Art and the “Jesus Event”

An artwork that shows Star Wars characters nailed to crosses has sparked controversy before its public debut at a Melbourne gallery in two weeks. The Herald-Sun reports that the controversial piece called Crusci-fiction consists of a roomful of 25 replicas of robot C3P0 hanging on crosses.”

At first I didn’t react very strongly to this story. I just rolled my eyes and chalked it up as just another example of hateful garbage masquerading as art. It’s not the first nor will it be the last we’ll see. I’d rather these craptastic works of modern “art” not be inflicted upon the world, but I see them as inevitable. After all Christ siad, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” (John 15:18-21)

What really caught my interest in this article was the difference between the Catholic and Anglican response.

“Vicar-General of the Catholic Archdiocese, Monsignor Les Tomlinson, said the crucifixion is very sacred to all Christians because it depicts Jesus ‘in the very act of winning salvation for mankind’. ‘To trivialise it is offensive,’ he said. ‘It’s disappointing that Christian symbols seem to be able to be ridiculed, but those of other religions or groups are not.’ He said people offended should peacefully contact the gallery to express their views.”

“Anglican spokesman David Richardson, who is Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, was unfazed by the artwork. ‘On first glance, as an image of crucifixion, Crusci-fiction seems fairly inoffensive,’ he said. ‘It makes an interesting contrast to Mel Gibson’s take on the Jesus event. ‘Christians don’t have a monopoly on crucifixion so I don’t see this as especially blasphemous.'”

“Jesus event”?! I never cease to be amazed by how far from orthodoxy the Anglican Communion has fallen, though at this point I really ought to. Rev. Richardson’s remark reminds me of Pontificator’s dressing down of “Father” Joseph O’Leary. In it, he outlines some signs of when to accept or ignore a theologian’s opinions. I would extend that to all clergymen.

  • How many times does the theologian use the phrase “Christ event” [or “Jesus event”]?
  • Does the theology advance the mission of the Church?
  • Does the theology respect and protect the narrative structure and historical particularities of the apostolic revelation?
  • Does the theologian intentionally locate himself in the theological, liturgical, and dogmatic Tradition of the Church?
  • Does he think with the Church?

By the way, I found the artist’s defense of his work rather reasonable – for a non-Christian. I would hope a follower of The Way would use his talents less blasphemously.

“But artist Jud Wimhurst, whose exhibition False Idols contains the contentious piece, defended his work. ‘We weren’t doing it to offend anyone,’ he said. ‘We’re talking about products and the fact that everything’s for sale. Both technology and religion are for sale today.'”

Thoughts?

Comments 18

  1. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    The art doesn’t sound too bad, when understood. But the better you understand Anglican spokespeople, the more you’d wish they’d get their funding pulled!

    Posted 07 Sep 2005 at 5:37 am
  2. jwt8 wrote:

    That justification certainly makes me feel like I’d want to see it before dismissing it as simply shock art.

    Posted 07 Sep 2005 at 3:20 pm
  3. EmilyE wrote:

    Well, as far as justifications go, that artist seems to have a completely reasonable point — both art and religion are for sale nowadays. And if that’s legitimately the point he’s trying to make, that seems a bit different than the artist who smeared a depiction of the Virgin Mary with elephant dung a few years ago. I remember being very offended by that, and I wasn’t even Catholic yet.

    Whether the artist was trying to offend anyone or not, though, I think it’s reasonable for Christians to be offended by such a portrayal. To make light of crucifixion makes light of the very means of our salvation.

    “Jesus event” ? Our salvation was simply an “event”? The word choice speaks volumes about the state of Anglican theology.

    Posted 07 Sep 2005 at 4:28 pm
  4. Tom Smith wrote:

    I think that we could very easily compile a list of terms and euphemisms, the overuse of (or simply the use of, with the rather egregious ones) which indicates heterodox theology and/or modernism. The phrase “Christ event” is just one example.

    Some others, listed alongside what they actually refer to:
    – “Omega Point,” rather than the Second Coming or End Times
    – “Faith Community,” rather than Parish
    – “Gathering Space,” rather than Vestibule or Narthex
    – “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier,” rather than Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
    – “Eucharistic Meal,” “Worship Service,” or “Communal Liturgy” rather than simply Mass
    – “Faith Tradition,” rather than Religion
    – “Presider,” rather than simply Priest
    – “Table” rather than Altar
    – “Pastoral Center,” rather than Rectory or Chancery

    Most of them are kinda comical.

