Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Lenten Musings: The Sexuality of Christ and Modern Antihumanism

{N.B.--This post was edited and expanded after its initial posting for greater clarity of expression and thought.}
Being of the Irish Catholic persuasion, during this time of Lent I've been doing my annual bit of religious reading as my Lenten duty, a positive exploration of faith a lot more constructive than giving up donuts. As part of my reading list, I've been going through Michelle Goldberg's Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. But what does this have to do with art, you ask?

Goldberg recounts her travels inside the Fundamentalist side of the American religious/culture war. A heavy emphasis is put on their infatuation with human sexuality to the point of an anti-humanistic approach. One preacher longs for a return to the pre-Renaissance days of Calvinism and a greater sense of the sinfulness of humanity. All of that brought back to mind Leo Steinberg's The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and Modern Oblivion.

Steinberg demonstrates both theologically and visually (almost comically so, with more pictures of people pointing at Jesus' genitals than you thought possible) that the Christ of the Renaissance was a fully functional, sexually potent (but sexually pure) human being. To be any less sexual would be to be less than fully human and, hence, "cheat" the incarnation. The University of Chicago Press link above gives a much better synopsis of the book than I can. Of course, nothing can replace actually reading the book, which is, indeed, excellent.

What this confluence in my mind really is driving me to say is that current antihumanism is truly anti-Christian, i.e., driving into "modern oblivion" what the Renaissance (and their Greek inspiration) understood so long ago. Renaissance art fully expressed what the incarnation fully meant. Every attempt since then to squash that, from the fig leaves later popes placed on Michelangelo's Last Judgment to government-subsidized abstinence-only programs, denies who we are as much as it denies who Jesus was.

And from a totally non-religious perspective (Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion has made me more conscious of that perspective), this antihumanism is not only irreligious, but also self destructive to society as a whole and the slice of that whole that is art and culture. I believe that all art is some response to humanism, either an embrace of its triumphs or an exploration of its failures. One of those failures is certainly a total denial of it by Fundamentalist Dominionists (i.e., fundamentalists who need to silence all disent from their views, to hold dominion over the intellectual field).

Aside from my religious beliefs are my humanist beliefs. The two are linked, at least in my mind, but not necessarily in those of others. That's perfectly acceptable. I'm no dominionist. But I challenge anyone who truly loves art and the place it holds in the human mind and heart (and, perhaps, soul) to embrace this antisexual, antihumanist position and still embrace the majesty of all art.

{Disclaimer: All apologies for any overt preachiness above. I'm a very liberal Irish Catholic, as you may have guessed. My Jesus is the Jesus of the Beatitudes and Jesus Christ Superstar. The Jesus who would come over to help move your furniture on a Saturday morning. As I said at the beginning, I'm trying to keep the tangents to a minimum (really), but sometimes the tangents are what really get the juices flowing.}

1 comment:

Elena M. Cambio said...

Aptly put. We appear to share the same Jesus, incredible tenor notes and all.