Freedom of (Blasphemous) Expression: A Proposal

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on the Virgin Mary, a crucifix in a jar of urine, and a naked woman
standing in for Jesus at the last supper are the themes of recent
art works. These works have in common that they all blaspheme against
Christianity with a distinctiveness of purpose; their blasphemy
is greeted with yawns by the major media, and protests by Christians
are deemed intolerant by those media. Two of the three have been
displayed by the Brooklyn Museum, which is funded in part by wages
confiscated by local government from those who earned them. Clearly,
this use of tax dollars is anathema to many Brooklyn taxpayers.

response by Christians has been limited to commentary and peaceful
assembly. There has been no rioting, no vandalism. The offensive
works themselves have not been marred, though perhaps this owes
in part to tight security by the Museum. But if the presentation
of these deliberately volatile works were an experiment, the conclusions
would be that Christians are remarkably tolerant of heinous defilement
of their most sacred images; the mass media are not in the business
of being sensitive to Christians; and the use of local tax dollars
in Brooklyn is not predicated on whether proposed uses are acceptable
to the taxpayers.

propose two experiments that would reveal much about religious and
secular culture. First, find a brave artist to paint or sculpt a
Buddha with poop smeared on him. Even reading the preceding sentence
may be shocking to some, but remember we have a feces-encrusted
Virgin Mary already. Without even executing the experiment, we know
two things:

would protest only peacefully, and many would not feel the need
to protest at all, proving that Buddhists are as peaceful and tolerant
as Christians; and the mass media would fly into intemperate rants
about the insensitivity displayed by the artist. We know also that
the mass media would protest a tax-funded museum displaying such
a work. No one in the mass media would be forthcoming about the
obvious double standard, that standard involving their own lack
of protest over the PooPoo Mary and Pornographic Last Supper.

second experiment: Find someone with no living relatives to produce
a Piss Mohammad akin to the Piss Christ. Why someone with no living
relatives? Remember the price on Salman Rushdie's head for writing
a book that was incongruent with Moslem teachings. That price was
set by the leader of a nation. The artist, were his name to be made
public, probably would not survive the premier, were he to show
up for it. We know, without attempting the experiment, what we would
conclude about tolerance. Deliberately defiling anything held sacred
by hundreds of millions of people is stupider than walking through
a rough neighborhood of Washington, D. C., waving a large wad of
cash. I would not agree, however, that it is outrageous only when
religions other than Christianity are ridiculed. It is outrageous
when any religion is smeared.

we learn from the mere contemplation of these experiments is that
Christianity enjoys a singular despised status among the mass media.
If you don't believe that Christianity is being singled out, imagine
a third experiment: a Feces Star of David. The outrage that we know
would ensue would solidify the special status of Christianity, as
distinct even from its own Judaic origins.

have no further proposals. I cannot offer a solution to Christianity's
selection as the one religion it is permissible to hate. My intent
is merely to highlight this special status of Christianity. Any
further conclusions you can draw on your own, but let me rekindle
some memories: Judaism was the officially detestable religion in
Nazi Germany. Stalin's Russia officially disapproved all religion.
Perhaps it is time for Christians to maintain a remembrance of history,
and protest a little louder.

24, 2001

Edmonds, Doctor of Musical Arts, is a banker in Alabama.

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