OK, I’m probably already on shaky ground with the headline for this post, because saying “it’s just a crucifixion” is kind of like saying, “sure, that woman was raped and tortured, but at least they didn’t damage her face.” Just bear with me. I have a point, truly, and it might even be a good one.
So, this morning I was catching up with my main blogs, and saw this post at Deus Ex Malcontent. (The original MSNBC story on the controversy is here, and I’ll copy past it in the comments after I post this in case the link should change later.)
First off, I felt I had to produce a valid excuse to use that crucified frog image to your left, because it’s just so freaking weird and absurd, but as it turns out, it has inspired a real meat-and-potatoes topic for today.
Second off, it’s just a crucifixion, folks.
If Elmer Fudd runs his finger across his throat with a “hhrrrrkkkkktt” sound to threaten Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck, do we get up in arms about how it disrespects people who end up getting Columbian neckties? Is every overblown scene of someone being zapped to hell in the electric chair (whether in a drama or a cheesy horror flick) an insult to those families who have had loved ones executed that way?
Crucifixion was a terrible and cruel form of execution, let there be no doubt. I said as much in my post What Jesus Endured. But it was a form of execution that was practiced on tons of other folks prior to Jesus, and after him as well. That Christians chose to pick a symbol of Christ’s crucifixion as the major symbol of the faith is all well and good, but Jesus wasn’t the only person to be nailed to a tree wearing only a loincloth. The people who built up the institutions around our faith in Jesus picked an image that was very stark and intense, but also one that could be easily misused. The crescent and star of Islam and the Star of David for Judaism are more abstract and maybe we would have been better served with something more along those lines. Maybe we should move more toward the fish symbol or flying doves or something if we can’t handle the crucifixion being used in art in a less-than-flattering manner.
And yes, when someone “mocks” the image of Jesus crucified, it is in many cases an attempt to ridicule or slight Christianity. So what? Even if that’s the case here—and I’m not convinced it is—didn’t Jesus tell us we would catch a lot of shit for following him? Let’s take our hits like grown men and women and move on. Whining and bitching like little babies isn’t going to get us respect and it isn’t going to change attitudes.
In the end, being killed (and how) isn’t what makes Jesus special. What makes him special is how he lived (sinlessly), why he died (for our sins) and how he followed up that death (by rising back to life and ascending to the right hand of the Father).
Moreover, Jesus never asked us to defend him. He doesn’t need to be protected by us. He can handle his own business. He told us to lift him up in glory when we interact with others (or at the very least not deny him) and to be shining lights for him. That means showing Christ-like character, not trying to prevent people from mouthing off about Jesus.
And, as promised in the post, here is the story I linked to about that crucified frog:
Museum defies pope over crucified frog
Sculpture portraying amphibian with beer mug is blasphemous, pontiff says
MSNBC News Services
updated 2:26 p.m. ET, Thurs., Aug. 28, 2008
ROME – An art museum in northern Italy said Thursday it will continue displaying a sculpture portraying a green frog nailed to a cross that has angered Pope Benedict XVI and local officials.
The board of the foundation of the Museion in the city of Bolzano voted to keep the work by the late German artist Martin Kippenberger, the museum said in a statement.
Earlier in August the pope had written a letter to Franz Pahl, the president of the Trentino-Alto Adige region that includes Bolzano, denouncing the sculpture.
It “has offended the religious feelings of many people who consider the cross a symbol of God’s love and of our redemption,” Pahl quoted the pope as writing in the letter.
Pahl himself has long opposed the display of “Zuerst die Fuesse” (“First the Feet” in German), even staging a hunger strike this summer and saying he would not seek re-election unless it was removed.
The museum then moved the statue out of its foyer and into a less trafficked area on the third floor.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Pahl said he was outraged by the museum’s decision to keep the work, which he claims “pokes fun at the Catholic population and offends religion and the pope.”
The 1990 wooden sculpture shows the crucified frog nailed through the feet and hands like Jesus Christ. The frog, eyes popping and tongue sticking out, wears a loincloth and holds a mug of beer and an egg in its hands.
‘A tragicomic sense’
The museum said the 3-foot-tall sculpture has nothing to do with religion, but is an ironic self-portrait of the artist and an expression of his angst.
“With humor and a tragicomic sense, which belongs to art since the times of Greek tragedy, Kippenberger … faces his condition of suffering, which he expresses in many works, also, for example, in a video in which he crucifies himself,” the museum said in a statement.
