July 31, 2008

If You Think About It, He Must Have Had Them

A private prosecution has been undertaken in England against a London art gallery that is exhibiting a statue of Jesus with an erection underneath his robes. Christians, do yourself a favor -- don't click on the link unless you really want to see the photograph of the statue in question. Your imagination is, I assure you, is all you need.

Is it vulgar? Sure. Crude? You bet. Intentionally offensive, particularly to devout Christians? I rather suspect that was at least part of the artist's objective. But don't they have some kind of concept of freedom of speech there in the UK? Freedom of speech is not just for speech that most people find socially acceptable. That's as true in the UK as it is here.

And if you think about it, Jesus was a man. Men get erections, that's part of what it is to be a man. To say he was fully human means that this, too, was part of his human experience. If you believe he was also God, then this admittedly crude reminder of what it is to be human might be bothersome to you, but on the other hand it might just make you think for a second about what God becoming human really meant in practice. Seems to me that's a worthy subject of contemplation for a religious person. And for skeptics like me, it points out what is being claimed by the religious when they say Jesus was fully man and fully God at the same time.

Oh, and what's the deal with a "private prosecution"? Is that UK lawspeak for a civil action based on violation of a criminal law, something like what we would call negligence per se here in the states? Or can private citizens really initiate criminal prosecutions if the Crown refuses to do it? British lawyers out there, help me out here, please.


Orange Phantom said...

let's see Mohammed with a 'woodie'. And then let's see how THEY react....

That's the difference between them and us. The statue doesn't particularly bother me. To me it demonstrates more of a shock value thing than art. Hey I can take a crap on the sidewalk and claim it's free speech and what's the skill in that?

Here's art: does it affect anyone's values? In this case NO. Is its purpose to make anyone feel more intelligent? In this case NO. Art should elevate one's appreciation of humanity. All this does is attempt to elevate one's self by demeaning someone else. We should have gotten through that in 1st grade (which is likely the intelligence and emotional level of the 'artist')

Burt Likko said...

Careful, now. Your sneering reaction to the story suggests that the statute, and the idea of Jesus as a man who experienced sexual feelings and maybe even sexual attracting to some other person, are things that actually DO bother you.

Hopefully you won't go burn down the nearest ceramics boutique, though.

Sylvia said...

Throughout art history Jesus was the only man where it was considered appropriate to portray him with an erection, and I've seen many slides of ancient paintings depicting him this way.
While today it may be considered shocking, for a long time it was normal

Burt Likko said...

I had no idea any of that was true, Sylvia! I know the Romans depicted one of their fertility gods named Priapus with erections of almost comic proportions; I assume you're excluding classical and earlier art from your statement because one can find plenty of erections in classical art.

But I'd no idea that there were historical depictions of an erect Jesus thought by contemporaries to be unremarkable. I can speculate about the artistic rationale -- a man with an erection is visibly sexually potent, and therefore possessed of more power and life as compared to the flaccid men surrounding him. But given the weird anti-sexuality that pervades the Epistles of Paul, my impression was that even early Christians were squeamish about frank illustrations of sexuality.

This contemporary illustration of Jesus sporting wood, however, strikes me as unlikely to have been intended to convey the idea that Jesus is a powerful and virile man. I think it's much more a comment on contemporary attitudes about sexuality, using religious imagery to underline the artist's point. But that's just me.