    Posted 07 Sep 2005 at 10:32 pm
  5. X wrote:

    Who is to say the artist is non-christian? Maybe he is a christian drawing on the strongest story from his upbringing – Jesus?
    Judge not lest ye be judged yourself.

    Posted 08 Sep 2005 at 3:34 am
  6. Tom Smith wrote:

    X,

    The fact that he draws upon Star Wars above Christ kind of indicates that Christianity wasn’t the strongest story from his upbringing.

    And I don’t see how anyone’s being judgmental; saying that his justification for the artwork is good enough for a non-Christian is hardly judgmental.

    Posted 08 Sep 2005 at 9:40 pm
  7. Peter wrote:

    What does it matter what it’s called? “Christ event” seems perfectly reasonable to me. Isn’t the whole point supposed to be that God was incarnated in a real, historical way (the “event”) in order to redeem we wayward humans (the “Christ”)?

    Also, seems like the Anglican fellow has a point when he mentions that Christians don’t have a monopoly on crucifixion.

    Sounds to me like one of those interesting artworks that takes two conflicting ideas–pop culture on one hand and high religion on the other–and puts them together in such a way that makes us reflect whether they haven’t already been put together in our collective consciousness. Has pop culture taken the place of religion? Has religion become as banal as pop culture? They seem like pretty good questions to ask, in my opinion.

    Posted 11 Sep 2005 at 9:26 pm
  8. Tom Smith wrote:

    Petey,

    The reason that it matters what we call the life of Christ is because we minimize it by calling it the “Christ event;” it’s put on the same level as “sporting event” or “historical event.” The phrase makes Christ’s life something static and irrelevant, and, linguistically, puts it on the same level as a “sporting event.”

    And I disagree that the Anglican spokesman’s comment about the lack of a Christian monopoly on crucifixion is relevant. It’s true that others were crucified, but it isn’t true that it’s the central focus of an entire religion. When someone utilizes crucifixion in art, it’s pretty clear that they’re not trying to get people to think of Buddhism, Islam, or Hinduism, don’t you think?

    Posted 12 Sep 2005 at 5:10 pm
  9. Andrew Nichols wrote:

    The term “Christ event” may seem a little odd, but the term in itself doesn’t point to any flaw in theology. Whether or not you like the terminology he uses is irrelevant—what he means by them is what is important.

    Tom, with the exception of “Omega Point” (which simply sounds silly) I don’t see any problem with any of the terms you mock. For that matter, it’s not as if all of those specific terms are taken straight from the Bible.

    ‘Mass’ certainly isn’t, nor is ‘Vestibule’, ‘Parish’, or ‘Narthex’.

    As for the art itself, he seems to have a pretty good point. My question is, when will the church get over itself and learn to accept alternative ways of worship? As long as the gospel message is not compromised, I don’t care how someone worships or what terminology they use.

    Posted 12 Sep 2005 at 10:46 pm
  10. Peter wrote:

    I don’t see much logic in your contention that using the terminological form of “X event” immediately gives all X events the same valueless banality. In fact, you seem to be twisting the word “event” into its opposite, making it mean “non-event”; you imply that because the English language has recently made the word more common, it therefore now means the opposite of what we think it means. So, by your logic, labeling something an “event” is like saying that it doesn’t matter whether it happened. Sort of a strange way of thinking, as I see it.

    But I think your argument runs back to one of the most basic reasons for the creation and maintenance of religious institutions: the perpetuation of a learned elite who control access to religious ideas by controlling the language and making sure that the vocabulary remains outside of ordinary discourse. It is easier to rationalize the professionalization of priests and theologians when they can use mysterious terms like “incarnation” or “parousia” (second coming) or “soteriology” and keep the ordinary minds of the laity from thinking much about the nuts and bolts of the cosmology in which they’re expected to live.

    Why is the RCC so enamored of its Latin? Because using a dead language creates a linguistic sphere of circumspection that lends to the disorientation of understanding that is conducive to an experience of “mystery.” The otherness of the language, of the forms of the liturgy and other rituals, makes it such that rational thought about the meaning or conceptual structure undergirding these things is effectively discouraged. Now, why would religion want to do that? Why would it want to keep people from talking about the transcendent in their own, everyday language?

