefore people would casually assume the dead to be Christian somehow. I would not want to be misunderstood as a Christian and not be around to correct them, it turns my memory into a lie.

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    Saying “panties in a twist” is a way of othering and negating concerns of minority groups.  A long history of privelege doesn’t guarantee continued privelege.  I’d be happy to see the cross moved to, for example, a Christian church.  That’s exactly what the Christians are fighting.

  • Carma

    Seems to me these should be left alone, because they are representative of a time in the past when Americans were more homogenous religiously, even Jews, falling under, Judeo- Christian.  Though there WERE fundies, they were not so prevalent or well publicized.  And there not a lot of immigrants from places that were not predominantly Christian.  With patches of eastern religions wafting in during the 70’s.  So, just view these as a remembrance of a culture in our history to remind us of where we came from and where we’re going.  But add other symbols as is respectful nearby in their own displays.  (BTW, while I am a supporter of  spiritual freedom, I do not have a religious bent in my spiritual path.)

  • I have often imagined a parallel reality where John the Baptist, not Jesus, somehow became the Messiah. How cool would it be for all the adherents of the major cultural religion to wear SEVERED FREAKING HEADS around all the time? 

    It would be really awesome, IMO. 

  • If it’s a secular cross, then it should be used in a secular manner. Get some death row inmates up there, if it’s so secular! (Seriously, I don’t think we should be executing anybody, but its a fun thought to call their bluff). 

  • LeohtSceadusawol

     If they are on death row, they ‘should’ be executed.

    Otherwise, what’s the point?

    (Not deliberate antagonism, just comedic pedantry.)

  • LeohtSceadusawol

     That would show religious freedom and equality nicely, wouldn’t it.

    …Unless you’re an atheist.

  • Rombald

    Just to add — within the UK, only England and Scotland have established or national churches. Wales and Northern Ireland do not, although both historically had Anglican established churches. Those churches were disestablished in Ireland in the 19th century, and in Wales in the 1950s.

    I’ve often wondered whether the UK’s remaining colonies (Bermuda, Falklands, etc.) and the Crown dependencies (Channel Isles and Isle of Man) have established churches.

  • Rombald

    I think there is a sect in Iraq that follows John’s teachings and rejects Jesus.

  • Rombald

    Basically, I think the cross is obviously Christian and should be removed.

    However, trying to see the other view, there is the question of who gets to decide what symbols mean. A crucifix is indisputably Christian (and specifically Catholic or other high-church Christian). However, there is some room for dispute with a cross, surely? There is a case that it now simply commemorates death. There is also the point that as a symbol it predates Christianity – look at Callanish.

    Who gets to decide that the swastika is Nazi?
    Who gets to decide that the crescent is Muslim?
    Who gets to decide the pentangle is Wiccan? (in “Gawain and the Green Knight” it is presented as a Christian symbol)

    Unless you’re talking about copyrighted logos, it’s all very difficult.
    Even national flags are difficult – to my surprise, on holiday on Tenerife, I found that its flag is almost identical to the Scottish one. How many people can distinguish the flags of Russia, Serbia and the Netherlands?

    Perhaps if Pagans took the Christians at their word, and asked to hold some sort of Pagan festival around the cross, the true colours might get shown?

  • Gwion

    I’m in England
    and, as has been stated by others, with Anglicanism as the state religion we seem
    to suffer much less from fundamentalist Christians, so my viewpoint may well be


    Is the suggestion that all religious symbols on public land
    be removed in case they offend?  It seems
    to me, over here, that this would lead to the destruction of much of our
    remaining pagan heritage: monoliths, stone circles, stone rows, Celtic crosses …   If, as
    pagans, we expect religious tolerance, we must show how it is practiced. 


    I’d also second the view that looking forward, and selecting
    symbols of remembrance like the National Arboretum, is more profitable than
    looking backwards.  

  • Ywendragoneye

    Gwion – I was thinking the same thing – should Stonehenge be removed because it likely was and is celebrated now as a Pagan religious facility? Granted, the tactics being used to keep this cross in place are deceptive, and this is what bothers me about it most. Trying to use it as a war memorial, is just twisting the truth for a means to an end. Having grown up in San Diego and seeing this cross nearly every day, I can tell you, it meant little to many of us. It is not a very attactive sculpture, it always reminded me of cinder blocks stacked together. Pretty cheesy, really.

  • Non-“Judeo-Christian” religious traditions have always had a significant presence in America. Take Native Americans, for example. Then there is the phenomenon of African religious traditions that, until very recently, only existed in secret, but which are now known to be quite widespread (there are probably more followers of African Traditional Religions in the Western Hemisphere than there are Jews). Deism is also a proud American tradition, with such famous adherents as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine. And lets not forget Charles Godfrey Leland, Henry Steel Olcott, Helena Blavatsky, Emerson and Thoreau, Quanah Parker, etc.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Why should we honor a time in the past when Christianity squashed all the alternatives to the margins? It’s like saying we should honor the past of slavery by flying the Confederate flag.

