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Jun 24, 2015

The Meat of the Confederate Battle Flag

We have all received interesting lessons in history this week. Blogs, Facebook posts and media sources have all explained the meaning of the Confederate Battle Flag. Likewise, we have learned that Belgium and the European Union are actually Confederations. We've been told to be offended and what to hate - as well as our feelings about "hate symbols" are ignorant and historically inaccurate. Through all of this, the professional protester career continues to be a thriving one. Whoever told those college Philosophy majors there were not corporate jobs for them did not understand modern media.
I have thought a lot about where I stand on the #TakeDownTheFlag issue, fuming in South Carolina right now. First, it is not my State - so I'm not sure how valid my opinion even should be. That said, I've taken a look at it because it is so heated right now. But more importantly, I have come to wonder why the Confederate Battle Flag became both a symbol of hate and a symbol that is hated. Either way, it is difficult to deny there is a lot of hatred surrounding it.
What I mean by this is Americans do not generally view the flag of the United Kingdom as a symbol of tyranny and oppression. They were America's first war and enemy, but we reconciled; their flag is not offensive. Pirate flags are not even offensive. Despite some of the most bitter America battles having been combating piracy, the pirate theme today is now almost heroic and comical. The flags and symbols of Japan, Italy, Finland, Romania and Bulgaria are not really offensive in modern America - even though these countries were considered bitter enemies during World War II.
The swastika, however, does offend a lot of people. And to be fair, it has a ten-thousand-year-long history lesson behind it before it became the emblem of the Nazi party. Perhaps more ironic is its original Sanskrit meaning: "well-being." The swastika was often associated as a good-luck symbol and used frequently, even in early 20th-century America. But today, despite all that benevolent history, it is definitely a symbol of hate and an emblem of evil.
Is the same true about the Confederate Battle Flag? The argument could be made that the swastika has a heritage rather than hate. We could tell people if they are offended by the swastika, they need a history lesson. We could even state the swastika should be shown as a reminder of our past. Ignorance gave the swastika a bad name, the argument could be made. In a very technical sense, those debates would be correct.
But it would be difficult to tear down the emotion and suffering that occurs when any of us look at the swastika. Sometimes short-term events are powerful enough to erase the previous history of a symbol. The Twin Towers were symbols of prosperity prior to 9/11, but now anyone who looks at keychains or artwork with the old New York skyline cannot help but recall the terrorist event. These old images are not themselves symbols of hate, but without a doubt they invoke a memory of the hatred involved.
Also, there were some who stated the images of the skyscrapers should be removed from old movies and art. The idea behind this thinking is that it is too painful to be reminded of the towers, even though they themselves are not a bad symbol. Personally, I find this type of action going too far and those upset by it too sensitive. I believe the image of how things were historically in New York prior to the attack is important to preserve. In some ways, this is the same argument of those who support the flying of the Confederate Battle Flag.
I mentioned two highly emotional emblems: the swastika and the Twin Towers. I did this to express the images, symbols and emblems themselves are neutral. What defines their meaning is the collective memory evoked when viewing them. Also, I believe how to respond to requests to remove each symbol requires a different response. In one, I believe education is appropriate to overcome sensitivity. In the other, I believe education would be futile.
The image of the Southern Rebel falls somewhere between these two examples and definitely has more ambiguity depending on the eye of the beholder. But despite history, despite heritage, despite freedom and State's rights, the collective memory has shifted and continues to shift. Whether that shift is due to ignorance or due to emotion, it has happened nonetheless. I pray that our understanding of and honesty to history remains untainted, even if this particular symbol takes the heat for the cathexis of Southern slavery and its influence during the American Civil War.
Finally, I would like to circle back to what I said before. I do not live in a State where the Confederate Battle Flag is flown at government buildings. I do not believe my voice is very important to resolve this dispute. I believe it should be a matter for those States and the people residing in those States to decide - not something forced at a Federal level or even by a national movement. I still support the Tenth Amendment.
However, there is something on this topic where I think my voice does count and can act as a reminder - at least to those who share my Christian faith. This issue reminds me a lot of a question the Corinthians posed to the Apostle Paul about eating meat which had been sacrificed to idols. Now Paul understood this was really an economic method of buying discount groceries and those offended were ignorant and didn't understand things. But Paul did not instruct his brethren to educate their folly. Instead he asked the church members of Corinth to look at themselves and how their actions impacted others. He told them it was okay to buy it and eat it, but to be careful in doing so that it does not cause others to stumble in their faith.
I see flying the Confederate Battle Flag in the same light. Personally, I do not see it as a symbol of hate. I do not think it is wrong to display the image. Further, I believe it is within our free rights to fly that flag. However, if it harms others by doing so, then I think it is important to question the greater value: pride or peace.
"So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live — for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble."   [ First Corinthians 8:13 ]

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