    This is not just Catholicism, by the way. Protestants do the same thing. They just use different words and forms. Maybe they seem closer to everyday language, but that’s only because they’ve made banality into its own ritual, and turned nearly-meaningless terms into sinkholes for innumerable ideas. For instance, what does it mean to be “saved”? There’s a typical boring, everyday English word that in many branches of Protestantism is endowed with all sorts of heady meanings, many of which are contradictory.

    Too much of Christianity (and all religion) is just code-speak and jargon.

    But again, what is the point of the incarnation, or “Christ event”? Ultimately, where would Christianity be if it did not claim this thing that happened in finite time? If Christians did not have this one man’s life during a relatively specific set of years upon which to hang their theology, how could they claim what they claim? The great paradox of Christianity is that God-become-man in Jesus was an event, that it had a beginning, a middle, and an end, and that the end initiated an eternal beginning. If the Christ event had not been an “event” in that sense, then Christianity would have no (alleged) historical foothold for its claims, and, as Paul said, if Christ was not crucified, well, you know the rest. If the incarnation had not been an “event,” then there would be no purpose for the third aspect of the Trinity, which represents the ongoing immanent presence of God that also paradoxically transcends presence.

    But, you know, I’m just a heretical atheist, so you shouldn’t pay attention to any of my theological rumination.

    Posted 13 Sep 2005 at 6:07 am
  11. edey wrote:

    andrew

    wouldn’t you want to use the word that most accurately describes the subject? that’s why terminology matters. whether or not they are in the Bible is irrelevant to how accurately the term describes the subject. take the Mass for example:

    yes, there is a communal liturgy occuring. however, does communal liturgy leave the reader/listener (r/l) with a comprehensive description of the event? no. there could be a communal liturgy that doesn’t imply the Eucharistic Sacrifice on the altar. does worship service leave the r/l with a complete description? heck no! actually, most events that are titled worship service involve no Sacrifice. while Eucharistic meal is *part* of the Mass, it doesn’t completely describe the Mass either. yes, we receive the Eucharist, but the Euchristic Sacrifice has to be made before we can consume It (consumption is what meal calls to my mind anyways), plus there is the Liturgy of the Word that is completely left out of that description. the only words that accurately describe the entire event is “the Mass”. anything else is incomplete. why would anyone want to use a less complete, less accurate word to describe any given event? i could say i was attending a musical event, but that could mean i was attending anything from a symphony to a rock concert. why not just be more specific? why not give a more complete description? it just makes sense.

    as for the Church learning to accept “alternative” ways of worship, we have -depending on how one counts-22 rites. how many do you want? what specifically do you mean by alternative ways of worship?

    Posted 13 Sep 2005 at 6:14 am
  12. gbm3 wrote:

    “The great paradox of Christianity is that God-become-man in Jesus was an event, that it had a beginning, a middle, and an end, and that the end initiated an eternal beginning. If the Christ event had not been an “event” in that sense, then Christianity would have no (alleged) historical foothold for its claims, and, as Paul said, if Christ was not crucified, well, you know the rest.” -Peter

    Actually, if Christ was not raised, …

    1 Corr 15:12-20

    But if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead?
    If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised.
    And if Christ has not been raised, then empty (too) is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.
    Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised.
    For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised,
    and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.
    Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
    If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.
    But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

    http://www.nccbuscc.org/nab/bible/1corinthians/1corinthians15.htm

    Further, it is not the wise who get Christianity in the end…

    1 Corr 1: 17-31

    For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.
    The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
    For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside.”
    Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish?
    For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith.
    For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
    but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
    but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
    For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
    Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.
    Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong,
    and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something,
    so that no human being might boast before God.
    It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption,
    so that, as it is written, “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”

    http://www.nccbuscc.org/nab/bible/1corinthians/1corinthians1.htm

    Posted 13 Sep 2005 at 7:50 pm
  13. Tom Smith wrote:

