Fiddler: Good Friday and the ROFL cross

Two days ago, a cross with the mocking sign “ROFL” affixed was placed on Cross Campus. Yesterday, Jordon Walker ’13 published a much-commented-on article condemning the insulting prank and the lack of response (“An insulting prank and hypocritical response,” April 20). Today is Good Friday.

I agree that the prank was insulting and hurtful. I agree that the lack of response reveals a double standard between how we treat Christianity and how we treat other religions and viewpoints on campus. And I am not sure whether this double standard is justified by Christianity’s unique standing in our society.

But today is Good Friday.

How should we react to this insulting symbol during Holy Week? How should we understand the ROFL cross? Consider first what ROFL is replacing. According to the Christian tradition, when Pontius Pilate had Jesus crucified, he placed a sign above his head that sarcastically hailed him “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Pilate had a vicious wit. Christians assimilated the Latin acronym of this sign — INRI — into their tradition, and have kept it on the top of crosses ever since. But it was always a mockery.

Does ROFL belong on a Christian cross? Perhaps we should ask instead: Does the Christian cross belong on a Christian? Christians have worn the symbol on their chests and emblazoned it on their banners for two millennia. But the cross is nothing more than an instrument of torture used to kill criminals, traitors and a Jew named Jesus. Why would a Christian display a cross with pride? The cross is an insult. The cross is the thing that humiliated and killed God.

Really, the cross does not belong on the Christian; the Christian belongs on the cross. For the Christian believes that, but for the grace of God and the sacrifice of Christ, he or she would bear the penalty that Christ bore instead. The suffering and death belonged by right to the Christian, not to Christ — and yet, the Christian believes, Christ took them upon himself. This is why the Christian holds up the cross; and the cross is meaningless if it is no longer a reminder of this painful, mocking fact. This is why the Christian remembers Christ’s suffering and death and calls it Good Friday.

And today is Good Friday.

And really, it is when Christianity has forgotten this fact that the faith has been at its worst. It is because Christians forgot what the cross meant that they were able to paint it on their shields and march to the crusades. That they were able to paint it on their seals and hold empires, that they were able to paint it on their robes and hold an Inquisition. Who could torture heretics while remembering that the cross they wear is the cross upon which their beloved God was tortured? Who could kill and conquer under the cross if they understood that it was a symbol of their Lord’s mockery and death? Who could march to the crusades with ROFL painted on their shields?

Christianity is a strange and paradoxical creed, and the cross is at the center of it. Its glory is precisely in its King’s shame and defeat; it honors its humiliation, lives by its death, loves its enemies. It is nonsensical and beautiful. If Christianity forgets this, it forgets itself.

Today is Good Friday. Good. For those among us who are Christian, it is good to remember Jesus’ suffering and death today. Good to remember him being beaten and mocked and killed. Good to remember that he was beaten and mocked and killed so that you didn’t have to be — because you deserved it, because that was your punishment that he bore. So if you are hurt by the ROFL cross, if you are mocked by it, then you should be glad. It means you understand Good Friday. Take up the ROFL cross, because it is the cross of Christ; carry it with pride and humiliation, as you have carried the INRI cross, because on it, your King was mocked, killed and victorious.

And on Easter Sunday, roll on the floor laughing. Because people then, as now, went to such lengths to humiliate Jesus, to mock Jesus, and ultimately to kill Jesus.

And it didn’t work. ROFL.

Garrett Fiddler is a senior in Berkeley College.


  • gooilers90

    Bravo, Mr. Fiddler. And thanks for this.

  • River Tam

    I cried when I read this.

    The best hymn I know: *Siyahamba, ekukanyen’ kwenkos’.*

  • redman

    The perpetrators that placed ROFL on the cross are cowards. They are bullies. They pick on Christians exactly because they are passive and turn the other cheek. They are the same people who bully weak people. They would mock the mentally handicapped or someone in a wheel chair. The question to be answered is why is bullying so prevalent in our schools, even at Yale?

  • The Anti-Yale

    Well said.

    Metaphor suits me better: Santiago bent with the mast to his small boat headed toward the oceans off Havana in “The Old Man and the Sea.”

    The “cross” which all men (and women) bear —not just Christians –is LIFE itself—for there is no way out of life EXCEPT by DEATH: the VERY CRUCIFXION which every living creature must endure, a crucifixion WHICH WAS choreographed by none other than the Author (or “Father” ) of life itself.

    The what’s the “eternal life” in this kind of interpretation of Christianity? It is “life” free from the
    ANXIETY of the neurotic attempt to prolong itself.

    It’s total acceptance and faith that every minute is an undeserved gift, a miracle.

