Schoolgirl outfits, lolita goth, crazy hairstyles, untucked dress shirts, and…cross/crucifix necklaces? Anime fashion can be both cute, interesting, and sometimes it can also be confusing. Why are crosses so prominently featured on anime characters when only a tiny percentage of the Japanese population identifies itself as Christian?
The short answer is that it’s a fashion choice that has nothing to do with spirituality (I’ll discuss this in more depth sometime in a future post). This is nothing surprising from an American point of view. For example, my orchestra stand partner in high school was an atheist, but wore a cross because he liked the way it looked – it’s no different for the Japanese.
The trouble with taking a reverent symbol and making it another fashion statement, though, is quite obvious: it loses its meaning and significance. And this doesn’t just apply to the cross as something worn. To the delight of many (and horror of others), a story had circulated that a store in Japan once put up imagery of Santa Claus being crucified on a cross. Though this story may be a myth, it’s believable in a culture where less than 1% are Christian, and where the full meaning of the cross is rarely understood.
Can the Japanese people be blamed for using crucifixes as statements of fashion rather than statements of faith? I hardly think so. While missionaries and Japanese Christians take on the job of spreading the gospel, the situation in America is surprisingly similar. Jesus’ name and image are treated haphazardly in the media and in the culture in general. There is no reverence for the story of Jesus’ death on the cross.
In the end, if Christians are bothered by this, we are the ones who need to change. If the culture acts this way toward Christ, perhaps the reason is that most do not understand the profound sacrifice made by God and for whom that sacrifice was made. I often think of the imagery of a parent dying for a child; this is an idea that few would laugh at or mock. But this is exactly an allusion to what Jesus did on the cross.
The Bible is clear on this point: generally God chooses to do His work through His people rather than through direct intervention. If He is being mocked, He intends us to do something about it. A starting point for those scared of evangelism is simple, reasonable and rather non-offensive. A friend’s use of God’s name in foul language, a funny picture of Christ on the Internet, or even the wearing of crucifix jewelry invites an opportunity for one to explain the significance of the cross, and why we hope it isn’t just another symbol to be absorbed into the culture. In the end, the cross is more than just a piece of jewelry – it’s the darkness before the dawn and a hope for something more.
“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”
– Paul, Romans 10:14-15
“It is not enough to wear an ornamental cross as a pretty decoration. The cross that Paul speaks about was burned into his very flesh, was branded into his being, and only the Holy Spirit can burn the true cross into our innermost life…”
– A.B. Simpson
- “Cross” Cultural no more: Appeals Court Rules Against Utah Memorial Crosses (beliefnet.com)
- Two sides of the cross (andrevil.wordpress.com)
- Melanie Reed: Fabric of Culture (rzim.org)
5 thoughts on “Here Comes Santa Cross”
Christians don’t own the cross. It is an image that anyone can add their own meaning to. If one wants to relate it her faith, that’s fine. If another wants it as a fashion statement, that’s cool too.
True enough – I’m not arguing against freedom of expression. I hope that those who wear the cross, however, will understand (hopefully through explanation from a Christian friend) the meaning of the cross – that it stands as a symbol of horrible violence, of people who maliciously crucified One who was peaceful and loving, and of hope.
Guilty as charged: I’m an unbaptized heathen, and I wear a rosary bracelet that my devout Catholic mother gave me because I think it looks cool. 😉
But you know, the sacrifice on the cross is very difficult to explain to the Japanese. They learn about Edo-period Catholics (Who were crucified! In droves!) in school, but precious little else. Funnily enough, the most likely people to be informed about this stuff are the otaku.
Thanks for the insight. That makes a lot of sense, especially if we think about U.S. knowledge of non-Christian religions. Most Americans probably don’t know a whole lot about the tenants of Buddhism, for instance. However, someone very interested in Asian culture, like an anime fans, might know more about the religion than the typical American.
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