Friday, September 05, 2008

Blasphemy! Jesus, the penis, and Conservative Party coffers

He did not say he was the erection and the life, though he was tempted in every way we were (Heb 4:15), and so must have confronted issues of sexuality. But Satan found nothing in him (Jn 14:30). Cranmer does not intend to delve into the divisive arguments which confronted the Early Church on the nature of Christ’s divinity and his humanity, but to focus on the controversy which has been caused by a statue of Jesus with an erect penis, which is on display at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead.

It forms part of the exhibition ‘Gone, Yet Still’ by Chinese artist Terence Koh, which also features dozens of plaster figures including Mickey Mouse and ET - all in the same state of arousal.

But this was a blasphemy too far for Emily Mapfuwa, a 40-year-old Christian from Brentwood, who has launched a private prosecution against the gallery for ‘outraging public decency’ and ‘causing harassment, alarm and distress to the public’. Ms Mapfuwa argues the Baltic would not have dared depict the prophet Mohammad in such a way.

Cranmer has no doubt that she is right on the last point, but, as he has previously observed, this is because the UK’s blasphemy laws which once related to Jesus and the Church of England have been repealed and supplanted by a de facto blasphemy law which now protects Mohammed and Allah, all under the guise of the ‘religious hatred’ legislation.

Yet in our postmodern, fractured, fragmented and bewildering world of subjectivity, blasphemy is now very much in the ears and eyes of the beholder. Only recently, the Pope himself became embroiled in the issue of a crucified frog which he deemed blasphemous because it ‘wounds the religious sentiments of so many people who see in the cross the symbol of God's love’. Yet others disagree, rightly noting that tens of thousands of people were crucified, and one is left to conclude that the frog’s name is Brian.

Dr John Hayward of the Jubliee Centre quotes Marshall McLuhan: ‘I think of art, at its most significant, as…a distant early warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it.’

Yet McLuhan was not original in this observation: it has its genesis in the words of Shakespeare on play acting. Thus the function of art is ‘to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure’.

The contention is that the artist is not therefore guilty of blasphemy, but of holding a mirror up to nature, which is his very vocational task. For it is not the sexual Jesus which is his theme, but the sexualisation of everything, which is the obsession of the very age and body of the time. By devoting so much time, effort and money to issues of sexuality, instead of challenging society by deconstructing the obsession or focusing on poverty and wealth (for example), Christians are simply showing themselves to share the same obsessions as the world. Dr Hayward observes: ‘My guess is that anyone offended by a statue of Jesus with an erection (whether or not they are Christian) is likely to consider any statue with an erection distasteful. Arguably, such a statue could be a celebration of the Son of God's humanity and God's blessing of the sexual nature that he has created us all to have. Clearly, set as it was among a collection of other pop icons, Koh's statue had more to say about the values of modern society.’

The irony, of course, is that by bringing her high-profile case to court, Emily Mapfuwa delivers the gallery and the statue's owner millions of pounds worth of free publicity. The negative reaction or over-reaction therefore compounds the alleged blasphemy, not least because the courts of this world will not uphold Ms Mapfuwa’s interpretation of ‘outrage’ or ‘harassment’. There is simply an insufficient number of Christians rioting in the streets for the peace and security of the realm to be threatened.

But this artistic and theological dispute has become an acutely political one. The Conservative Christian Fellowship is in accord with the charge of blasphemy: 'We have an excellent history in this country of freedom of expression and thought. But we also have a Christian heritage which deserves some respect. A work like this needs to be treated with contempt. The artist was clearly just trying to shock and the people who should answer for it are the people who allowed it to happen. They should be treated with contempt.'

But it transpires that the statue is owned by one Anita Zabludowicz, whose husband, Poju, is the 24th richest man in the country, and has donated £70,000 to the Conservative Party.

Thus the more publicity this exhibition attracts, the more shall Mr Zabludowicz be able to contribute to the Conservative Party’s fighting fund for the next General Election. God bless Emily Mapfuwa!


Anonymous the recusant said...

In point of fact, the plastic frog of the Bolzano museum mockery, and the contempt that employed it, have very ancient precedents. What is purportedly the oldest known image of the crucifix is a graffito scrawled into a the wall of an excavated guardroom near Rome's Circus Maximus; it's usually dated to around 200AD. It shows a man standing beside a crucified figure with a head of a donkey, and (in shaky Greek) the words "Alexamenos worships (his) God." In mocking the Christian Alexamenos, the anonymous graffitist is a spiritual forebear of the Andres Serranos and Steve Rosenthals and Martin Kippenbergers of our own day. The paradox is that in each case their malice backfires, and eventually comes to bolster the piety it sets out to belittle.