    And resurrection? It is GRATITUDE—-the sudden appreciation of every second (Think “Emily’s soliloquy” before she returns to the land of the dead in “Our Town”)

    Think of it—to be able SEE color, SMELL lilacs, FEEL velvet, HEAR music or any combination of the previous. (ask Helen Keller)

    What a MIRACLE.

    What a Metaphor.

    What an Easter.


  • sacul

    @Redman: “The perpetrators that placed ROFL on the cross are cowards. They are bullies. They pick on Christians exactly because they are passive and turn the other cheek. They are the same people who bully weak people. They would mock the mentally handicapped or someone in a wheel chair.”

    I find this a somewhat disturbing conflation of characteristics. It reminds me of Mr. Glenn Beck’s theory that the revolution in Egypt was orchestrated by a secret cabal of “Communists and Muslims,” i.e., for Beck, “the same people who bully weak people.”

    Evil lies in the mind behind the gaze that sees evil everywhere.

  • sacul

    @Anti-Yale: that is a beautiful interpretation of Christianity…but I don’t think it need exclude the metaphysical interpretation, either. In other words, I see this as a case of not metaphor, but metonymy – not resemblance, but contiguity. To me, resurrection is not a metaphor for gratitude, but the ultimate manifestation of a death-resisting presence which we sense in the lilacs, velvet, color, and music of which you speak…

    In any case, neither the metonymy nor the metaphor receives much attention from finger-waggers or the hatemongers.

  • The Anti-Yale


    I like the notion you propose of ‘death-resisting presence”.

    If Hemingway doesn’t work, try the last words if “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” by Thornton Wilder: “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead the and the bridge is love—-the only survival, the only meaning.”



  • paris

    Thank you, Mr. Fiddler, for defeating the morons among us who feel the need to mock those who have found meaning and strength in religion.

    The person or persons who thought it funny to place ROTFL above a sacred symbol during Holy Week should be pitied. It just goes to show that even at one of the world’s premiere universities, ignorance and intolerance thrive.

    I am still waiting for a response from the administration…how about it, folks?

  • ohno

    Does anyone have any information regarding who was responsible for the ROFL crosses? Just a random campus troll? I never actually saw one of them – did they have other text or just the picture of the cross?

    In any case, I’m secular, but the act was immature and insulting. I’ve been attending services for Holy Week since Palm Sunday, and I will continue to do so, and to draw enjoyment from the music, the ceremony, and the message. Happy Good Friday.

  • thunderhen2010

    really great article!

  • InterestedInBiology

    I’m not a Christian, but I can recognize the brilliance of this article when I see it. Now this is a mature, intelligent, and indeed CHRISTIAN way to approach what happened. Yesterday’s whiny, victim-playing article was an embarrassment.

  • redman

    It’s interesting that you transform bullying into evil but you seem to be in denial that it exists. How would you describe the prank? Childish, moronic?
    It’s nice to know that you are a Glen Beck fan, I wasn’t aware of his theory.

  • sep092

    I appreciate this article, I really do, but I have to point out: the cross is not an insult. Christians who wear the cross aren’t reminding themselves constantly of how insulting it was that Jesus was killed; rather, they are reminding themselves of His unimaginable sacrifice for us. The cross is not a symbol of righteousness, but a symbol of deep humility– we remind ourselves that Jesus allowed himself to die in such a way, all out of love for us and desire to absolve our sins.

  • tommyandwossen

    this is wonderful stuff garrett. what a deep and stirring reflection. thanks

  • Inigo_Montoya

    Wonderful, Garrett. We may not agree on matters of religion, but you have expressed your position eloquently. Please keep writing.

  • virginiayalie

    AMEN!!! :)
    Hebrews 12:2

  • sacul

    @ Redman: you seem to misinterpret my comment in two major ways:

    1) I do not deny the existence of evil. I affirm its existence completely, and I see its purest manifestation in the self-righteous gaze of those who condemn everyone else around them as evil. Hence, a display on Cross campus that is subject to multiple interpretations is not merely mystifying, absurd, or even immature; it cannot be an idiosyncratic depiction of the Crucifixion; it must be bullying, tyrannical, sadistic – in a word evil.

    2) I am *not* a Glenn Beck fan. I point out his theory as exemplary of this tendency to extrapolate, from one phenomenon, all sorts of sinister subtexts that do not exist except in one’s paranoid psyche.

  • amandal

    fantastic article.

  • The Anti-Yale

    The cross is a ‘symbol’. Symbols are open to interpretation. Since there are hundreds of different Christian sects, the meaning of the symbol differs with different groups.


  • uncommons

    amazing job. besides the quality of the writing – which was great – the message was much more profound than yesterday’s column. i’m not very religious but i thought this was really inspiring.

  • glibmonster

    This is really beautiful. Snaps.