Art experts defend the work.
“Art must always be free and the artist should not have any restrictions on freedom of expression,” Claudio Strinati, a superintendent for Rome’s state museums, told an Italian newspaper on Thursday.
Born in Dortmund, Kippenberger moved from painting and sculpture to work in all mediums, often combining elements of Neo-expressionism, Pop and Dadaism. His art has been displayed across the world, including Zurich, Paris, Jerusalem, London and New York.
He died in 1997, aged 43.
© 2008 MSNBC Interactive
“The crescent and star of Islam and the Star of David for Judaism are more abstract and maybe we would have been better served with something more along those lines.”
Perhaps Deacon Blue.
I’m not personally offended, but I understand why others would take offense, and in keeping with Jesus admonition–“…as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise…”–I would not have displayed the cross and frog, and violate others’ religious sensibilities.
But then we live in a world where “The Golden Rule” is overruled in the hearts and minds of all of us from time to time.
That said, let me make a case for retaining the Crucifixion as the symbol of Christianity. As you pointed out, Jesus was not the first to be crucified (there were many others before him and many others after him); yet, before his death he used the cross (well aware of its symbolism) to drive home a more salient point than its use as a device of capital punishment.
“¶ And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, [[[let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.]]]
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.”
And to the rich man:
“Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, [[[take up the cross, and follow me.]]]
And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions….”
I submit that the cross is central to Jesus’ teachings: self-denial, cross-bearing, and emulation.
Because “cross-bearing” comes in the middle, it forms a cross of a sort, with “self-denial” and “emulation” establishing the transverse piece, and “cross-bearing” (the heaviest part) as the upright post. Whether the cross had another meaning other than its use as a device of execution for the condemned, I know not.
To follow Jesus, then, presupposes that we have done the other two–self-denial, and cross-bearing–suggesting that it would be impossible to do so, without putting the other two first.
Luke adds a word omitted in the first quote–the word,”daily.”
“¶ And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross [[[daily]]], and follow me.”
Cross-bearing is so important, then, that it becomes a “daily” activity, rather than one done occasionally, or once in a lifetime, since it is designed, in part, along with the other rigors, to allow us to “lose [our] life for [Jesus’, or Christ’s] sake and the gospel’s” so that we may in turn save our life.
I should point out that I wasn’t literally suggesting tossing out the crucifixion image for Christianity. My point was more that if we’re going to use it, we have to be prepared to deal with others mis-using it, or legimately using it for non-Christian purposes.
That said, I appreciate your points.
Also, one of the reasons I don’t back the detractors of the crucified frog-man in their indignance is, first, the fact that they museum already moved the piece to a less prominent place than it had been before in order to satisfy complaints about it. And, as I’m guessing you probably feel, since you mentioned you weren’t personally offended, art is often supposed to be in our faces and even offensive at times.
In any case, it’s an interesting story and your points, again, are gratefully received.
“And, as I’m guessing you probably feel, since you mentioned you weren’t personally offended, art is often supposed to be in our faces and even offensive at times.”
Actually, Deacon Blue, it’s my New Age thing coming to the fore. Here’s my position on this, and all things thought to be offensive or reverential:
Nothing in my world is real.
The meaning of everything is the meaning I give it.
I am who I say I am,
And my experience is what I say it is.
And I like this statement:
“Moreover, Jesus never asked us to defend him. He doesn’t need to be protected by us. He can handle his own business. He told us to lift him up in glory when we interact with others (or at the very least not deny him) and to be shining lights for him. That means showing Christ-like character, not trying to prevent people from mouthing off about Jesus.”
You know, I’ve always been interested in knowing how the early church reacted when the cross was adapted by the Romans as the symbol for Christianity. The early church used the Fish until Constantine had his vision. Again, with little things that change the course of history, had the Romans resorted to hanging Jews instead of crucifying them, would the symbol of christianity be the noose? What if christ had been beheaded like Paul was, would the symbol have been a sword? I’ts just interesting that the Romans celebrated the death of Christ ans hence they saw the crucifixion as a big deal while the early Christians celebrated the life of christ and hence picked the fish. As Deacon says, Christ was not the only one crucified.
My knowledge of historical details like that is pretty slim. Thanks for sharing, Daudi. Makes me wonder a bit, too, how the non-Roman Christians must have felt when the religion got co-opted, really.