“The Crucifix, Its Uses and Customs” by Umberto Eco

In this short essay, included in the book Turning Back the Clock, Eco discusses whether it is appropriate to display religious iconography, specifically the crucifix, in institutions of public education. I found this to be particularly interesting, given that there seems to be a growing tension between religion and state institutions in the US. Heated debates have erupted over the inclusion of texts in schools, or the display of the Ten Commandments at government buildings, and there does not seem to be any abatement in this tension.

Eco uses examples from his home country of Italy to make his point.

In Italian universities there are no crucifixes in the lecture halls, but many students are members of Catholic groups like Communione e Liberazione. However, at least two generations of Italians spent their youth in classrooms where the crucifix was hung between portraits of the king and Mussolini, and out of every thirty students in every class some became atheists, others fought with the resistance, and others again—the majority, I believe—voted for the Republic. All anecdotal evidence, if you will, but of historical importance, and this tells us that the presence of religious symbols in schools does not affect the spiritual development of the students.

(Turning Back the Clock: pp. 274 – 275)

Eco makes a great point here. The exposure of young people to religious iconography and doctrine in no way ensures that those individuals will internalize the ideas, and conversely, the lack of these symbols does not mean that individuals will not develop along spiritual pathways. But what Eco adds later in the essay, which to me is the key point, is that tolerance of others is what must be taken into consideration in this issue, and that in a diverse society, if religious topics are to be taught in school, they should be inclusive of all religions.

School curricula of the future must be based not on the concealment of diversity but on teaching the techniques that lead youngsters to understand and accept it. For some time now people have been saying it would be nice, along with religious instruction (and not as an alternative for those who aren’t Catholics), if schools devoted at least one hour a week to the history of all religions, so that Catholic kids might understand what the Koran says or what Buddhists think, and so that Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists (and even Catholics) might understand how the Bible came into being and what it says.

(ibid: p. 276)

I agree with Eco. Personally, I enjoy reading religious texts from diverse traditions and faiths. The idea that one tradition has a monopoly on the truth has led to centuries of warfare and hatred. I feel that every spiritual or religious text has valid insights to share.

Anyway, I think I’ve said enough on this topic. Thanks for stopping by and reading my rambles. Have a great day and keep on reading interesting stuff.

4 Comments

Filed under Literature, Non-fiction, Spiritual

4 responses to ““The Crucifix, Its Uses and Customs” by Umberto Eco

  1. I agree with you that it’s more beneficial to expose students to a variety of belief systems. The attempts to censor can even backfire.

    I haven’t read a lot of Umberto Eco’s stuff, but I absolutely loved Foucault’s Pendulum.

    • “Foucault’s Pendulum” was excellent, as was “Name of the Rose,” both books I have been considering re-reading. I have read a good amount of Eco’s works. A book I would highly recommend is “Baudolino.” About a group that goes on a quest to find Prester John, and to fund their quest, they sell bogus relics along the way. I find the history of relics and icons to be fascinating. Anyway, great story, if you’re interested. Thanks for reading and commenting. Always love hearing from you.

      Jeff

  2. Prester John!! That’s a blast from the past. Same, I’ve been thinking about rereading Foucault’s Pendulum too. Name of the Rose was also excellent. I’ll check into Baudolino. Thanks, Jeff!

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