On the Symbolic Role of Greek Secrecy

Anthony Bennett

What does the secrecy of our rituals mean?

Those moments when all the doors are locked, all the blinds drawn. Why are they the moments of clarity for us? The little idiosyncrasies in our words and actions, imperceptible to most everyone but transparent to our brothers and sisters. Why do they hold so much meaning?

When (unless you were luckier than I) your church group/high school friends from home found out you went Greek, and attacked the stereotypes that summarized their entire interface with Greek Life, what made you defend it so passionately? Why was “some club” such a part of you, and why was its defense a defense of yourself as well?

The answer lies not in the children’s game which non-Greeks may stereotype as a “secret club.” Neither does it lie in the theology of the modern world, which I believe is entirely too focused on the notion of a “personal relationship” with God and far too murky on one’s relationship to the world. To find the answer, we must go back to the time of the founding of our orders, and to the conclusions of God’s will when His life, death and resurrection were still fresh memories.

In the early days of Christianity, persecution by the Romans was not an idle threat; every waking moment of these Christians’ lives was devoted to their survival and the furthering of their mission. They could not spread the Message if they were dead. Where secrecy without reflection becomes little more than an indulgence for us, secrecy was a tool for their survival. They knew each other by secret signs, met in areas with no danger of detection, and spoke in hushed tones, fearful of discovery at every turn. Despite this harried lifestyle, and undeterred by the terrible consequences that awaited their comrades without the cunning or intelligence or luck to avoid that discovery, they pressed on. They had been charged with changing the world by an Authority that could not be denied. They would not fail, even if it meant they weren’t around to reap the rewards. For better or worse, and all things tend to be both when man attempts to enact God’s will without His ability, they have succeeded: the name of Christ is known in every corner in the world, and their dens of secrecy have been replaced by magnificent, even opulent testaments to the glory of God.

Turn now to the time of the founding of your Greek organization. The war for American independence was not relegated to textbooks as now; our collective founders were at most great-grandsons of Liberty. Secrecy for them had the aforementioned connotations, punctuated with modernity all its own. Their fathers and grandfathers had told of a novel but not new idea: the right of the people to govern themselves. They met as the disciples did, away from the manifold ears of King George. The move was not without cost, and they threatened to pay dearly were they unsuccessful. But any attempt at reconsideration met the same end: theirs was a cause they could not fail, even if the reward was reaped by the grandchildren to whom the stories were now told. Their goal: to change their own nation, and let the world follow. Though admittedly aided by advantages not at the disposal of the disciples, their mission was no less successful: the consent of the governed is the standard of the free world, by which all its nations are ruled.

In the context of the time of their founding, the idea of men united by a common secret was romantic, conveying the image of a cloister or the grassroots of a revolution. As the age of reckless hazing and its dire consequences came and passed, the secrecy took a more ominous tone, that of wondering the extent of the “free pass” offered by the oaths not to divulge a secret.

The time has come to reclaim that revolutionary standard, to pick it up and dust it off where the last generation let it fall. The stakes have been lowered consistently, but the goal remains the same: ours is a mission we cannot fail. We must rebuild our own community around the virtues with which it was formed. Then, we must go out into the world at large, and accomplish the same. Like others before us, we are charged by God and by our Founders with changing the world. Like others before us, we cannot fail. We will not fail.

Anthony is a sophomore Sigma Chi at Jacksonville University – where he is a film major with minors in English, music, and written communications. He enjoys writing, the arts, and being a Sigma Chi.

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