Today the Alexamenos graffito is treasured by Christians; it is a testimony to an embattled faith. Were it to be defaced or destroyed it is believers, not sneering heathen, who would mourn the loss. It's not impossible that the Bolzano Imposture might be accorded a similar value two millennia from now. Blasphemy never fully attains its goal, because it never takes the full measure of its object. There's something poignant in the theological misunderstanding betrayed by the attempt to mock Jesus as a crucified donkey or frog. The crucifixion itself was a humiliation, a humiliation Christ willingly embraced ("He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave … and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross"). To trick out the crucified one as a figure of ridicule confirms rather than undercuts the Christian understanding of the event. A century and a half before the Alexamenos graffitist St. Paul had already instructed us that the crucifixion was folly to the Greeks. Pagan mockery proves his point. Perhaps this is why Jesus taught "Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him." It's not the Son of Man who's diminished by blasphemy, but his assailant.

5 September 2008 at 11:24  
Anonymous the recusant said...

Link "Alexamenos worships (his) God."

5 September 2008 at 11:26  
Blogger Little Black Sambo said...

Isn't that the gallery which exhibited Nan Goldin's photographs, some of were withdrawn after complaints, because they showed naked children?

5 September 2008 at 13:07  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The art is not in the piece, the art is in the reaction."

Anon. 2008

5 September 2008 at 13:07  
Anonymous najistani said...

Blasphemy? You ain't seen nuthin yet!

The burkha-ripping historical novel of Mohammed's perverted lust for the child Aisha is going to be published in Britain.

5 September 2008 at 14:42  
Blogger Christian said...

"The art is not in the piece, the art is in the reaction."

Thus have spoken degenerates and provocateurs in every age. Art should be the Good the True and the Beautiful. This is none of those things and is nothing more than the putrefaction of a dead culture now mocked, and not comforted, by the the glories of its past.

5 September 2008 at 16:39  
Anonymous len said...

Great art ie (michaengelo)
glorified God ,Glorified man.
This sad attempt at art ridicules, pulls down,denigrates,and should be put in the trashcan wher it belongs!

5 September 2008 at 17:43  
Blogger mckenzie said...

the recusant.

In awe once again. This is why I come here. My own first instincts were that of Emily Mapfuwa, and a slight annoyance with His Grace. I am in an ever state of cautious reservation over my own lacking instincts, so I appreciate this education.

5 September 2008 at 17:47  
Anonymous I Albion said...

while I am as a Christian,saddened at these people who take pleasure in defiling all things good.
For an "artist"Terence Koh has a strange idea of the male anatomy.
Or perhaps Mr. Koh's penis is situated on his knee.

5 September 2008 at 17:58  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

More likely on his head!

5 September 2008 at 18:08  
Anonymous Brita said...

@ i albion: exactly my reaction. Then I decided that maybe this Japanese had even shorter legs than usual.

anonymous, I do agree! And you take us back to His Grace's blog- reference to the present-day 'carnification' of everything: the very reason why I don't watch TV, listen to their noise (they think it's music), or read their books and other scribbles.

We have been subjected to this before; most noticeably, I suggest, under french influence - e.g. the Roman de la Rose, and then just about anything Jacobean or Restoration. I believe that the present outbreak is part of the marxist/deconstructionist agenda- those 'philosophers' having espoused and propagated for their cause the vile doctrines of Freud, Lacan, etc. Application of such ideas is a political weapon for the subjugation of populations- the Romans used it in their 'civilization' programme (bath houses etc. cf Tacitus). And what else is the 'honey trap' so popularized in spy fiction? And Huxley depicts it in "Brave New World."

So, thank you, the recusant. I love your: "Blasphemy never fully attains its goal, because it never takes the full measure of its object." In a related vein, perhaps the filth-mongers never understand that people don't enjoy moral disease and debilitation any more than the physical kind- I believe that eventually, when they understand the difference, they will long for (metaphorical) clean air, food, and Christian love.
How long will it take, though?