    Andy,

    >The term “Christ event” may seem a little odd, but the term in itself doesn’t point to any flaw in theology. Whether or not you like the terminology he uses is irrelevant—what he means by them is what is important.< Right. But I do think that one can get a fairly good grasp of where a person is coming from by what terms he uses. For instance, a TA of mine always refers to Catholic priests as “ministers.” There’s nothing wrong with that; it simply indicates that he comes from a non-Catholic background. I’m saying that if someone keeps referring to, for instance, the Mass as the “Eucharistic Meal,” he isn’t incorrect, but was probably formed in a heterodox environment, and that it is useful to know when one encounters such opinions. >Tom, with the exception of “Omega Point” (which simply sounds silly) I don’t see any problem with any of the terms you mock.< They’re not wrong, only occasionally misleading and sometimes indicative of modernism in their speakers. >For that matter, it’s not as if all of those specific terms are taken straight from the Bible.< …so what? Why does it matter whether or not they come from the Bible? >As for the art itself, he seems to have a pretty good point.< I agree that religion and technology both tend to be bought and sold today. >My question is, when will the church get over itself and learn to accept alternative ways of worship? As long as the gospel message is not compromised, I don’t care how someone worships or what terminology they use.< Whoa! Where’d that come from? When did I or the article condemn other peoples’ worship practices?

    Posted 13 Sep 2005 at 9:38 pm
  14. Tom Smith wrote:

    >I don’t see much logic in your contention that using the terminological form of “X event” immediately gives all X events the same valueless banality.< What I’m saying is that calling something “X event” puts it on the same plain as “Y event” and “Z event.” That doesn’t mean that X, Y, and Z are without worth, but it does mean that they are all placed on the same level in an imaginary hierarchy, where, for Christians, X (Christ) should be placed at the highest level, rather than at the same place as Y and Z. This does not devalue Y and Z. >In fact, you seem to be twisting the word “event” into its opposite, making it mean “non-event”…< How so? I merely said that calling it an event using the formula “Christ event” lowers its status as an event, but does not make it a “non-event.” For instance, calling Christ’s life, death and resurrection a “Christ event” seems to me akin to calling Hurricane Katrina a “severe weather event.” Neither is incorrect, but calling each “X event” tends to minimize the weight of each. >…you imply that because the English language has recently made the word more common, it therefore now means the opposite of what we think it means.< Not at all. Reading over my post, I don’t understand how one could see that implication. >So, by your logic, labeling something an “event” is like saying that it doesn’t matter whether it happened. Sort of a strange way of thinking, as I see it.< That would be a strange way of thinking. Luckily, I don’t think in that way. >But I think your argument…< Just out of curiosity, what was my argument? I don’t think that we’re on the same page. >…runs back to one of the most basic reasons for the creation and maintenance of religious institutions: the perpetuation of a learned elite who control access to religious ideas by controlling the language and making sure that the vocabulary remains outside of ordinary discourse.< Go to the back of just about almost any church and you’ll find pamphlets written very simply to explain certain aspects of the faith to those who remain ignorant. Nothing is held back; if you want, I could find you a simple piece of literature explaining almost anything. Some of these, I could almost swear, don’t go beyond a monosyllabic vocabulary. It is incorrect to claim that religious ideas are hidden from the faithful, at least in the church in which I am a member. If churches only existed to control, don’t you think they’d be better at it? There are many institutions that do not exist in order to control, yet do a far better job of it. >It is easier to rationalize the professionalization of priests and theologians when they can use mysterious terms like “incarnation” or “parousia” (second coming) or “soteriology” and keep the ordinary minds of the laity from thinking much about the nuts and bolts of the cosmology in which they’re expected to live.< So you’re saying that priests use verbal shock and awe to convince people to stop thinking? Most priests I know who want to stop people from thinking rely on the old standby: the boring, monotone sermon. >Why is the RCC so enamored of its Latin? Because using a dead language creates a linguistic sphere of circumspection that lends to the disorientation of understanding that is conducive to an experience of “mystery.”< Latin is used so that the same idea is spread throughout the entire Church. Just look at the difficulties of the first millenium, when the eastern Patriarchs knew little Latin and the Popes little Greek. If the typical edition of whatever document in question is composed in Latin, it can be translated by native speakers into whatever the language of the land is. If you really hate Latin in the liturgy, look in the missal to see the English translation right next to it. Or go to a parish that celebrates the new rite, which is. . . oh, 99+% of all parishes. >The otherness of the language, of the forms of the liturgy and other rituals, makes it such that rational thought about the meaning or conceptual structure undergirding these things is effectively discouraged.< I don’t follow. If I throw an “ipso facto” into a paper, I discourage people from thinking about the meaning of what I’m saying? Liturgical forms and symbolism only serve to increase curiosity about what’s happening, not decrease it. Funky is always talking about a book called “Teaching Truth Through Signs and Ceremonies.” (According to you, I guess, it should be “Obfuscating Truth Through Signs and Ceremonies,” or even “Perpetuating Our Control Over the Idiot Laity Through Signs and Ceremonies.”) >Now, why would religion want to do that? Why would it want to keep people from talking about the transcendent in their own, everyday language?< Umm, last I checked, everybody was free to talk about Catholicism and its theology in everyday, vernacular language. In fact, one of the greatest things Catholicism is blessed with is the number of canonized saints who were simple laymen that went on to become great theologians. >But again, what is the point of the incarnation, or “Christ event”? Ultimately, where would Christianity be if it did not claim this thing that happened in finite time? If Christians did not have this one man’s life during a relatively specific set of years upon which to hang their theology, how could they claim what they claim?< They can’t. >The great paradox of Christianity is that God-become-man in Jesus was an event, that it had a beginning, a middle, and an end, and that the end initiated an eternal beginning. If the Christ event had not been an “event” in that sense, then Christianity would have no (alleged) historical foothold for its claims, and, as Paul said, if Christ was not crucified, well, you know the rest.< How is that a paradox? Because the end initiated a beginning? I have no quarrel with that. >If the incarnation had not been an “event,” then there would be no purpose for the third aspect of the Trinity, which represents the ongoing immanent presence of God that also paradoxically transcends presence.< Actually, I disagree. I believe that we could’ve been redeemed by God the Son without the Incarnation. But that’s not how it happened. >But, you know, I’m just a heretical atheist, so you shouldn’t pay attention to any of my theological rumination.< Do you bring this up to be snide, and encourage me to look down upon you? In adding this little sentence to the end of your post, you effectively retreat into your castle and can now dismiss whatever I say as being motivated by this imagined disdain for atheists that I suposedly have. I respect you as a human, and I understand that your religious affiliation, or lack of one, has no bearing on the truth, or lack of it, of your claims. But, you know, I’m just a xenophobic religious whacko, so you shouldn’t pay attention to any of my theological rumination.

