Debating cross rationally

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March 6, 2007

8:11 PM

Frankly, I’m pretty disappointed with the coverage of the Wren cross controversy, and I’m not just talking about the campus newspapers. The problem isn’t that the topic’s not getting enough publicity; anyone who’s opened The Flat Hat knows that’s not the case. Instead, the problem is that the issue’s being debated the wrong way.

p. If you read the heated comments left on The Flat Hat’s website, the majority of them are ad hominem attacks on President Nichol, comparing the “arrogant” man to a “dictator” with an “agenda” of both ignoring the history of the College and desecrating the Wren Chapel. Yet these comments themselves are an insult to the history of the College; they demonstrate that some of our students (and alumni) cannot hold a rational, civilized debate without resorting to name-calling.

p. By now it’s become clear that the subject has devolved into two groups of people endlessly arguing value judgments and opinions, which can’t possibly yield anything but frustration on both sides. Let’s take a step back from our divisive belief systems, and start with a blank slate. Let’s look at the facts. Let’s use the intelligence that the administration praised us for during Orientation week. In sum, let’s use some reason. Thus, I offer you an example of a logical argument supporting President Nichol’s actions.

p. 1. The College is a public institution run by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

p. 2. The Supreme Court, in the 2005 case Van Orden v. Perry, ruled that religious symbols displayed in public areas are only constitutionally justifiable if they are part of what is “a broader moral and historical message reflective of cultural heritage” that serves a “secular” purpose.

p. 3. The Wren cross is a religious symbol displayed in a public area.

p. 4. The Wren cross is not part of “a broader moral and historical message reflective of cultural heritage,” nor does it serve any “secular” purpose.

p. 5. Therefore, if the Wren cross case were brought to the Supreme Court (at least the one of 2005), the Court would rule there must be some modification in the manner that the Wren cross was displayed.

p. I’m not going to say I stand by this argument, as I only quickly composed it using my (limited) knowledge and (infinite) frustration with the way this controversy is being handled by both our community and outsiders alike. However, I still think it makes a point: there’s a way to argue intelligently and compellingly. For example, if you question my premise that the Wren cross lacks a “moral and historical message,” put forth your own argument demonstrating how a relatively recent addition can still convey such a message.

p. Rather than simply presupposing the College’s history is so important to preserve, I challenge you to prove it. To those who assert the cross is offensive to non-Christians, demonstrate it. Isn’t this type of disagreement better than what we’re seeing elsewhere? Rather than shouting back and forth like fanatical dogmatists, let’s make an effort to address controversial issues like the removal of the Wren cross with more reason and less emotion. In short, College community, I’m asking you to please stop taking your beliefs for granted.

p. __Raymond Berti is a junior at the College.__

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