  • zyxwvu

    I’m an atheist. I’m not going to defend the ROFL cross. It was in poor taste. That said, I have a problem with the conclusion of your piece. You say that “people then, as now, went to such lengths to humiliate Jesus, to mock Jesus, and ultimately to kill Jesus.” By saying this, you’re painting those of us who dare to challenge Christian doctrine today as malevolent people who would have killed Jesus himself given the chance. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Atheists and agnostics are not trying to humiliate Christians. Almost nobody in modern American society is trying to humiliate Christians. We are just asking people to examine why they believe what they believe, and where those beliefs originated. Though the ROFL cross was offensive, I would wager that whoever planted it there did so as a provocative statement and not as an expression of violence towards Christians. Your writing is well-intentioned, but by interpreting modern challenges to Christianity as an attack, you are cutting off an honest dialogue about religion that I think our society needs to have.

  • nutella

    zyxwvu, I think you’ve missed the point. He’s saying the person(s) who did the ROFL cross are trying to mock Christianity, not that anyone who disagrees with it is. Seemed pretty clear to me. This was a great piece, Garrett, great job.

  • Frashizzle

    I like your suggestion that the the ROFL cross encourages honest dialogue about religion… It obviously doesn’t. (Maybe it has encouraged debate about the cross itself but certainly not religion). It’s a shamefully sarcastic display. That the poster does not indicate who created it leaves one to wonder whether he or she actually wanted his or her views to be challenged or discussed. It appears that this particular person wanted little more than to make a smartass-y remark and then hide away… presumably because our society has come to generalize (sometimes baseless) attacks against religion as “smart” and (sometimes valid) defenses of religion as “dumb.”

    If the maker of this cross wishes to have a thoughtful discussion about the philosophical and technical merits of theism or the foundations of Christianity, then I would be glad to partake. Until such a time, I would suggest, the next time anyone with a printer has a quip, that he or she just hold it in, form it into a coherent thought, and express it with appropriate dignity.

  • Frashizzle

    P.S. I’ve never, Never met a Christian (in real life… not Glen Beck or Rush Limbaugh) who wasn’t open to discussing the reasoning behind his or her belief God or the morality of Christian values, in an intellectual forum. That being said, I’ve never met a human being who was willing to put his or her beliefs in front of a firing-squad of mocking and unrelenting denouncement.

  • whydoIhaveaname

    See this is why I don’t like telling people I’m an Atheist; It’s uncomfortable for me knowing that people assume that they have to tiptoe around me for fear of provoking a polemic. Every time there’s even the faintest trace of religion sullying the air there’s guaranteed to be a bunch of self righteous atheists/agnostics/humanists protesting in the streets and turning up their noses. In absolutely no way was his concluding remark directed towards people who want honest, sincere and open dialogue–what you, as a self proclaimed atheist, take for people like yourself–and yet you absolutely have to take offense and turn it into something about you.
    Sure, it goes both ways. Sometimes I worry that I have to be extra careful what I say in that kind of context as well; and sure, their are plenty of self righteous believers. But jeeze, besides the fact that I don’t believe in God, I’d always considered my atheism a turn away from the dogma and the sanctimony and the “everything is an issue” attitude…
    How can we expect to have honest dialogue when honesty and sincerity is not rewarded but criticized, when we even can’t get past the petty politics and power struggles to actually listen to what someone else is saying. You know what he’s trying to say.
    Though I no longer consider myself a catholic, I think that the point Garrett Fiddler is trying to make here, and what Jesus Christ means to a lot of people, about sacrifice and compassion for others, is a message that transcends any one faith, and even faith at all. Atheist or not, that’s one thing I can believe in.

  • whydoIhaveaname

    and sorry, that was in reference to zyxwvu

  • Goldie08

    nicely done, from a jew

  • Leah

    Add me to the list of atheists who appreciated this column.

  • joematcha

    This was such a wonderful surprise to find in the pages of the YDN today. Thanks so much for writing this.

  • penny_lane

    This column is a fantastic piece in this atheist’s eyes as well.

  • The Anti-Yale

    These posts and the posts for yesterday’s article on the ROFL controversy at Yale delineate the dichotomy in America between the Hallmark-Greeting-Card-Country-Club-Christianity-of-Latter-Day-Literalists and the Emersonian Christianity of Metaphor and Transcendent Suffering in all Being.


    Worthy of Easter.

  • eli1

    Someone please call up the feds. This is obviously creating a hsotile school environment against Christians. As a Catholic I feel threatened to attend classes with people who might try to incite violence against me because of my religious beliefs. I don’t know how I will make it.

    In all seriousness though, the hypocrisy at this school never ceases to amaze me. I cannot wait to graduate and get out of here.

  • InterestedInBiology

    Right, Eli1, get out into real world where there’s no such thing as hypocrisy.

