A symbol always resembles one thing or another and always identifies with what it is used for. The characteristics of a symbol are derived from what is known by it (Ferguson, George, 1-3). Symbols in the world can be categorized into two: Religious and secular symbols.
Religious Symbols are iconic representations that are intended to identify and represent a specific religion, or a specific concept within a given religion. Religious people depending on the principles laid down within that particular religion use these. In many religions, symbols have become part and parcel of worship and practices relating to those religions. It is critical to note that, even though religious symbols are used all over the world, there are various differences on the views about the symbols.The issue and use of religious symbols have caused a lot of debate around the world, since not every person subscribes to a religious faith.
On the other hand, the secular symbols are not specifically relating to any religion or to a religious body. The secular symbols mostly associated with worldly issues and matters that affect the life human beings in the world. There is no particular belief put upon the secular symbols except for what they symbolize. These secular symbols are in most cases used to identify a particular organization, state or even a nation.
As much as the religious symbols are based on faith of a particular religion while the secular symbols are not based on any particular or specific religious beliefs, there is a close relation to the two categories of symbols in the world. This relation can be seen in the context that, only the use of a symbol between the religious and the secular symbols is what varies in most occasions. The relation and variance between the two can be seen as illustrated below:
These are the main symbols that are widely used by majority of people in the world. Among the symbols which fall under this category is the Christian Cross The cross symbol is one of the widely used and most recognised religious symbol in the world. It always symbolizes the religion of Christianity. Christians use it to symbolize the death of Christ. The cross comes in various forms. There is the crucifix, inverted cross and also the double cross. The Christians value the cross as a sign of religion but in the current world, the crucifix has been worn as a decorative ornament. This means that, even though it’s referred to as a religious symbol, it has also taken a secular perspective and used as an ornament, hanged as a pendant on a necklace.
The Ichthys (Fish) is another common symbol of Christianity. It symbolizes the Christians mission to spread the gospel all over the world. Disciples of Jesus were mainly fishermen and when Jesus called them, He told them in (Matthew 4:19 NIV) “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The secular world on the other hand treats fish as an animal that can be used as food and in many ways as a pet. There are varieties of fish in the world and this makes it difficult to say what particular type of fish can be used in religion as far as Christianity is concerned.
The Hijab among the Muslims is a form of head covering clothing for women they use to cover their head in the Islamic religion to show modesty. This has caused a huge debate on whether clothing can be used as a form of portraying or addressing the aspect of modesty in the society. It is relevant to note that, most Islamic culture that requires women to put on the veil or Hijab is experiencing a lot of revolution. This is because the society views modesty not in terms of clothing women or men wear but modesty in the secular world is based on human behavior.
The head coverings that always vary from one religion to another have caused prominent disputes among people both in the religious and the secular world as far as religious symbols are concerned. Head coverings have been used and seen as one of the symbol that obviously demonstrates one’s faith. It helps to easily differentiate Muslims, Sikhs, and Jews from the rest of the religious grouping, like Christians, in the secular world it is treated just like any other form of clothing.
A secular symbol like the one used by the world health organization (WHO) to symbolize health and the organization’s commitment in providing healthcare to the world is very much related to the Christianity story of Moses. During Moses time in the Bible (Numbers 21:4-9), a snake on a cross was used so that those who were bitten could be healed. The WHO has used the same image of a snake on the cross as its official symbol. WHO is not a religious organization and neither is it related to any religious group. The use of this image from the Christian world by a secular organization is one main example that portrays the close relation that is there between the religious symbols and secular symbols.
General and Secondary specific symbols
In the religious circles, the religious symbols used by various religious groups are always a form of silent identification. When one uses the symbols of a certain religion, it shows that the person associates with that particular religion. For example, when a woman wears a Hijab, the woman is identified with the Islamic religion. The use of symbols for identification of persons to a particular religion is the similar aspect that governments use to identify themselves. All or most governments and nations in the world have come up with symbols that can be used to identify them.
The governments have come up with symbols like the government seals and flags. When one sees these symbols, it’s easy to identify a particular government or nation just as it’s possible to identify a person belonging to a particular religion by use of the symbols of that religion. Some of the religious symbols that helped in identifying people to a particular religion are the Menorah(Geisler, Michael, p.1), the Trident, Swastika, Torii Gate, Ahimsa Hand, the Wheel of Dharma, Khanda and also the Yin and Yang( Taiji) among many others.
The uses of the religious and the secular symbols also help in catalyzing unity among people depending on the symbols they use. Secular symbols like road symbols used for traffic control unites motorists, national anthems of various nations also unite the people of a nation among many others (Geisler, Michael p.1).
- Ferguson, George. Signs & Symbols in Christian Art. London: Oxford University Press, 1980. Print.
- Geisler, Michael E. National Symbols, Fractured Identities: Contesting the National Narrative. Middlebury, Vt: Middlebury College Press, 2005. Print.
- The Bible: Matthew 4:19 New International Version.
- The Bible: Numbers 21:4-9 New International Version.