  • Obsidia

     Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!  Actually the skull-and-crossed-bones symbol has been used on tombstones in the past.  Some say there is a connection to the Knights Templar with that symbol.

    Just to interject, the CROSS is not a uniquely Christian symbol.  It can be a symbol of the Earth, and in Astrology, is used to represent the  Part of Fortune.  It is also used to represent the 4 elements (water, earth, air, fire).  In Vodou, it can be used as a symbol for “The Crossroads,” and also a symbol of the Loa of Death, Ghede.

    Which is not to say everybody would want it to represent them at all.  I really like the idea of planting a LIVING tree to honor the dead.  (I actually think people like Judge Scalia see the cross superstitiously, as in “it keeps corpses from turning into vampires.”)

  • kenneth

    The Puritans were, quite literally, the Taliban of their day in England. They were strongly “encouraged” to leave. 

  • kenneth

    Nothing has deepened my contempt for Christianity, or at least political Christianity, as the “secular cross” argument. They don’t even have the courage of conviction to publicly stand by their beliefs and symbols. They have so little faith in the power of their religion to convince people on its own merits that they feel the need to dress it up and sneak it into the tent. I have more respect for the guys who state up front that America should be a Christian theocracy or confessional state.

  • LeohtSceadusawol

    We don’t actually know why the stones were erected.
    We do know that they have no connection the historical Druids,.

    However, those things are some of the only remains of our Neolithic history (which is what gives them their primary value.)

    The cross in question is not really old enough to have a significant ‘history’.
    Certainly, it has yet to develop a fixed identity, since they keep changing what it represents.

    As such, I don’t really think the two are comparable.

  • LeohtSceadusawol

     Seems like it was a good idea, too.

  • kenneth

    The issue here really isn’t about heritage. It’s about symbols which have mostly been erected within living memory and which were erected, and especially later promoted, for the sole purpose of establishing the primacy of Christianity in the public space. Intent is a big part of it. These aren’t cases, for the most part, which involve some truly national historic place that happen to include religious symbols. These are things put up as a way to mark territory, like a Rottweiler watering his territory in a public park. The other issue of course is that our Constitutions specifically mandates a separation of church and state, or rather, anything that would give the appearance of a state favoring of one religion over another. There’s really no cogent argument for using a “grandfather clause” in this instance. The fact that somebody got away with something unconstitutional for 30 or 60 years does not fix the underlying problem. 

  • LeohtSceadusawol

     So, play the game. Mark your own territory.

  • Gall-Gael

    The Queen is only head of the church in England, in Scotland she has the right to send a non-voting representative to the General Assembly of the Kirk, but the head of the Church is the Moderator of the General Assembly (which is an elected position).

    The Queen also changes faith as she crosses the border, she is Anglican when in England but when in Scotland she becomes a Presbyterian…

    You can make a case for England being technically a theocracy, but that doesn’t apply north of the border. Bigoted, sectarian, but not a theocracy 😉 My relatives would be far more upset if I announced I was becoming a Catholic than they were when I came out of the broom closet!!!

  • LeohtSceadusawol

     Point is, the head of state for the UK is also the head of a religious body.

    For me, that is enough to qualify the UK as a theocracy. Whether I like the concept is an entirely different matter.

  • Hotstreak12

    yes, but having multiple religions can also be a sign to atheists that one religion isn’t being pressed down on them.

  • LeohtSceadusawol

     Indeed. Then they could feel pressed down by lots of religions.

  • Mia


    Yea, good for England, not for us. We’re still dealing with their remnants hundreds of years later.

  • kenneth

    I think everyone ought to mark their own territory, but that’s the key word. THEIR own territory, ie private property.  A key concept in our governmental system is that public property should be neutral ground. 

  • LeohtSceadusawol

     Imagine if we had to deal with the puritans instead of just their remnants, though.

    Consider that the Witchcraft Act (1736) was only repealed in 1951.

  • LeohtSceadusawol

     I thought the concept was that the State is separate from religion.

    As such, this would have been fine (any religion should be allowed to put up symbols on public space).

    It was when “In an effort to save the cross, the federal government acquired the land underneath the cross in 2006” that the issue became a blurring of church and state, to my mind.

  • Nite_Owl

    My first impression was stacked cinder blocks too.

  • Nite_Owl

    Just try putting up a concrete Pentagram in a public park and calling it a war memorial. Watch them turn purple from apoplexy as they try to argue both sides of the argument.

  • Nite_Owl

    Actually they should chisel their symbols right into the cross.

  • LeohtSceadusawol

     You could always point out that the pentagram represents the five wounds of Christ. I believe this interpretation was quite popular in medieval times.