Guy Fawkes and the Occupy Movement

A few years ago, while I was serving at Barksdale AFB, Pines Presbytery held a clergy retreat, and they invited scholar Paula Friedrickson to speak to us. Not only was I impressed that this little presbytery would host a renowned scholar to speak to the pastors (something I have never seen replicated in the five other presbyteries I have served), but I still remember her basic message – literalizing the symbol is like cancer to a story (e.g., Jesus didn’t mean to literally cut off your hand or pluck out your eye.)

Much of the trouble comes from the fact that Jesus used symbols extensively, and we human beings like things in black and white. We simplify what was never meant to be simplified. But symbols properly used can inspire and move us to greater heights. Jesus saying “I am the lamb of God” has more power than “I am the human sacrifice” ever would.

Friedrickson’s talk came back to mind as I finally learned what no one I knew could answer for me. What is that mask that keeps popping up? It is supposed to be Guy Fawkes, an anarchist convicted centuries ago of trying to blow up Parliament. But it really doesn’t come out of history lessons. It’s out of a movie called “V for Vendetta,” in which the anarchist hero stands against a fascist state that rose up in the UK after the Nazis won World War II. (It’s a sci-fi, alternate reality tale.) I watched the movie last night trying to understand the draw or the appeal.

If literalizing a figurative symbol is a problem, so is choosing the wrong symbol for a campaign. I have sympathy for those advocating for the middle class, poor, and against a system that all too often highlights free trade and capitalism, but only for some. Is it true capitalism when the government backs up the biggest corporations and banks if they fail? Isn’t that socialism? The problem isn’t with capitalism; the problem is with capitalism that allows different standards for different people. We need an economic system that builds, not erodes, the middle class if we want a strong society. We need a just system. And we need a system that shows that we have compassion as a society.

But anarchy is not the answer, and choosing an anarchist symbol just plays into the hands of those who want to say that the protesters just want to tear down the system rather than applying needed fixes.

I am hopeful that the Guy Fawkes masks will fade away. I am not impressed by him either in real life or in the alternate reality of “V for Vendetta.” We certainly do not need him as the symbol for change in our society.

That’s my take on it.  What do you think?

Until next time,

Tom

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