My friend George has just invited me to have some comments on the issue concerning the presence of icons in the Romanian schools. Needless to say (but I will still say it), George is against their presence and questions the legitimacy of such symbols in the classrooms (he points out that we had better wonder how and why did „we” allow the icons to be there in the first place.)

I am not going to inter into the details of this discussion. Suffice it to mention, for the time being, that I am writing as an Evangelical Christian. (Consequently, I am clearly „marginal” in relationship to the dominant Eastern Orthodox population. While in school, I have clearly understood that my status was different than that of my peers. For instance, if I happened to go on a trip to a monastery, with my classmates, I noticed oftentimes their questioning glances, when I did not cross myself or go to pay homage to a much venerated icon, as they did).

Having said that, I am quite tempted to think that my friend George and the people who share his concerns will be quick to use my case as an argument that the presence of icons in schools undergirds an oppressive and discriminatory religious system which treats the religious minorities (or „agnostic” persons) unfairly etc etc.

To be honest, (and now I am speaking only for myself, aware though that I may not be alone in this) I do not feel that my „rights” need to be defended in this case. I think I was and still am very much at peace with icons hanging on the walls of the Romanian schools.

I will explain the reasons briefly. First of all, although I dislike the public hypocritical religiosity that I think is the hallmark of many Romanian politicians / public persons, I think that these religious symbols tacitly confess that we, as a society, recognize, at least on a very general plane, the existence of some Christian values by which we ought to conduct ourselves (otherwise, these signifiers would not be there). And that, if you ask me, is a good thing. Of course, I am thoroughly aware that, in spite of this recognition, we do not, as a society, live by them or uphold them in a serious manner (otherwise we should see less corruption around us, more compassion and charity, more humility, more self-sacrifice). Put otherwise, I take the icons in schools to mean that we admit the existence of a „life hereafter”, of a Presence of Someone beyond our own world. And if we should take it in earnest, we should live also with the admission that we are going to be held responsible by the One whose presence is acquiesced in such a vague manner by these religious symbols.

Of course, those who are not of the same opinion (i.e., who do not admit such a Presence from Beyond who will one day judge us for our conduct), are precisely the ones who object to the presence of icons in the classrooms. I cannot blame them. The step they want to take (the elimination of icons) is quite logical (in my or their opinion). Quite logical, but not quite wise. (When we succeed in eliminating God from the public sphere, shutting Him in the church (the physical building), and in „liberating” man from the „coercion” of religion, I wonder what monsters we also let in at large through the back door.)

Another aspect of this debate which I want to address concerns the fact that law-abiding citizens (to use a cliche) such as my friend George is (he reckoned himself, with a litotes, as „no monster” and I take him on his word 🙂 ) object to the use of their tax money, by the government, to endorse a „national church” of some sorts. Well, although I am no part of the majority, I wonder: „What can you expect, in a country where 87% of the population profess the Eastern Orthodox creed?” They pay taxes too, they indirectly support the Church they belong to. Of course, my position may be stated with more shades and hues than I am willing to use here, from lack of time. But that is a point which should be taken into account, I suppose.

These are, in short, the arguments I can exert myself to beget at this late hour of the day. I make no excuse for the stance I adopt, although I already half-suspect it will be considered quite unreasonable. Since „reasonable” is not a quality which I can pride myself on, I am willing to accept the impending remonstrance.

Yours,

Emanuel

P .S. George, do the Romanian leading intellectuals of the day really strike you as exceptionally pious in public? Perhaps you owe it to me to state your case more precisely. You really make me wonder what I have been missing all this time… 🙂