    Posted 13 Sep 2005 at 10:22 pm
  15. gbm3 wrote:

    “I believe that we could’ve been redeemed by God the Son without the Incarnation. But that’s not how it happened.” -Tom Smith

    Actually, the Incarnation had to take place for reparations of our sins. This is after Jesus fulfilled the law in all righteousness, being born into this world (as was prophesized).

    1 Corr 15: 21-28 (1 Corr 15 is one of my favorite chapters in the entire Bible. Every Christian should have it read at their funeral: the whole chapter.)

    For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being.
    For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life,
    but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ;
    then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power.
    For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
    The last enemy to be destroyed is death,
    for “he subjected everything under his feet.” But when it says that everything has been subjected, it is clear that it excludes the one who subjected everything to him.
    When everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will (also) be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all.

    Matthew 3:13-15

    Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.
    John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?”
    Jesus said to him in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him.

    Posted 14 Sep 2005 at 3:29 pm
  16. Tom Smith wrote:

    I still don’t see why that necessitates the Incarnation. John Duns Scotus and the Franciscan Schoolmen famously argued that Christ’s redemptive death did not require a divine Christ.

    Posted 15 Sep 2005 at 8:34 pm
  17. gbm3 wrote:

    “John Duns Scotus and the Franciscan Schoolmen famously argued…”

    Is this on the web? Do you have a copy?

    “Christ’s redemptive death did not require a divine Christ.”

    It’s not that the death of Christ redeemed us, his resurrection from the dead did. Who besides a Divine Christ (still being fully human since he died) could raise himself from hell, concurring death?

    Posted 16 Sep 2005 at 1:43 pm
  18. SV2 wrote:

    Christusereignis — Christ event — is a phrase used quite unselfconsciously by Joseph Ratzinger.

    Posted 15 Aug 2006 at 2:12 pm

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