CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Artists Who Offend

Aug 31, 2007

It really does get tedious after a while. Self-proclaimed “artists” who want to make a strong and “courageous” statement to “get us to think”, et cetera, et cetera. Please, spare me. It is becoming so very common and so utterly boring. Can’t these artists just find something else to do with all their free time?

And why is it that these so-called artists seem to only pick on Christians when they want to make their “confronting” works of art? Well, we all know the answer to that one. Christians are not going to issue fatwas against these self-important artistes. Christians will not issue death threats to these juvenile delinquents. Christians will not fly airliners into buildings to protest this Western decadence and anti-religious bigotry.

So on a regular – and monotonous – basis, we have our cultural elite presenting works of “art”- often funded by us tax-payers – which are usually just an excuse for more Christian-bashing, and pushing trendy leftwing agendas.

Consider the latest outrage. At a recent religious art competition, two offerings were questionable at best. One was called “The Fourth Secret of Fatima”. It shows Mary, the mother of Jesus, wearing a burka. And a Queensland artist, Priscilla Bracks, had a portrait of Christ which morphed into Osama bin Laden. It is called “Bearded Orientals: Making the Empire Cross”. Both are fairly amateurish attempts to be provocative and daring. Morphing Mary into a Muslim, and Jesus into a terrorist leader, is both silly and offensive.

Others have also questioned these trite and insulting attacks on Christianity. An editorial in the Australian said that the Bearded Orientals piece is “further confirmation of the undergraduate reasoning that infects many within Australia’s artistic and literary community”. It went on to say that “glorifying Bin Laden through art in this manner reflects a woolly-headed moral equivalence”.

And Cardinal George Pell also questioned the place of such “art”: “Some contemporary art is tedious and trivial. These couple of works demonstrate this. Regrettably, attempts to insult Jesus and Mary have become common in recent years, even predictable. Too often it seems that the only quality which makes something ‘art’ is the adolescent desire to shock. If this is the best the Blake Prize can do, it has probably outlived its usefulness.”

Even the Prime Minister joined in the controversy: “The choice of such artwork is gratuitously offensive to the religious beliefs of many Australians”.

Unfortunately some Christians just don’t get it. Uniting Church president Gregor Henderson actually defended the two works of art. And Uniting Church minister Rod Patterson, who chairs the Blake Society, said he thought the artwork was helpful for sparking debate.

As has often been the case lately, it has taken a non-believer to really lay out what is at stake here. Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt had a great opinion piece in today’s paper on this latest example of sophomoric artwork with anti-Christian agendas.

He reminds us that Christians won’t hit back, so they are obviously soft targets. “Hit back? Come off it. A Christian priest will instead hang up her picture. And our politicians will pay for the frame. So suicidal are we.” And he takes Ms Bracks to task for her deliberate attempt at moral equivalence:

“To the casual viewer, the meaning would seem as obvious as the gap where the Twin Towers used to be – that bin Laden and Christ really aren’t so different. Indeed, one might have created the other. Hmm: Jesus – the true author of the September 11 attacks. Sniff. Sniff. I can already smell Bracks’ cowardice. If bin Laden is the creation – or flip side – of any religious figure, the most obvious candidate is surely Mohammed. But showing a jihad-preaching Mohammed morphing into bin Laden . . . well, that could get an artist killed, or even snubbed in the black-skivvy queue for grants or canapes. Safer to crucify Christ again for the sins of others. How easy it is to slander the guy whose followers don’t shoot back.”

Exactly. But as Bolt informs us, Ms Bracks had previously done similar art works, all funded by the Queensland government – that is, Queensland taxpayers. And she had made it clear in her earlier works that she intended to inform us that there is “no real difference between jihadist terrorists and the Christian-founded West”.

Non-believer Andrew Bolt is much more spiritually discerning than are many believers in these sorts of issues. “And here’s the nub of our problem. Every society has people who vilify what they should praise, and embrace what they should resist. What makes us so mad is that such people are bred by exactly the institutions we depend on to strengthen our civilisation, not flirt with its destruction.”

