symbolic. He just stood there. He didn’t carry a sign, he didn’t throw rocks, he didn’t offer arguments pro or con about the appropriateness of constructing a shopping mall on the site of the last park in Istanbul. He just stood there. Word of his protest, and more importantly, his picture quickly spread and hundreds of his countrymen were inspired to join him. No religious issues are overtly at stake in this face down between Turkish citizens and their government, a government which represents a ground-breaking success for secularism in a part of the world where this is far from the norm. What is at stake, and what the success of Mr. Gunduz’ protest demonstrates is the importance of symbolism to human beings. The park at risk of being bulldozed has a symbolic meaning for the citizens of Istanbul, a meaning which brought them to
Taskim Square in such large (and loud) numbers that their own government found it necessary to tear gas them. The response to the government’s subsequent ban on group assemblies is the standing man – a living symbol of the rights of the individual against the power of police, guns, tear gas and economic policy. The symbol evoked a response no argument could have.
Secularism is a work in progress. We humans are new to operating without transcendent imagery, divine or otherwise. The fact is, we can’t and we shouldn’t. We need new symbols, better symbols – trying to manage with no symbols isn’t who we are. Our need for symbolism to help us cope with our confusing world led to the development of formal religion, and will survive it. Whether the standing man is Erdem Gunduz or Jesus Christ, it’s the symbol that speaks to us, not the politics or the dogma. In the secular world, we going to need all the symbols we can get. It looks like we just got one. Thank you, Erdem.
on the Global Secular Humanist