  • peterindc

    I graduated 10 years ago, and see that Yale hasn’t changed much in the past decade, that it is still a place where it is difficult to live out one’s faith. But thankfully, it is still a place where faithful Believers are graciously and clearly articulating what Christianity truly is.

    Mr. Fiddler, I and the countless other followers of Christ who have come out of those walls stand with you. And I’ll be rolling on the floor laughing with you, in a couple of days.

  • zyxwvu

    @whydoihaveaname: I appreciate your response, and in retrospect I was probably reading too much into that particular sentence. I would have agreed with your sentiments a couple years ago – I went through a phase where I tried to downplay my atheism, where I was careful to avoid rocking the boat with any comments. Ultimately, though, I think that’s unproductive, because it stifles conversation and prevents us from really understanding how others think about these issues. In dialogue, criticism IS the reward you get for your honesty and sincerity. Not mocking criticism, but criticism that challenges your views and asks the tough, “impolite” questions. That’s what makes for meaningful, frank discussions, and it’s only possible if people develop a little thicker skin – if we all can control our emotions better and learn not to take offense when others express their strongly held beliefs. I certainly was not offended by Garret Fiddler’s article (it was very well written). I just wanted to raise the point that the ROFL cross was likely put there by someone looking to provoke a hysterical reaction, not to make light of the history of religious persecution (I certainly hope not at least). I also feel that people should not take this incident as “proof” that Christians face widespread hostility at Yale and in America.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “Believers are graciously and clearly articulating what Christianity truly is.”

    There are dozens of different Christianities from Orthodox to Roman Catholic to Evangelical to Mormon to Unitarian to English Catholic to Quaker to Shaker and on and on.

    It is IMPOSSIBLE for the phrase “What Christianity truly is” to have a consensus definition.

    It is similar to saying “What love truly is.” (which BTW has a pretty famous definition in 1 Cor. 13 ! )

    Have an inspiring, DIVERSE, Easter.

    Paul Keane

    M.Div. ’80

  • RexMottram08

    Crusade history FAIL.

    See: Paul Friedman’s Birth of Europe class.

  • putumayam

    Garrett, what a wonderful article. Thanks for writing it. Much as I love Yale, I remember it wasn’t the easiest place in the world to be a practising Christian. Kudos to you for your courage. Happy Easter! He is risen indeed. – A friend from the class of ’01

  • The Anti-Yale

    “Good to remember that he was beaten and mocked and killed so that you didn’t have to be — because you deserved it”

    I hope this “it” in the sentence above is a case of an unposited referent.

    Otherwise we must ask: Why IN HEAVEN’S NAME would any human being DESERVE to be beaten and mocked and killed?

    Because s/he ate an apple, disobeying an autocratic patriarch in a Babylonian garden thousands of years ago?

    Such a masochistic self-flagellatory, self-crucifixion, interpretation of Christianity does untold damage to the human psyche and is antithtetical to the spirit of Easter.

    Paul D. Keane

    M.Div. ’80

  • Ciarrai

    Say what you will, the fact remains that no “ROFL” would ever be placed on a Koran, a symbol of gay rights, Special olympics or any of the cherished minority references. However, no brouhaha is heard from admin when the Cross of Christ is defaced so insultingly. Chickenhawks. As long as the protest may be violent or prolonged (or both), Yale will rise to the occasion with the appropriate moral outrage and demand that the behavior stop. Has that been heard on the “ROFL” insult?

  • The Anti-Yale


    No brouhaha is made by the Yale Administration or the Divinity School or the Chaplain’s Office because they understand the history of the theology behind INRI and recognize that the cross was NOT DEFACED by substituting ROFL for INRI.

    You can’t deface INRI by UPDATING Pontius Pilate’s insult with a MODERN DAY EQUIVALENT. Rolling on the Floor Laughing (ROFL) is precisely what Pontius Pilate was doing when he put “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Judeans” (INRI) on Jesus’s cross.

    If anything, the “ROFL incident” has brought some needed intellectual discussion to Easter at Yale.

    Bravo for that!

    Paul Keane

    M. Div. ’80

  • emresoner

    Were it not for the ROFL tab on this cross, the university would be denouncing this stunt as a hate crime against non-Christians.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Some of the faithful have a deep seated NEED to embrace a persecution-ideation in order to feel fully participant in the Crucifixion choreography of this annual three-day event.

    That NEED has been inculcated since childhood and cannot be removed with an appeal to facts or logic.

    Ideation is not logical.

    Paul Keane

    M. Div, ’80

  • roganjosh

    We have to forgive them whose poor intellects admit ad hominem argument as ‘rational’ discourse, because they simply don’t know any better. Most of those people were admitted only because of a decision in 2005 to sacrifice intellectual caliber for a social justice agenda whose worth is still being tested, but for many of us does not yet seem to justify the cost.

  • y10alum


  • SY14

    still impressive.

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