“Which is my cue for introducing the Reverend Rod Pattenden, a minister in the Uniting Church and a symbol just why this is the church in steepest decline. You may have heard of Pattenden before, thanks to the brief publicity over his decision to enter a float in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. What he high-mindedly intended was to make gays feel welcome in his church, but what he achieved was the blessing of a parade that not only ridicules Christianity, but celebrates a pagan riot of hearts-free sex.”

He concludes, “Why mention the good minister here? Because Pattenden is also chairman of this Blake Prize, and he defended Bracks’ piece – as well as another artist’s work of the Virgin Mary in a Muslim burqa – by saying he wanted to spark debate about spirituality in a world that was ‘cynical, degraded and in crisis’. Done. Here, then, is some of the debate he’s asked for: My dear minister, if the world is indeed ‘cynical’ and ‘in crisis’, that will be due in part to such as you, who fail to defend a moral tradition from its morals-lite critics. Go do your job. Gird yourself. Defend your faith – and with it our civilisation.”

Powerful words from Bolt, but right on the money. Why is it that most believers are not as spiritually astute and righteously indignant about these issues? Why do we keep having a non-believer to offer the most prophetic commentary on so many vital issues of the day?

The regular assaults on Christianity – including those by the artistic community – are something we should all be concerned about. But perhaps we should be even more concerned about the condition of the Christian church, which is either unaware of the many attacks on it, or simply indifferent to them. Or worse yet, a church that actually defends and instigates these very attacks. The real worry here is a church which is for the most part asleep at the wheel, unable or unwilling to defend itself in the modern world. Unless the church once again regains its role as salt of the earth and light of the world, it might start asking just what its purpose is.

www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,22336835-25717,00.html

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11 Responses to Artists Who Offend

  • Well said again, Bill!
    But I have two questions:
    1. Why, when Serrano depicts a crucifix in a tub of urine – that’s art. But put a Qur’an down a toilet – that’s a felony!? A felony???

    2. “Go do your job. Gird yourself. Defend your faith – and with it our civilisation.” So Bolt challenges Pattenden. My query is, why dignify such people with the term “believer” when he is clearly not? He won’t defend his faith because he obviously doesn’t believe it. The same goes for many of the leaders in that outfit.
    I know this sounds confronting, but it’s time someone called a spade a spade. Not all who claim to to be Christian are really so. It was with that conviction that Whitefield and Wesley challenged the religious formalists of their day, and brought about a mighty change in the decadent 18th century society, but it seems their erstwhile successors are too supine and accommodating to take a similar stand.

    Murray Adamthwaite

  • Hi Bill

    Couldn’t both the recent controversial pieces be construed as offensive to Muslims too? I’m sure that hardline Muslims don’t want Bin Laden sharing his image with Jesus, or Mary with a burqa

    Maybe we’re the ones that are being overly offended..? I haven’t heard a peep from the Muslims on this one.

    In actuality I did find the Jesus/Bin Laden picture quite offensive. But your point about Muslims issuing fatwas doesn’t really pass the litmus test on this occasion I’m afraid.

    Matthew Newton

  • Thanks Matthew

    But why would Muslims be offended? After all, bin Laden is not compared to Muhammad but to Jesus. And Mary is turned into a Muslim. Two pluses for Muslims, two negatives for Christians.

    As to fatwas, must I remind you what the Islamic response around the world was after the Danish cartoon episode?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • 1 Corinthians 5: 11-13 says, “But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.

    Revelation 21: 7-9 says, “ He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

    Unless the Reverend Rod Pattenden of the Uniting Church repents, he will find himself in a hell that I am guessing he claims does not exist. By doing what he is doing he is joining the ranks of those cowards and idolaters who murder, torture, imprison, persecute and vilify Christians in Muslim, and now even in western European, countries.

    David Skinner, UK

  • We are always grateful to Yahweh as He has promised to ‘have a faithful remnant who has not bowed the knee to other gods”‘. So keep up the good work Bill, be encouraged.

    My world view is similar to the views expressed above. However, are we as Christians unduly senstitive compared to the daily ‘roasting’ meted out by the political parties to each other?

    Or consider these ‘artistic attacks’ as the opposition declaring his position and inviting counter attack – an invitation for Christians to sound the trumpet and check the wall for faults and effectively repel the opposition. Clearly that is a defensive tactic.

    What we see today is that the traditional church has been, in part, sidelined, as His Righteousness moves into the marketplace, moves into national TV [Australian Christian Channel] Christian radio stations, and home churches. These entities however appear to be passive in terms of engaging the opposition in the field. The artillery perhaps?

    Organisations such as the Australian Christian Lobby [ACL], Australian Prayer Network [APN] and Bill’s Blog appear to be a growing group that appear to be willing to engage the opposition and take ground.

    Those just identified may be seen as a lunch delivering David walking through a trembling traditional army and slinging a stone? Or is that a field too far?

    We err when we look to man for solutions and courage.

    Ray Robinson. Wollongong

  • Bill, I see two possible reasons for Christian reticence. To the extent that Christians to take umbrage:
    a) the defenders of the “art” will rejoin with name-calling of the ‘thin-skinned religious nutters’ variety, and complain about our inability to “take a bit of ribbing”
    and
    b) supporters of the “art” will say ‘but the artist got a lot of free publicity’ out of you silly Christians
    and then proceed to a variation of the “if you don’t like it, don’t look at it” argument used about that other horror “Californication”.

    How to respond?

    At least someone ostensibly neutral (I know about the myth of neutrality, see) such as Andrew Bolt can make the moral arguments without copping part a), and as a public commentator and opinion columnist, can vent his spleen at the decline of civilization without being trapped by part b).

    John Angelico

  • In one sense, challenges, rather than plain indifference, towards Christians are to be welcomed. They strengthen our faith; but we have every right to speak up when society deliberately and maliciously goes out to offend and cause distress to minority groups- no matter who they be. By remaining quiet, out of some notion that a Christian should trodden on, we only embolden the bully to further excess. This does no one any good – least of all the bully.
    However, when it comes to false ministers, like Rod Pattenden, 2 Peter 2, Jude, Matthew 18 and other biblical passages clearly state that being reticent or coy, in speaking up, is certainly not an option for the Christian. If and when the world- wide Anglican Church breaks with Britain, next year, it is a distinct possibility that the Queen will loose her title of “Defender of the Faith” simply because she has failed to speak up.
    “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke
    David Skinner, UK

  • Surely we can take a subjective stance and say that we simply don’t like it, are offended by it and then we can move on. Why we are even devoting time and energy into refuting and criticising this sort of art is beyond me. It is, as you describe, amateurish. Don’t even bother with it. This would be much easier. It gives it less exposure. The whole point of this sort of work was to provoke. And provoke it has, since people have reacted aggressively to it. This art isn’t a challenge to our faith at all; it’s just a cheap shot which doesn’t deserve to even be acknowledged.
    Simon Kennedy, VIC

  • I suppose what annoys me the most is that these people do not have the courage of their convictions.
    They hide behind the mantle of “art” and “free expression” having complete disregard for other people’s beliefs and feelings.
    I have no other words for them but to say that they are cowards who hide behind the protection of a western society which grants them a protection (because its laws are based on a Judeo-Christian ethics) that is not available in other world political systems.
    I also thought that “art” was for the masses to enjoy, not for a selected intelligensia who are (only) capable of understanding the “true foundational truths”.
    Jim Sturla

  • Thanks Simon

    Yes there are times when saying nothing may be the best strategy. The question is, when are those times? On the one hand, to say nothing may make the whole thing just go away. On the other hand, to say nothing may simply embolden these folks, and encourage even more and even worse attacks. Even the author of Proverbs seems to find this a dilemma:

    “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.
    Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.” (Prov. 26:4,5)

    Maybe we need the wisdom of Solomon here.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • SK, one reason to criticize is the fact that tax dollars were coerced out of Queenslanders to fund this trash. Or does coerced funding of christophobia not bother him?
    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

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