Christianity as a "brand" was a tough sell in the conversion of souls business. Even before getting to the message there was the problem of the "logo." Horrific images of the crucifixion as in the Grunewald above were...off-putting... to potential "consumers:"
Christian: "Sinner, flock hither and be SAVED!"
Heathen: "What that is?"
Christian: "Christ on the Cross, Pilgrim. CRUCIFIED so that you will be SAVED!"
Heathen: "That the Lord?"
Christian: "Nailed to a cross, for YOUR eternal salvation!"
Heathen: "Where the virgins at?"
Christianity had difficulty competing with Islam. And for a while it didn't compete, it lost. Repeatedly. Islam was the first universal religion and it not so much expanded as exploded. Converts flocked to it. It was a "male" religion, one of power; a master's religion. Christianity was a "female" religion, it was the religion of the powerless; it taught, in Nietzsche's phrase, a "slave's morality" of passivity. Crucifixion imagery symbolized all of that and it was unappealing to "prospects." Christianity changed, and with it, the imagery.
Mohammed founded Islam in 610 AD. At his death in 632 most of the Arabian peninsula was under Muslim rule. In 641 Iran was conquered and in 642 Egypt. By 732 all of northern Africa had fallen as had Spain and Portugal to the west and India and Indonesia to the east. Islam was the dominant and fastest-growing empire in the world.
The expansion into Europe brought Islam into natural conflict with Christianity for followers and territory. Islamic penetration was first stopped by France at the Battle of Tours in 732. Starting in 1095 Christianity began the attempt to take back the territory lost to Islam in the previous three centuries. The Crusades were to last for the next two hundred years. Gone was Christian passivity. The biblical injunction to "turn the other cheek" gave way to the biblical injunction of "an eye for an eye." Gone too was the universal imagery of Christianity, the pitiful sight of man's savior, barely clothed, nailed to a cross alongside two common criminals.
The Cross doing battle with the Crescent.
Cool new logo.
The image, and the imagery, of Christianity changed with the Crusades from the Crucifixion to the Cross. Not universally, for the Crucifixion is still a common motif of course. But from universality. No longer was the Crucifixion the sole image of the religion. The Cross became an accepted second image. In the language of
art, the Crucifixion is art realism; the Cross, abstract art.
What we now consider to be the great art of Christianity was, for the Church, not art at all, but it's means of instruction for the faithful illiterate. Biblical stories had to be told with images, in paintings across panels and walls and ceilings, and in carvings and architecture. That was true during the Crusades, as well. The literacy rates in the Middle Ages were perhaps 15%-20%. The Crucifixion however was a part of Christianity's narrative that could stand alone. To anyone within Christendom (and to some without) the Cross didn't need the body of Jesus of Nazareth nailed to it to convey the message. The Cross was the West's first symbol.
Part of the reason for the acceptability of the Cross also was the medium becoming the message. The Crusaders did not offer walls and ceilings for Christian imagery; they offered only their breast-plates and uniforms. The Crucifixion was too "busy" for such a limited canvass. The Cross was indeed a sleek, stylized "logo."
Abstract art abstracts away from realism; in the case of the Cross, it abstracts away from the human suffering palpable in the Crucifixion. The Cross turned the symbol of Christianity from one of ugliness to one of beauty.
Today, the Cross has probably supplanted the Crucifixion as the symbol of the religion.
In contemporary society the beauty of the Cross's simplicity has further abstracted it away from the Crucifixion so that even it's religious content is subsumed. The Cross has become stylish, as well as stylized. The Cross has become art.
With the Cross, Christendom took Christ out of the Crucifixion and human suffering with it. Human beings do not want to see human suffering but it is there. The Baptist points to it.
What's wrong with not wanting to see the horrific? What's wrong with turning a vivid image of cruelty and suffering into a beautiful symbol? I don't know. I don't know if there's anything wrong with either of those. We in the West, maybe I should speak for myself now, I want to know, and to see. It is very "Western" to want to know, I think. We are an inquisitive people. Curious. Chinese don't want to know; it seems to me that they don't want to know as badly as "Westerners" do. No, I'll remove the comparative from that. Chinese don't want to know. They didn't even explore.
Does it do any good to know? Hasn't done me any good. 易子而食: that means "swap child, make food," exchanging children and eating them:
"The worst thing that happened during the [GLF] famine was this: ...a mother would say to her daughter, 'You have to go and see your granny in heaven.' They stopped giving the girl children food...Then they swopped the body of their daughter with that of a neighbor's. About five to seven women would agree to do this among themselves. Then they boiled the corpses into a kind of soup."(1)
Most Chinese don't even know about the GLF famine, much less about 易子而食.
Knowing can make you go mad.
(1) Hungry Ghosts, Jaspar Becker, 137-8.