M. Leary wrote:
use of sacred symbols . . .
: Otherwise symbols are basically governed by the same principles that govern the use of words.
Exactly. Words have intersubjective meaning. But nobody "owns" meaning.
: Remember the woman protesting gay marriage in California
, whose styrofoam cross was taken from her and stomped to pieces by counter-protesters?
No, I don't, but as far as I can tell, those protestors would have been just as guilty of theft and censorship as the guy who stole the Koran before it could be burned.
: Or, when Klansmen burn crosses, is that a "proper" use of the cross, in your estimation?
Well, no, obviously. But do I steal their crosses to prevent said burnings? No.
: Again, if you do not regard the symbol as sacred, then the question of propriety is pretty much moot. You can use it any damn way you please, as long as you don't care who takes offense. But what kind of world would we live in if everybody acted that way?
A world that values freedom of expression, basically. It's not a bad place to be, really. Yeah, yeah, there's always weirdos and nutsos on the fringes, but as they say, hard cases make bad law.
: Yes, it would, if that is a difference that makes a difference.
And it is. You're aware of the difference between rival goods and non-rival goods? Memes are non-rival goods; they can be copied and appropriated without any loss to the original owner. But actual physical objects are rival goods, so the rules that ought to apply to them are different, and for good reason.
: When PZ Myers desecrated a piece of consecrated host obtained from a Catholic mass, was that a replica of the body of Christ, or the real thing, according to the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation?
It was an actual piece of consecrated host that was offered to communicants under specific conditions -- conditions that Myers presumably did not meet. Still, that being said, once the Catholic priest has given the host away, they can't really dictate what other people do with it. This is why, in many churches, communion is served directly onto a person's tongue (or, in Orthodox churches, it is served directly into their mouths with a spoon).
: (And, wouldn't a Muslim say that you are desecrating the meaning of the Quran by claiming that Muhammad "wrote" it?)
As far as I know, EVERYONE agrees that Mohammed wrote it. The only point of disagreement is whether he made it up or took dictation from an angel -- but since I am talking only about the physical object here, the important point is who put pen to paper, not whose idea it was to do so in the first place.
: A better question might be, who owns the meaning
of the replica?
Everyone and anyone who assigns meaning to it, obviously.
I suppose you might argue that we should give preference to the meaning that the MAJORITY have assigned to it, so that even if, say, Person A buys a house with the intention of tearing it down, Persons B and C and D and E, etc., can pass a law calling the house a "heritage site" and thereby forbid the tearing down of that house. (Alternatively, Person A might want to live in that house, but Persons B and C and D and E, etc., might decide the property is more valuable if it is absorbed into a strip mall, and so they pass a law regarding "eminent domain" and thereby tear it down.)
But with regard to simple handheld objects like crucifixes and books and pieces of cloth and so forth, people are generally free to do what they like, provided that they bought those objects or were expressly given those objects.
: Chair = everyday utilitarian object; crucifix = sacred symbol declared worthy of veneration.
Well, crosses were once everyday utilitarian objects, too, at least in the Roman world; and some chairs are considered sacred symbols nowadays, too (whether it's St. Edward's Chair, about which there is some ballyhoo in The King's Speech
, or whether it's the throne that the Pope sits on when he speaks ex cathedra
, etc.). These things slip around, as intersubjective meanings are wont to do.
: If I were about to set fire to an Orthodox icon in public, would you as an Orthodox believer try to stop me?
That's an interesting question. I would certainly stop you if you had stolen the icon from our chapel. And I would probably try to persuade you NOT to destroy the icon, or I would let you know my displeasure in some way. But would I try to steal it from you, if it was, in fact, yours? Probably not. Though I can imagine some of my co-religionists might feel differently about that.
: And, does what happened with the "Fire in My Belly" video meet a formal definition of "censorship"? The question as articulated by the Catholic League was not whether the video should be shown at all, but whether it belonged in an exhibit funded by public taxes.
Taxes, too, are a form of theft, arguably.
: Suppose a bipartisan congressional committee put together a proposal to float a national ballot initiative to scrap the American flag and design a completely new one -- different colors, everything.
Interesting, as Canada did just that shortly before I was born -- and just in time for our centennial, too. Good-bye, Red Ensign
; hello, Maple Leaf
. (Well, okay, there's still a prominent use of red. But anyhoo.)
: It's like saying let's knock down Grandma's tombstone and sell it to someone who wants to build a parking lot.
Of course, there is only one tombstone over Grandma; this doesn't quite compare to the examples at hand, which all concern replicas of one sort or another.
: It's like saying learning Chinese is more practical than learning Hebrew, so why not send Benji and Esther to Chinese school instead of Hebrew school?
And I did, in fact, learn French in grade school instead of letting my parents send me to German school.