5 September 2008 at 20:27  
Anonymous Brita said...

P.S. And how do we protect the children, in the meanwhile? Isn't that as important communally as individually? Their corruption, I have to believe, is the base that created, Freud, Lacan, and their disciples....

5 September 2008 at 20:35  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting that a frog was used!.
Apparently if you place a frog in water an turn up the temperature imperceptively you can apparently cook the frog without him noticing. ( I haven`t tried this!)
This is what is happening to the morals of this nation,We will all wake up one day to find we have lost all that made this country and this nation Great.

5 September 2008 at 20:56  
Blogger islamafoebei said...

Miss Emily should be supported--not for her resistance to "art"--but for her resistance to muslim preferential treatment. Why call Brown out and then give the Centre a pass?

5 September 2008 at 21:10  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a problem with CofE return to Catholicism in many ways- one of which is the re-adoption of the crucifix. Personally, I prefer the plain cross, not only aesthetically but also on the grounds that in-my-face figuration of a crucified man smacks of affective piety. And I think that is very sick, very euro, and right in line with deconstruction. Basically, my argument there is that the imagery feeds sado-masochism.

From another angle: I suppose the RSPCA couldn't object to this stuff? I don't want to look at suffering animals either - and since we must sacrifice them for food, then I agree that we should recognize what we're doing, do it humanely, and thank God for His sustenance: at least say grace. Yes...even a passing reference to these horrible images can deepen our Christianity!

6 September 2008 at 01:09  
Blogger Christian said...

Surely you have no problem with a daily reminder of the suffering our Lord endured for our salvation and a reminder of his true, first hand, knowledge of humanity's wretched condition on earth? A wish to be one with centuries of Christian piety is hardly affected either. No, no, no, it is only the modern mind that has become so detached from reality and devotion that causes the modern horror of seeing anything arresting.

As for encouraging sado-masochism, I think that really is just an old anti-catholic myth with no real foundation in reality. The great protestant Public Schools of the nineteenth century were far crueler than most Jesuit colleges and the Vicar in Tess of the d'Urbervilles further proves that protestant clergy is just as capable of masochism.

It is just a sad fact that humanity is fallen and in not a few people that expresses itself in a certain natural cruelty, just as some are lazy and others sensuous.

6 September 2008 at 01:22  
Blogger Christian said...

PS: Oops! Sorry I meant the sadism not masochism of the Vicar in Tess of the d'Urbervilles.

6 September 2008 at 01:24  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Christian: no I don't have a problem with the reminder. I just don't want it to be graphic: I personally respond better to symbolism, and I value the freedom to escape from nightmare-inducing images of other people's nightmares! I believe God put us here to function on His behalf, if we can; not to wallow about in emotion and its disorders.

I confess to ignorance of the anti-catholic myth you refer to. My term 'affective piety' refers not to a simple reminder of Christ's suffering, but to one which dwells on His physical pain in a deliberate attempt to elicit emotion and psychological response from the viewer. In the medieval texts I've read (including Bridget, Catherine of Siena, Margery, and Julian), such manipulation has struck me as dangerous and unhealthy. It did so as well in the context of modern (and Protestant) Scotland, where a homilist paraded a whip and huge six inch nails in front of the congregation - whom he presumably considered too dense to imagine such implements for themselves. So really I see this type of piety as an insult in two senses of that word (insult).

I'm also certainly not claiming that Protestants, or any Christians, are perfect or unfallen beings. My unwillingness to meditate on evil that is manifest doesn't mean I'm incapable of recognizing it! Rather, I'm saying, "How could anyone miss it, anyway!" Hardy, in Tess, is revealing hypocrisy and hidden evil - and pointing out just the kind of person who might encourage my understanding of affective piety.

So I couldn't agree more that we are all a part of fallen humanity -or we wouldn't have to be here at all. But I think God gave us will, mind, and material existence; and then set us free to choose what to do with our physical perceptions. Your cruel, lazy, and sensuous are all aspects of those perceptions and decisions, it seems to me.

So I'd rather meditate on the Word of God and of his disciples, thank you. After all, it's difficult for a fallen soul even to begin to understand the immensity of His mercy in giving us the chance.

6 September 2008 at 02:28  
Blogger Unitalian said...

Albeit un-erect, I recently mused on a penis of Jesus I "uncovered" in Ravenna here

You Orthodox Christians are crazy!

6 September 2008 at 10:10  
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16 September 2008 at 08:11  
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