24 April 2007

Symbolic victory

In a small but psychologically-important defeat for the Christian Right's "some religions are more equal than others" vision of America, the US Department of Veterans Affairs has added the Wiccan pentagram (or pentacle, as they apparently call it) to the list of "emblems of belief" which can be used on official grave markers for American soldiers. Several Wiccan families, assisted by the ACLU, had filed at least two lawsuits to force the VA to accept the symbol; the VA had resisted vigorously, despite the obvious disrespect involved in denying the families of dead soldiers a form of commemoration routinely extended to those who were adherents of more favored religions.

I expect that we will soon see the Christian Right fulminating about how this extension of equal treatment to a non-Christian belief system somehow represents "oppression" of Christianity.

As an aside, I note that the article betrays ignorance in its final comment that "variations of the pentacle not accepted by Wiccans have been used in horror movies as a sign of the devil." The "inverse pentagram" (the "upside-down" version, with two points up and three points down) is the symbol of Satanism most commonly used by actual Satanists; the association is not a product of "horror movies". Contrary to common belief, Wicca and Satanism have very little in common, though they both owe a great (and seldom-acknowledged) debt to Aleister Crowley.

While the official recognition of the Wiccan symbol is welcome, it seems to me that the whole idea of an official roster of acceptable symbols is incoherent. Given the tremendous religious diversity of the US, there will always be new cases like this brought by people whose belief systems are not represented on the list. (Also, there is a symbol on the list for atheism, which is not a belief system.) For that matter, there are Satanists in the US armed forces too, and yet the inverse pentagram is not on the list. I can't wait to see how the Christian Right will foam up when someone files a lawsuit to include that.

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