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March 25, 2013 | by  | in Features |
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Society: Nun the Wiser

Over the coming weekend, millions of people around the world will be gorging themselves on bunny-shaped chocolates, and cinnamon-flavoured buns featuring one of the most sacred christian symbols. considering that gluttony is a cardinal sin, this probably wasn’t the intended way of memorialising the death of christ.

Over the course of several centuries, the aesthetic value of religion has become amalgamated with secular celebrations and practices. This amalgamation has become particularly apparent with the burgeoning influence of mass media and consumerism. Practically everywhere you look, the appropriated, convenient use of religion can be observed.


‘Tis the season to buy

Christmas might as well be a celebration of consumerism. New Zealanders spent $1.3 billion in the one week leading up to December 25 last year (to put that in perspective, this is the equivalent of one tenth of our national student loan debt). Advertisements themed towards the Christmas season now begin as early as October, and you can expect to see your friendly Farmers assistant wearing those reindeer earrings with the lightbulb noses from the beginning of November.

Christian symbolism is also an intrinsic part of the products being sold around this time. The Bible depicts angels as heavenly guardians, while The Warehouse sells plastic versions of them imprisoned in snowglobes. The nativity scene is intricately described in the book of Matthew, but is also printed on greeting cards to be sealed in envelopes and half-heartedly exchanged with distant cousins.

The commercial treatment of Easter is quite different. The reason that this time of the year is important to Christians is that Good Friday marks the death of Christ. While Christmas at least has the privilege of retaining imagery associated with the nativity, one certainly cannot find scenes of Christ’s final sacrifice printed on foil-wrapped eggs. Yet the shape of the wooden cross that Jesus died on is still drawn on top of hot cross buns by your local baker; the only religious symbol of Easter deemed ‘pretty’ enough for mass consumption.

The religious roots of these celebrations have been manipulated to give just enough of a sombre tone to the festivities in order to justify our spending trends at this time. Families have been convinced that spending more than they can afford over Christmas is validated by the ‘spirit of giving’.

Fashion, BaBY

Cultural appropriation of religious imagery is by no means limited to times of celebration. After all, the crucifix is oh so hot right now: bracelets, T-shirts, necklaces, tattoos, piercings, all are opportunities to adorn oneself with the same image that Catholics use to genuinely embody their faith.

Even Eastern religions have suffered from the thieving nature of Westerners. Red bindi dots represent the sanctity of marriage for a married Hindu woman. Today, girls who probably intend to fornicate on a Saturday night can also be seen wearing them as part of the 90s-chic style of 2013.

The presence of religious symbolism in fashion is premised on the desire to look ethnic, cultured, or ‘bohemian’. Yet the wearers of such fashion are ironically uneducated on just how intrinsic these images are to their respective faiths.

neWs Flash

Religious doctrine once stood as the bastion of social conduct, the irrefutable truth, the most important opinion on any topic. Today, an opportunity can often be found to present religious beliefs as the convenient ‘other’ point of view.

A prime example of this is Colin Craig’s sudden rise to fame as the token representative of the opposing position on gay marriage. In the interests of democracy, it is of course hugely important that all points of view are represented in the media, even those in the minority. But if these views only amount to controversial vox pops in the name of ‘fair and balanced’ journalism, how much attention and understanding is really given to Craig and his supporters?

the good WoRd

When asked about the topic, Father Tom O’Connor of Wellington’s Saint Mary of the Angels Church was entirely candid. “I suppose it’s got two sides to it. One is that at least they’re talking about it, the other is that really I think they miss the point as to what it’s all about. For us, they are spiritual celebrations.” As for those who only attend Easter Sunday or Christmas day mass for the ‘novelty’ of it, he reasoned that “I don’t get offended by it, but I would like to see them every Sunday of the year of course”.

There is a certain pathos in these statements from Father Tom. Secular society has taken the ‘prettiest’ elements of his religion, the bits that most conveniently suit their festive needs, and reproduced them en masse, stripping them of their faith-inspiring qualities. Society has forgotten that for billions of people around the world, their religious beliefs aren’t simply an accessory they can take off at the end of the day. The morals they adhere to don’t just disappear after December 25.

Religion has become convenient. We use it when it suits us: when we want a public holiday; when we want to blame someone for political problems; when we want a new look to wear down Courtenay Place; when we want a free ice cream from Huge!; when we want a theme for an issue of Salient.

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