This is Faith in Play #69: Steeple, for August 2023.
There is something in Jewish history we call the Diaspora. It refers to the fact that having been driven from their homeland many Jews settled in nations throughout the world. It may have begun with the Assyrian Empire and perhaps is technically still happening today. But they brought their Judaism with them, and they began building what we still call synagogues, a Greek word that means leading together, where they would gather, read from very expensive scrolls containing the scriptures, and worship God.
Judaism being so defined by regulations, the rabbis dictated the requirements for creating a synagogue. Among them was that the building had to be set on the highest ground in the village, town, or city, so that it could be seen by Jews coming to the town and they would know where to gather. Obviously, though, it was not always possible for Jews to take possession of the highest ground in any particular city. They were not usually first to arrive, and such property was frequently already in use for some other purpose. Thus there was a substitute requirement: if you could not build the synagogue on the highest ground in town, you had to erect a pole alongside it that was taller than any other building in town, so that it could effectively be a beacon guiding Jews to this place.
This appears to be the origin of our church steeples, a practice Christian churches adopted from Jewish synagogues once it was legally permitted to practice the Christian religion.
The stated purpose of such an object was to provide a rallying point for Christians. Indeed, eventually we added bells to them, so that people could both see and hear the meeting place. Yet there is a secondary effect of such structures: they say, as Mister Scott might have put it, “There be Christians here.” We are here, and this is where you can find us.
It strikes me that this is part of the reality of religions–not just Christianity, but many other religions build structures which say, we are here–temples of Aphrodite and Athena, mosques and minarets, cathedrals. They should be part of the landscape in our game worlds, whatever they are.
It also strikes me that we as Christians in the “geek” world also have to raise our steeples, lift our banners, put ourselves where we can be seen so that we will gather. We’ve been doing that, running worship services and holding panels and booths at game conventions, to let people know that there are Christians here. It’s easy to think you’re the only one if you aren’t connected to anyone else. If you raise the steeple, you give others the opportunity to find you, and so to assure you that you are not alone. It also lets the world out there know that there are still some who believe.