Peace Symbol
Gordon C. Thomasson
© 1991, 2003

As conflicts threaten around the world, following President Bush’s proclamation of pre-emptive warfare (to say nothing of his threatening first-strike use of nuclear weapons), peace and anti-war movements will gain strength.  This increasingly will be true if/when the Bush administration seeks to re-institute a draft to replace worn-out, wounded or dead troops.  Insofar as activists use the “peace symbol” as an icon of their protest, we can expect a corresponding renewal of right-wing pseudo-Christian criticism of the symbol itself.  “Witch’s cross,” “broken cross,” “upside down cross,” or “satanic symbol,” there is no end to what it has been called in the past five plus decades.  And every one who has so maligned the Peace Symbol is a liar.  It doesn’t matter whether you originate a lie, or simply repeat it without making the effort to be sure it is true.  Unsubstantiated gossip is a lie, just as much as is creating lies and rumor-mongering to gossipers.

What is the Peace Symbol, in fact?  If these would-be super-Americans hadn’t been so predisposed to see anyone who disagreed with them as evil, imagining and projecting all sorts of false origins and meanings for the Peace Symbol, they might have discovered the secret–dare I say esoteric–key to its meaning in the real American boy’s bible of their childhood, the Boy Scout Handbook.  How could John Ashcroft’s generation have forgotten so quickly?

The Peace Symbol was created as a reaction against any/all use of nuclear weapons, simply by compounding two international semaphore signal code symbols, the four and eight o’clock arm positions for the letter “N” ( /\ ), and the twelve and six o’clock arm positions for the letter “D” ( | ), which when superimposed represent “Nuclear  Disarmament.”  That was the Peace Symbol’s origin and its entire meaning, from day one.  Nothing more, and nothing less.  To claim ANYTHING else is to bear False Witness!, and thus is a sin against the God those making the charge “claim” to worship.  Why do some religious “fundamentalists”, clearly not having made the least–morallly imperative–effort to know what they are saying, jump to such uncharitable, anti-Christian, and ignorantly wrong conclusions?  Why do they see the Peace Symbol as devilish, when they are commanded to “judge not, lest ye be judged”?  Are they looking in a mirror?  Satan, after all is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).

Semaphor Signals, from Boy Scouts of America

Semaphore signals, from the Boy Scouts of America Handbook for Boys © 1948 From pages 382-383 (compare the discussion on pages 381-384)

Remember, many of these are people who have been ideologically committed, as they have subjected the Bible to their “private interpretations,” to the idea that nuclear weapons were the prophesied way the world, or at least the “wicked” and non-Christian Israel would be destroyed, thus bringing about the end of time and their being caught up in a personal “rapture”.  No matter how much others suffer, however, they know that God will intervene to save the righteous (themselves).  A few go farther, for them the best possible end they can imagine to history is vindication: that they’ll be saved and proved right when everyone else is burned to hell.  That is not what the Bible says, of course.

Biblical texts on the end of the world, especially Daniel and the book of Revelation or the Apocalypse, which people claim to read literally, are really quite opaque.  The English attempts at translations, like the lost-in-the-past originals they clam to faithfully represent, are full of words with multiple meanings, and are inherently ambiguous.  Despite what people claim, they cannot simply be read–there is NO single “plain” or common sense meaning to the texts from which those books are tortuously translated, any more than there is a single authoritative and uncorrupted manuscript source for them which is not contradicted by countless other manuscript copies.  Let me reiterate that: there are no original texts surviving, only copies of copies of extremely complicated, sometimes incomplete, and always symbol-laden Greek or Hebrew texts which also can only be translated and interpreted based on guesses you make about the correct meanings of words, which again depend upon the assumptions with which you begin.  These books simply cannot be “read” like the comics.  That, however, does not undermine the validity of the Christian faith; only the fantasies people imagine and superimpose upon it and upon Jesus.  That is to say, for example, that despite their claims, there is NO SUCH THING as a Christian war.

For almost twenty centuries virtually every generation has read those same apocalyptic passages, and EACH has found them applying precisely to their own time.  How could eighty generations (calculating at four 25-year generations per century) each think they are right, and each successively be so totally wrong?

Each new batch of “The End (and YOUR DOOM, NOT MINE!) Is Coming” calculators–exempting themselves as more worthy or wise than every previous generation, from the Savior’s law that “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matt. 24:36, King James version)–laughs at the mistakes of previous generations.  This is because the “plain sense” or supposedly “literal” reading of the text is a product or projection of the personal mind-set and culture or worldview of the reader, not the inherently ambiguous or multi-valent symbolic language of scriptures.  Successive discoverers of THE TRUTH have criticized their obviously wrong predecessors (I’m still here, therefore you were wrong), missing the point that the texts only can be interpreted, lacking direct and literal revelation from God, based on faith in quite unprovable assumptions that are the unique product of life at that point in time and space, or history.  Those who trust in Nostradamus do exactly the same thing.

Max Weber pointed out in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-05), the significance of Martin Luther having de-valued the Catholic sacraments as outward signs of a person having received God’s grace.  Subsequently, Protestants have embarked on a never-satisfied search for other signs that they are among God’s elect.  In the early 21st century, yet another generation, in their search for self-justification, have come to believe that knowledge of the prophesied “future” of humanity is reserved for them, that they are the chosen few.  Some of these people have linked absolutely symbolic language about a “battle of Armageddon” and an “apocalypse” with total, all out nuclear war.  This intellectual leap-of-(anti)-faith made, they then see anything that might delay or prevent that moment of total destruction as opposing God’s will as expressed through prophecy.  And so they hate and lie about the Peace Symbol and those who use it to express their faith that ALL can learn to live and love according to the ideals of the Prince of Peace.  After these peace-(symbol)-haters subject the scriptures to their “private interpretations,” they conclude that the “final battle” will prove them right (saved), and everybody else wrong (dead and/or damned).  Not accidentally, they see that those who have disagreed with them (like me), or who has made fun of them, must be of the devil.  If anti-nuclear activists succeed, as the pro-Armageddon preachers of this earth define the peaceful end to war, God will have lost.  Some individuals, in total disregard for humanity as God’s children who He loves, let alone for Christianity, actually hope, when they pray “thy kingdom come,” for a day of all-out nuclear war.  This is the ultimate ironic perversion of a “Christianity” that claims to preach of a loving God.