Christian Superstitions: That Wicked Peace Sign
The other day, my daughter was told by another girl on the school bus, that the peace sign she was wearing was of the devil, and that it was a broken cross turned upside down. Of course, my daughter was not bothered because she is smart enough to know that something is just not right about that conclusion. For one, wasn’t Jesus all about peace? For two, wouldn’t her theologically inclined Dad have known about such grave blasphemy? The truth is, I am aware of this superstition, and others of the same ilk. When I was a child it was lightning bolts that were bad, because Satan fell like lightning. At that time there was a popular line of clothing that donned the bolt, thus all who wore such garments were most certainly devil-worshipers; or, at least played Dungeons and Dragons. That’s not to mention the devilish intent of the symbols on the Care Bears fat little bellies, the paganism behind the songs of Barney, and the unforgivable, irremovable, pagan markings of tattoos. I mean, we all knew that getting a tattoo was tantamount to taking the mark of the Beast. It is intriguing to me where these “Christian superstitions” come from. In my own tradition, I am sure they were formed as part of an effort to ensure the church did not look like the world. Scaring us all into thinking that everything the “world” came up with was coded anti-Christ rhetoric, was sure to keep us all on the straight and narrow.
Denoting the Peace Sign as anti-Christ, however, insidiously stems from political and religious agendas that sought to demonize anit-war communities. So where did the Peace Sign come from? The symbol was drawn in 1958 by British artist Gerald Holtom. In light of growing fears of nuclear weapon stockpiling, the cold war, and fears of an all-out nuclear war, the “British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament” was formed by citizens who embraced pacifism and rallied for nations to cease nuclear warfare exploration. On this particular occasion they had planned a protest at Canterbury Cathedral and hired Holtom to draw a symbol for them to use. Holtom experimented with using the cross, since the protest was at Canterbury, but to no avail. He finally settled on the design now known as the Peace Symbol for three primary reasons. It literally contains the semaphoric shapes of “N” and “D” (Nuclear Disarmament). The creative design also resembled a crow’s foot, which had long been a symbol of death. Finally, it looked like an individual standing with their arms opened and lowered: a sign of humility, and of one who carries the weight of the world. Holtom described his creative process: “I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it.”
So why was the Peace Sign so demonized in the church? Well we have the political right to blame for that, after the anti-war hippies of the 1960s adopted Holtom’s symbol as their own. While the Evangelical church was beginning to align the political right, both groups had good reason to demonize the anti-war movement propagated by the hippies. What better way to define a group, than by redefining their symbol(s)? Thus, a myth was born, and somehow still manages to continue.