Thursday, March 1, 2012

Catholic jewelry

Jews seem to think they have a monopoly on claiming their faith is more than faith, but it's a culture as well. Muslims are increasingly squatting on this territory with their claims of "racism" toward people who think Islam is a big joke worthy of mockery (it is, by the way). Both faiths even get their own special words that are equated with racist bigotry, "anti-Semitic" and "Islamaphobic." Christian faiths don't get to make claims of culture somehow. There seems to be no such thing as anti-Jesusic or Catholiphobia. I guess it's because Christian holy wars are global and not centralized, so they can't be pinned on a particular race, nationality, culture, etc.

Nonetheless, Catholicism is very much a culture, especially if you attended Catholic school. Certain ideas are beaten into you until you think of them as normal, functioning parts of who you are. Many of them take real efforts to extract. Despite my current enjoyment of all things blasphemous, there are still things that I can't bring myself to accept.

I cringe when I see anyone wearing a rosary as jewelry, even as normalized as it has become. I think of how, if this were a Muslim holy relic, heads would literally roll if people were making a frivolous fashion accessory out of it. Why are people allowed to do this to "my culture," but not someone else's?

When I was living in Japan a few years ago, rosaries were all the rage in men's fashion. I hadn't fully actualized being an atheist at the time, but I still found myself at war with the concept of one of "my" holy relics being used as a simple accessory. It did look "cool" on a lot guys, but at the same time, it was sacrilegious to my "culture," even if I didn't fully belong to that culture anymore.

Tokyo is full of small boutiques and accessory shops. One of my favorites, which I'm not sure still exists, was a small ¥1000 costume jewelry shop in Harajuku. Everything in the shop was ¥1000, about $10US. A lot of the jewelry was uninteresting. Typical flowers and sparkles for girls, typical crucifixes and fleur de lis for guys, but there was always one corner of really unique pieces. Every time I visited, I remember seeing one particular rosary, both admiring and despising the brilliant blasphemy it exuded.

It wasn't a true rosary. It didn't have the exact proper arrangement or number of beads (yes, I counted), but it was designed to look like a rosary, so in my mind, the crime had already been committed. As if it weren't sacrilegious enough, purely for its existence, the beads themselves brought an extra line of offense. They were dice, black and white alternating dice. Worst of all, it was made in Italy, the Catholic capital of the world. Holy blaspheme berries, Batman!

Yes, I realize that the Catholic church is no stranger to gambling, but to combine the two in such a blatantly offensive way was unheard of. Yet, for some reason, I had to have it. The day I bought it, I couldn't stop taking out, looking at it, smiling a devilish smile, then putting it away. This continued for quite some time until I eventually threw it in my jewelry pile. I didn't have a jewelry box as I was living pretty much out of a suitcase with minimal furnishings.

I still have this rosary, it's in a box now, and every time I pull it out, that same devilish grin returns to my face. Still, I have yet to wear it. There are a few reasons. The first, and most obvious, is that I don't believe in wearing religious symbols for fashion in general, lest people get the wrong idea. The second is that it doesn't really match anything I have and my accessories are usually perfectly coordinated. The last, and least obvious to anyone that doesn't know me intimately, is that some small Catholic part of me still clings to that idea that it's disrespectful and inappropriate to wear this sacred yet sacriligious relic.

I don't know why I can't seem to let go of it. Recently, one of my few celebrity heroes released his own jewelry line and I found myself thinking slightly less of him when I saw a rosary in his collection (this is after I had already reduced my view of him for endorsing a rather run of the mill, douchey looking jewelry collection; in fact, I think he must have been inspired by the same cheap ¥1000 Harajuku boutique that I used to frequent, but I digress). He's not the only one. I see lots of celebrities, particularly men, wearing them now, and each one of them elicits a knee-jerk, negative gasp of offense from me. I try to reason it out of myself, but it rarely works.

I guess you can take the kid out of Catholic school, but you can't take the beatings out of the kid. Pin It

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