The American Thinker blog reported earlier today on the vandalism by “Fundamentalist Catholics” of Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” when it was recently on display in France:
Artist Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” photo has caused more anguish, more anger that just about any piece of art in American history. Yesterday, while on display in France, it was destroyed by a fundamentalist Christian group:
Controversy has followed the work ever since, but reached an unprecedented peak on Palm Sunday when it was attacked with hammers and destroyed after an “anti-blasphemy” campaign by French Catholic fundamentalists in the southern city of Avignon.
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The photograph, full title Immersion (Piss Christ), was made in 1987 as part of Serrano’s series showing religious objects submerged in fluids such as blood and milk. In 1989, rightwing Christian senators’ criticism of Piss Christ led to a heated US debate on public arts funding. Republican Jesse James told the senate Serrano was “not an artist. He’s a jerk.”
Serrano defended his photograph as a criticism of the “billion-dollar Christ-for-profit industry” and a “condemnation of those who abuse the teachings of Christ for their own ignoble ends”. It was vandalised in Australia, and neo-Nazis ransacked a Serrano show in Sweden in 2007.
Frank Schaeffer, author of a 1982 book critical of Christian Evangelicals engagement with the arts was my guest today to discuss his reaction to both the artistic expression of Andres Sorrano as well as reaction to the destruction of “Piss Christ” by the fundamentalist Catholics:
The people (who vandalized the photograph) overpowered one guard and then threatened another one with a hammer and got him to sit still so he couldn’t stop them. That’s a situation where someone could get hit in the head and killed or injured, and obviously people who are protesting against the desecration of the name of Christ in Holy Week…using a threat of violence against someone sort of defeats the purpose (of observing Holy Week).
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The battle for truth, and for beauty, and for love and compassion and forgiveness is not a battle that’s going to be won with the tools of this world, whether it’s threatening museum guards with a hammer (or) burning a Qu’ran or screaming ‘God is Great’ and blowing up a mosque or a synagogue or anything else…but we all know that the world we live in right now is a place where you have to take violence done in the name of God, no matter whose God it is, pretty seriously.
Having said that, Frank Schaeffer sounded a whole lot like the Franky Schaeffer thirty years ago who wrote Addicted to Mediocrity:
The Evangelical community in particular in the United States has become very adept at becoming part of the entertainment industry and producing a lot of trivia in the name of Christianity, not too much serious work being done.
I asked Frank Schaeffer how Evangelical and Catholic Christians ought to respond to “art” like Serrano’s “Piss Christ” that offends our sensibilities:
If you really look at it, what is more insulting to the name of Christ: a worldwide pedophilia racket done in the name of the Roman Catholic Church, where the Church in Ireland spends 40 years putting people in reform schools where they’re abused sexually, mentally and physically with full collaboration with so called Roman Catholic government ministers; or on the other hand an Evangelical community that has turned a lot of Christianity into just a straight out racket and a huge commerical enterprise so big, in fact, that Rupert Murdoch bought Zondervan, the biggest Christian publishing company, and makes more money on it than on Fox News. In the really big strokes of things, the commericalization of Christianity combined with the kind of “values” (if you want to call it that) of the entertainment business and the celebrity culture on one hand, and then it seems scandal after scandal where leading anti-gay rights activists turn out to be caught getting off airplanes in New York with a gay prostitute.
On judgment day I’d much rather be in the shoes of Andres Serrano, no matter what he was thinking when he made that artwork, which I’d find very offensive as a Christian, by the way, just for the record, than I would be in the shoes of a priest who has not just molested a child or for that matter a Bishop who covered up for the priest rather than having him arrested, because he was more interested in protecting the institution that he was in protecting the children that literally Jesus said were in the care of the Church.
In Holy week…the emphasis is on confessing one’s own sins, not on pointing the finger at other people. Our real issue here should be putting our own house in order, starting with ourselves individually.
Full Audio of the Frank Schaeffer Interview: