“Piss Christ” and the Son of Allah

Pop quiz: Spot the blasphemy.  Having trouble? Here are some hints:
Have this in mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:5-11 RSV
They do blaspheme, that say: “God is the Christ, the Son of Mary.” Christ himself said: “Children of Israel, worship God, my Lord and your Lord.” He that worships other deities besides God, God will deny him Paradise, and his abode shall be the Fire. The wrongdoers shall have none to succour them. They do blaspheme, that say: “God is one of three.” There is but one God. If they do not desist from so saying, those of them that disbelieve shall be smitten by grievous torment. Will they not turn to God in penitence and seek forgiveness of him? God is forgiving and compassionate. Christ, the son of Mary, was no more than an apostle: other apostles passed away before him. His mother was a saintly woman; they both ate earthly food. Behold how We manifest to them Our revelations. Then behold how they ignore the Truth. – The Table 5:75ff Penguin Classics
I know what you’re thinking: All religions teach the same essential truths; it is only bigotry that prevents us from seeing the similarities. Why can’t we all just co-exist? Ah, well, you tell me.

How many of you think it is disgusting that Andres Serrano dunked a crucifix in (purportedly) his own urine to take a photograph? How many of you think it is disgusting to claim that Jesus was the Son of God? How many of you think it is silly to worry about things like whether God had a son? How many of you think that Serrano’s photograph is one of the most beautiful images you have ever seen?

I dare you not to have an opinion.

You see, you do care. Which means you care, whether you realize it or not, about theology. You care about the way in which people talk about God because you care about whether human beings are allowed to make art. And you care about art because you care about what it means to be a human being.

No? Then why do you care one way or the other about what Serrano did with his piss?

Perhaps you don’t care and wish people would stop making such a fuss about nothing; it was just a little plastic statue, after all. Only people who have no sense of reality could care one way or the other about dunking a bit of plastic in pee. Surely it is much worse to insist that the image meant anything, even worse to claim that it represented something someone might consider holy.

I think the photograph is beautiful. I do! Look at it: the richness of the colors. The light streaming down from above. The little plastic image positively glows in the redness. Like a candle in blood. And the little bubbles streaming upwards? Like the Spirit itself dancing in the sun. Like God dissolving into light, even as his body hung heavy on the cross.

I’m sorry, you don’t get not to have an opinion. Everyone has a dog in this fight. Don’t believe in God? Then nothing is sacred, nothing matters. Life has, quite literally, no meaning because it means there is nothing to aim for, nothing to transcend. It is nothing but piss and death.

“Oh, those silly Christians,” I hear you say. “They are so touchy about their God.” Go ahead, I dare you, say it about Allah. No? Why not? If the Trinity is made up, surely Allah is imaginary, too. One or three gods, what difference does it make? There is no such thing as a Creator one way or the other. What difference does it make whether you imagine he (or she or it) had a Son?

I know you will find this hard to believe, but I will say it anyway: it makes all the difference in the world. All religions do not teach the same essential truths; it is not bigotry, but reason to say so. Theology matters, and it is the height of bigotry to say otherwise. Try it sometime when you are speaking to someone other than a Christian. Tell them that their understanding of God is a lie.

Now try it with a Christian. Say something like, “Your idea of God is disgusting. You really believe that God became flesh and blood? You really believe that the divine so degraded itself to enter into the world through the body – the vagina! – of a woman, along with all the blood and piss and shit? You really believe that this same God allowed himself to be killed like a common criminal, scourged, mocked, spat upon, and humiliated before being nailed to a cross?”

To which the Christian will reply, with joy: “Yes!”

It matters how we think and talk about God. More than anything in the world, which is why people are willing to kill – and die for it. Not because they are deluded by faith in an imaginary being, but because they take the claims of Being seriously. Of what it means to be alive yet mortal, conscious yet ignorant, filled with ideas yet limited in our ability to realize them in the world.

The passage from Philippians offers one vision: of God, the Maker of heaven and earth, who made human beings in his likeness and image and gave them the ability to make likenesses themselves by entering into his own creation, humbling himself and becoming obedient, that his human creatures might become like him.

The passage from the Table offers a different one: of God, the Maker of heaven and earth, undefiled and one, singular and removed from his creation, never entering into it except through the words of his prophets, making man out of clots of blood to be obedient to his will.

The one vision invites human beings to become artists, to make images and likenesses of the human form which God himself was willing to take on. The other insists that all such images are blasphemous, just as it is blasphemous to claim that God had either a consort or a son.

The one finds beauty even in something so disgusting as piss. The other sees blasphemy in art depicting the human form.

Art or no art? There is no middle ground.

Is it really any wonder that we find it so hard simply to co-exist?


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